Editor’s Note: This is the first guest commentary in the history of Country Universe. Please join me in welcoming Paul Edward, who e-mailed me this passage and graciously allowed me to share it here. – K.
Why I Love Country Music
Guest Commentary by Paul Edward
Wednesday night my friend Stuart and I attended a concert by country music superstar Kenny Chesney at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Stuart bought my ticket as a surprise birthday gift for me.
Actually, the night turned out to be full of pleasant surprises.
For starters, LeAnn Rimes opened for Kenny and sang her most popular songs. It’s been 15 years since LeAnn burst onto the country music scene with her strong vocals reminiscent of Patsy Cline, but, if anything, time has just made her a better performer. She belted out the tunes, hitting every note flawlessly.
Then Kenny came on. Wearing a pair of faded blue jeans and old blue T-shirt, he seemed dressed more for a backyard barbeque than for a concert in a sold-out Staples Center. But that’s the thing about country music: The songs are so often about real-life situations that the music can make a cold, concrete concert venue feel like a summer’s day at a good friend’s home.
For those of you not familiar with Kenny’s music, he is a gifted storyteller in the tradition of Jimmy Buffett or Johnny Cash. His songs combine memorable lyrics with catchy tunes that carry you away into whatever world he sings about. In “Big Star,” you watch a young girl go from singing in local bars to performing in big-city concert halls. In “Better As a Memory than As Your Man,” you become the proverbial fly on the wall as a deeply saddened man tells his former lover why she is better off without him. Kenny’s music doesn’t just move you emotionally, it transports you into this vivid, multidimensional life experience that he creates.
He sang for two hours and it felt like 30 minutes. Actually, we sang for two hours, because that’s another thing about Kenny’s concerts: Everyone in the audience knows all the words to all his songs and everyone sings along.
To round out the night, there were wonderful surprise appearances by Uncle Kracker and Kid Rock, who played a few rock and roll numbers with Kenny and topped it off with the old David Alan Coe hit, “You Never Even Called Me by My Name,” which brought down the house.
But the night’s biggest surprise for me was a quiet one. It came during the break between LeAnn’s and Kenny’s performances, as the crews changed out and set up the equipment.
Let me preface this story with another. Those of you who have attended my employment law classes know that throughout my life I have experienced subtle and not-so-subtle forms of racism in America. I have been called the “N” word, I have been pulled over by the police for DWB (driving while black), and I have watched ladies clutch their purses tightly to their sides when I walk by.
But at Kenny’s concert, I experienced something altogether different. During the break, the young lady on my left asked me to watch her purse while she and her date went to the restroom. We had never met before, and the only words we had exchanged were “Hi” and “Hello” when the couple had arrived an hour earlier. So it was extraordinary for me that – rather than clutch her purse in fear – she left her purse in my care, not just a stranger, but a stranger of a different race. That, for me, was the night’s most pleasant surprise.
And it reminded me just why I love country music: People who listen to country music tend to be the nicest people I have ever met. Country music fans treat other country music fans as if they are members of the same family. A simple act, yet a powerful lesson that we could all learn and practice.
Paul Edward is the President of Life-Changing Coaching and author of “Moving Forward: Turning Good Intentions Into Great Results by Discovering Yourself, Your Place, & Your Path.” He is a former US Marine, actor, and corporate executive. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Chesney is more the style Buffet than Cash. In fact I will even say he is nothing like Johnny Cash.
I’m intrigued by the reference to Cash as a storyteller. When I hear that term, I usually think Tom T. Hall. I’m not familiar with Buffett’s work, though I know the island thing is something that both he and Chesney do.
Some of Chesney’s best work (“That’s Why I’m Here”, “The Good Stuff”) has the story thing going for it. The connection between Cash and Chesney isn’t blatantly obvious, but I wouldn’t dismiss it as nonexistent. I’d like to hear more about it, actually. What connections do you see between their respective works?
I’m not a chesney fan. I usually use “The good Stuff” and “Chiseled in Stone” as an example of what country is and isn’t. Buffet use an island theme heavily as does Chesney. Not a Buffet fan either. That said he did write one of my favorite country songs with Jerry Jeff Walker “Railroad lady” I really love the Lefty Frizzell ver.
would i be allowed to comment on this purse story, or will it be deleted again, like my comments on that other famous purse incident of lately?
