Dana Jennings’ story of how country music was so important to the lives of the people growing up poor in his New Hampshire hometown got me to thinking. Growing up in New York City, what did I know about country music? Very little, and that was the way I liked it. To me, as a kid, country songs were about ridiculous things like pickup trucks, guns, and dogs, or getting beaten up by the other boys because your daddy named you Sue to teach you a lesson. This was not because our backgrounds were so very different – in rural New Hampshire and in south-central Queens, middle-class was something to aspire to. But the country music we heard was slickly-produced pop music from Nashville. Dana’s parents played Lefty Frizzell, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn… people who lived hard lives and sang about hard lives with conviction. I would only later hear the raw truth in those old country singers – in New York, you heard that sort of thing when punk first came along. I think I could only appreciate Hank Williams because there was a familiarity about his songs – they sounded like proto-punk to me when I first discovered them.
And so I’m wondering: is there something about “classic country,” as Dana Jennings describes it, that has a unique resonance with the struggle of the American working class? Or can you find it elsewhere too?