Since 2004, Portland's Only Bar Trivia That Matters.
There is a strange and beautiful place inside me (lodged somewhere between my brain's frontal lobe and my soul's anus) where sincerity and sarcasm mingle comfortably, and self-evident truths are somehow not at odds with total bullshit. If I actually made any practical decisions with this part of my mind, I suppose I would be a sociopath. But when it comes to aesthetics and art, it's a non-stop party. One time I went home with this new friend of mine in my new middle school, and he “turned me on” to Mr. Rogers. I'd seen it (of course) as a small child, and found it uncomfortably unappealing (my mother loathed him because she felt he introduced children to fears they'd otherwise never have imagined).
So why on earth would my fellow 13-yr-old be watching it? Well, get this – it turns out he was laughing at it, and not with it (because of course it was utterly humorless). Whaaaa? I didn't realize it at the time, but that was the day I discovered camp. Let me cut to the chase so I can back up later. I started listening to mainstream country radio and doing the old “laughing at” thing, and now I'm seriously conflicted because I actually really like some of it. This fact is confusing to me, and even mildly disturbing.
But it's also really inspiring (which is the part I have trouble explaining). Somehow, a genre of modern music I've long disregarded as among the most despicable ever contrived has suddenly become a mini-obsession for me. And the level on which I enjoy this music is a mystery - a strange, exciting, and evolving mystery. I stumbled blindly into this conundrum of taste while driving back to Portland from my Woman's place in Olympia a few weeks ago. I couldn't find the cord to plug my mp3 into my (totally awesome) van's stereo, and I had no CDs, so I just put on FM. It turns out there are two country stations butting heads for access to the many ears around Portland. One is 99.5 (“The Wolf”). And just one “search” click below it is 98.7 (“The Bull”). I swear I did not make that up.
Anyway, 2 days prior we'd been at this redneck bar in Washington. We both love to visit bars in which we clearly don't “belong”, because they can so often be the most welcoming and rewarding (except when they're awful). Also this was the only place in the town that had outside seating, and it was hot out, and dive bars in the PNW almost never have AC, and the inside of the bar was apparently modeled after a prison. There was this very young mother heading home with her very young daughter, and they paused on the town's main street, just across the railing of our stark asphalt patio, to say “bye” to a very young dad who was having a can of beer or twelve with some other apparent regulars. Suddenly, everyone was urging the little girl to say “chew tobacco, spit!”.
My dumbfounded eyes caught Christine's right away, and they all kept pleading for her to utter those words, and it just didn't make any goddamn sense. So two days later I landed on The Wolf, and immediately heard “Boys 'Round Here” by Blake Shelton. This song confirmed and amplified every reason I'd ever had to hate that idiotic music. And it's chorus revealed what all those folks wanted to hear from that toddler (who, to her credit, refused until the end to parrot them – presumably because her intellect has already surpassed theirs, and it now awaits its inevitable crushing by the forces of misguidance, malnutrition, methamphetamine, and marketing).
That awful shit being said, the song is extremely dumb and howlingly funny. You'll grit your teeth and cringe as the wave of goosebumps rise into your hairline, but you'll probably laugh. And then it'll be stuck in your head until you drive off a bridge or stab yourself in the dick. If you didn't already stop and search for a youtube video, you're in for a real treat. Actually, maybe you shouldn't. But that ain't why I started this. I mean, everyone knows modern country is total dogshit, right? Except, just a little bit of it is totally great! Here's the thing. I'm gonna tell you a song or two I like. Okay, one of them I actually love. But you're gonna look it up, and it's gonna sound super cheesy, and you'll want to tune out. Just try to take it on its own merits, and maybe listen to it twice. You'll likely say the same thing I've been saying for so many years: “old country is cool, but this modern shit is just awful pop, manufactured for pretty faces to sing in a fake southern accent.” And you''ll be mostly right. And people are mostly right when they say it's all the same song over and over.
But really, country music (like its rural counterpart of black America, blues) has always been based on a few simple song templates. And, although quality of musicianship is of course important, with country it's mostly about having a chorus that combines a clever lyrical hook with a good vocal melody. So much of modern “pop” country bears no resemblance at all to the music that defined the genre. But some of it actually does (and it's more than you think). I'm gonna say about 20% of it is totally listenable (and 1-in-5 is the highest ratio I know of in the giant corporate shit-heap of “formats” that make up nearly all of American radio).
So I reckon now I can finally tell you that I really love the Randy Houser song “Runnin' Outta Moonlight,” even if it is pop. Also, I have a somewhat-more-guilt-ridden boner for “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”, by Luke Ryan. He kinda seems like the frat-boy counterpart to Houser's more-realistic redneck, but the song is catchy. This is all coming from a guy who's way into extremely loud, weird, noisy and/or heavy psychedelic rock. Go figure. Also the Kip Moore song "Hey Pretty Girl" makes me cry. Did I mention the fact that the usage of the word “truck” is second only to that of “girl” in the lyrics of male country stars? It's true. You pretty much have to mention your truck. And if you can find the time to disparage the condition and/or size of a romantic rival's rig, all the better. I'm sure this shit will pass. “It's just a phase,” as most Americans my age would say about their teenage offspring.
Anyway, next time I get in my (super-goddamn-kickass) van, I am definitely not gonna put on 99.5 The Wolf. I just absolutely can't do it. Maybe “The Bull”, though. It's only 0.8 Megahertz away! And it's like, totally different, I swear.