Those comments were deleted because they were completely off-topic. But since you brought it up, it seems like a good time to mention that I don’t touch the gossip stories at all on this site. I just keep the focus on the music. Celebrity scandals really don’t interest me.
CCF. I am curious. Is the fact that Chesney’s stories talk about different aspects of life than Cash’s lead you to the conclusion that Chesney is not a storyteller like Cash was? To me, A Boy Named Sue is a story about a boy who grows up tough and fighting because his father left him and left him with a girl’s name. While, A Lot of Things different is a story about a man who looks at the things in his life that he regrets doing. In both cases, both artists are telling stories through their music. How are they not similar? I am not being argumentative. I really want to understand. Thanks!
I didn’t say they weren’t story tellers. Kenny isn’t like Cash because of his music. Cash’s music was edgy and dark at times.
Kenny is about what a happy life I/we have etc. Cash wrote the vast majority of his songs. Though he didn’t write boy named Sue. Shel Silversteen did.
no offense taken btw.
Get a copy of Vern Gosdin’s song Chisled in Stone listen to it then listen to Kenny’s song “The Good Stuff” both deal with a man in a bar after a fight with his wife.
I have Vern Gosdin’s Chisled in Stone and love that song. I didn’t know that Shel wrote Boy Named Sue. That man is everywhere … children’s books and country songs … very cool!
Glad you have it and like it. I belivie Max D. Barnes worte it. Can you hear the glaring difference between that song and Kenny’s “The Good Stuff” Kenny’s lyrics are more sappy. Drinking milk, rice in her hair etc.
It’s great to see a guest commentary on CU, and I must say that your piece is very well written, and has some great points for discussion. As far as the Chesney-Cash comparison, you’ve stumbled onto a grain of truth that I, at first, did not want to admit. I started to write a real harsh disagreement, but I found that I couldn’t. Though Kenny is, in my opinion, nowhere near meaning what Johnny did to country music, he is a storyteller. I pondered on just the point of each man’s ability to tell a story. Like Kevin, Tom T. Hall came to mind when you said storyteller, as did Red Sovine, and a few others. But you really have a point. Though, as ccf pointed out, Kenny’s stories are often light and sunny, and border occasionally on sappy, they are still story-songs, and are delivered well. To be honest, I favor the grit and edge of Cash, and I couldn’t really accept that from Chesney. What he sings fits. So, in summation, I agree. Though on different sides of the emotional spectrum, they are both great storytellers in their own right.
Moving on, to more the core of your commentary, I want to thank you for sharing your story. You have illustrated a more important point that I would like to delve into, if you will indulge me. As a lifelong devoted country fan, I have seen, through the world around the genre, the best and the worst in people. I have friends and associates that I debate occassionally about the race issue in country music. Country music has always been as predominatly white as hip-hop has been black. Take the story of Charley Pride. His first albums were released without his photo anywhere in sight, from the record company’s fear that if it were known that he were a man of color, his records wouldn’t sell. On the uglier side, David Allan Coe, who you ironically referenced in your concert experince, released his infamous “underground recordings.” Now I will refrain from getting too far into those, as they stirred many issues, but they were, primarily, extremely racist. They put a sour taste in the mouths of a generation, and country music was labled as bordering on being too white.
As far as preformers go, things have not gotten much better. With few exceptions, the genre remains dominatly white. So, I asked myself, how have we gotten to a point where an article such as yours can be so honestly written, and so deeply felt, and how did it take us so long to get there? I think it took artists like Kenny Chesney, and those of his wide ranging appeal, to branch country out, and make it a music that can be related to by everyone. Though I have run Kenny and his pop-leaning brand of artists through the ringer, I needed to read this story. And, as a genre, we need people like him. Just a few months ago, I reviewed the album released by Rissi Palmer, a black singer, on my site, Nashville Now. (Sorry for the plug, Kevin) I got a very strange reaction. As soon as I posted the article, I got a comment from a young lady accusing me of being racist for not giving the record an aces review. Then, through the commentary that followed, we resolved the issue, and she really seemed to understand that all that is at issue is the music. Not race.
