Country Music

Can I make a confession?
I love country music!
Does that shock you? I know I am famous for my love of 80s trash and 50s cocktail-lounge music, but at least once a day I thrill to the guitar-twang of a bit of good 'ole country. I am a man of diverse interests, what can I say?
You see, I grew up in the bush, and my beloved grandmother was a real country and western fan. Our days were spent singing along to cassettes of Jim Reeves, Tom T. Hall and - the most elevated of all - Slim Dusty. Once a year or so Slim Dusty would bring his touring show to our small town, and my grandmother and I were invariably in the front row, applauding Slim and admiring the beauty of his wife Joy McKean. They were like royalty to us. When Chad Morgan would come on we would literally weep with laughter.
The most important television show of the week was always Reg Lindsay's Country Homestead, and indeed, the whole town would come to a standstill while this was on. Woe betide anyone who telephoned or visited during that sacred hour. And remember Donny & Marie's segment "I'm a little bit country, I'm a little bit rock & roll"? I bet you can guess which side I tended towards.
As I grew up my tastes in country refined somewhat. I became a slave to the by-now fashionable Divas of country, people like Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Lynn Anderson. By the time I was a club-going party-boy in the big city, Tammy Wynette had even released a House hit. My CD collection was briefly fashionable. Of course, there was more than a slight element of camp to all of it.
In recent years I have come to appreciate once more the rough-throated reflections of male country singers. Indeed, from an academic point of view I have begun to see Australian country music as a uniquely nuanced poetry of working-class masculinity. It expresses the particular sorrows and anxieties of men that have no other outlet in our popular culture. Ironically, it is in country that men are allowed to be their most vulnerable, as well as sentimental.
From a Queer perspective, there is also something intensely homosocial, and occasionally homerotic, about country music. This observation is, of course, nothing new - remember the cowboy in the Village People? The trope of the hyper-masculine country man has always been erotically charged, and though it's now more subtle (and the men more sensitive), I think it's still very powerfully there. The flanellette shirts and the bonds singlets, the two-day growth and the brooding stares are all still much in evidence, and are part and parcel of how men are packaged in the country music industry.
In Australia, too, country music is the only art form which still engages in serious questions of national identity and belonging. And it's not all triumphalism, as the uninitiated might imagine. Many of the songs one hears in this "new country" express ambiguity about national belonging and are quite complex and troubled meditations on being Australian. Interestingly, country still remains the musical genre of choice for many Aboriginal Australians, and indeed Aboriginal artists are common and popular on the scene.
So there it is, my apologia for a love of Aussie country music. Keep your eyes peeled for reviews.


Dolly said...

village people.

Oh nostalgic.

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