So, in conclusion, we need to see this as just another gift of the greatest form of music on the face of God’s green earth. Togetherness. Country music is a music that is about real life, and about crossing boundaries and relating to everyone, from every walk of life. It brings us all together at times like Paul discussed, and we all need that in our lives. Stories like this are why we do what we do, and are so very assuring that somewhere along the way, something went right for us all.
First of all, I want to commend you for your willingness to reexamine your feelings toward Kenny Chesney. I agree with you that his music is less edgy than Johnny’s and even Tom T. Hall’s was. I suspect that has some to do with the backgrounds of the artists and some to do with the times we are living in. Nevertheless, they are fantastic storytellers bridging the range of sappy and sentimental to gritty and bleeding edgey.
Secondly, I want to thank you for addressing what I thought was the heart of my blog: human relations. Country music is still most definitely white-dominated. (I like how you juxtasposed it with the black-dominated rap music genre.) And I’m glad you picked up on the David Allan Coe reference. I am well aware of his “underground recordings” and am saddened that he would record such hate-filled music. But the truth is his “You Never Even Called Me by Name” is one of my most favorite songs, ever. It’s just good music. I can’t help singing along with it whenever it is played. Ironically, he mentions Charlie Pride in this song. So who knows, maybe Steve Goodman was trying to move the needle a bit.
I think your performers analysis is right on the money. I wonder if people of color shy away from becoming country music performers because they perceive that they won’t be accepted by the overwhelmingly white majority of fans? I hope this isn’t the case. Because as you say, it’s all about the music.
I am familiar with the reaction that you experienced in reviewing Rissi’s album and am glad to hear that you worked through the issue by continuing to dialogue with each other to clear up any misunderstandings between you. That’s what’s needed and more of it.
We have a long way to go, but looking back, we have also come a long way.
I too am glad that “somewhere along the way, something went right for us all.”
I just re-listened to both songs before responding, so here goes:
The differences between the songs are a difference in perspective, not quality.
In “Chiseled in Stone” one gets the sense that the old man is the story is still in the grieving process of losing his wife. He focuses on the immense sorrow and loneliness that he is feeling and warns the narrator that while the fight he is having with his wife may be bad, it’s not as bad as losing her forever.
In the “Good Stuff” one gets the sense that the bartender has come to terms with the loss of his wife. Having passed through the grief associated with his great loss, he is now able to remember the good times they once shared. And true to form, the things we remember most are the little things, like how a person looks with rice in her hair, dropping engagements rings out of nervousness, and all those other experiences that seem insignificant at the time.
I wouldn’t say that this is a sappy song, rather it’s a way to memorialize the positive impact had on someone else’s life.
I know that in my own life, as I have experienced the loss of some of my closest friends in the military, I have identified with the emotions expressed in both songs. The night I found out about my friend’s plane crash off an aircraft carrier in San Diego, I felt very much like the old man in Chiseled. But when I think about that same friend today, I remember the good times we had in college and our first years together in the fleet.
Thankfully in country music, unlike some other genres, there is room for a wide range of feelings and experiences.
So you are a veteran? In that case I want to say thank you for your service to the country.
I’m not a veteran, nor a critic, but just a country music fan, but I just cannot take anything Kenny does seriously! Especially being compared to Johnny Cash and others like him. Johnny Cash, Charlie Rich, Charley Pride, they seem to all have lived the things that wrote about and sang. For an example, I can’t think of Reba and Kenny being exes and Kenny having children and making grilled cheeses and cutting the crust off! I just have beachbum Kenny in my head with a beer in one hand and a bottle of suntan lotion in the other and sleeping in his cowboy hat! I’ve tried but Kenny just does nothing for me at all! Every song he sings, sounds the same and means the same. All his concerts are rehearsed and I don’t feel he’s as totally about the fans as he keeps saying. I think he is all about himself! And no I’m not Renee!! lol!! Just my opinion, which means nothing.
They just sit around attending sponsored party dinner functions, waiting for some nice things to happen to them one day. ,