Wednesday, February 09, 2005
I rarely read books for fun anymore, though I'm slowly working my way through this awesome book about Charlie Birger, which I will talk about at some point, I'm sure. But here goes the Nashville Scene with a review of a book I heretofore had no intention of reading making me think I'd better pick it up. The book, Country Music Goes to War edited by Charles K. Wolfe and James E. Akenson, contains, apparently, an essay by Aaron Fox suggesting that Gillian Welch is some upper middle class snot appropriating working class music and reformulating it in a way that makes it safe for other upper middle class snots. I love Gillian Welch. I rave about her to everyone I know. I have, on one occasion, given her something free from work even though it goes against everything I stand for. I drive around town with the windows down singing "I've got an old V-8 from the year I's born, don't look like much, just a flat, black Ford" like I don't give a shit who sees me. I even dragged Miss J. to a concert. But I also know what I am, a frumpy dumpy Midwestern girl who escaped a life of sitting at the bar reminiscing about high school waiting for my farmer husband to get done with the kids at Little League by shear luck. Those kids who circle around on their bikes in front of their grandma's house out in the country on hot summer days--that was me. Those kids who drive as fast as they can away from the tiny towns they live in only to come creeping back in because their parents want the car home by midnight--that's me. I eat only cornbread for dinner and I like it just fine; even if it was all my mom could afford, I believed her when she said it was a treat. And that's not to say that I'm some champion of the poor. We never saw ourselves as poor because we were just the same as everyone we went to school with. Some folks might have had a little more money and some folks might have had a little less, but, even though we were working class, I guess, I think we all thought we were safely middle class. But we all listened to country music, like it or not, because it was always around us. You couldn't go into a grocery store without hearing Reba over the speakers. My mechanic always had country music blaring in his garage. It was there at the doctor's office and at the bank and anywhere where folks had radios. You could dislike country music, but you couldn't not listen to it. Is Gillian Welch "aping working-class identities in the same disingenuous manner that black-faced minstrels did during the late 1800s"? That's a pretty serious charge. And it's one that's hard to know what to do with because it's hard to understand where Aaron Fox is coming from. He's got himself a "working class" looking photo on his website. And he's got a book all about working class culture. But, seriously, he's got a website and a professional photo and a book. And, and, he's got a B.A. from Harvard. How is he the arbiter of working class? Seriously. I'm $70 overdrawn and I'm living in a beer-bottle encrusted hole in the ground with my pitbull and my no-account brother who only has a job because he fears the wrath of my dad more than he hates working, with random license plates strewn about the front yard and a fucking train that runs through my back yard carrying on it hobos who could at any minute kill us because the fucking back door doesn't lock and the dog's a coward and I'm no more working class than Mr. B.A. from Harvard Aaron Fox, because, Dr. Professor Fox, once you leave, you can't go back, especially once you leave for grad school. So, Aaron, assuming you have the background of the folks you presume to speak for, let's be honest, you and I, we're both poseurs. We both can run around impugning all the folks we want for being classists, but come on, from one pretender to another, who are we to say anything? It's the price you pay for being lucky and getting to leave. You don't safely fit in the academy for fear that your bumpkin ways will betray you for the imposter you are, but you don't fit back home either. It's a paradox you always have to keep in mind if you want to do honest work, if you want to strive honestly for social justice, that you both always are that thing and can't ever be that thing again, in this case, the "authentic" audience for country music. And so, to accuse Gillian Welch of disingenuousness, hell, not just disingenuousness, but disingenuousness of a magnitude on the level of minstrelsy, without at least being aware of your own level of imposter-hood is sure something. I don't feel like I'm listening to something particularly false when I listen to Gillian Welch. I'm well-aware that she's a rich kid from California, but it doesn't bother me. Country music, as the billboard on my way to work says, is Your Music--America's music (or at least a part of it). And anyone with the time and energy to steep herself in it deserves the right to sing and play it. I know Johnny Cash never killed Delia or any man in Reno. And I know Gillian Welch didn't kill Caleb Meyer. I think the thing that really bothers me is the implication that certain types of music are only for certain people--that a rich kid from California can't make music that sounds like she's a rural white southerner, for instance, or that three Jewish white boys from NYC can't make rap music. I mean, what is rock and roll if not white kids ripping off black music? It's how American music works--to go back to that again--I steal from you; you steal from me. ...stole from my best friend, some joker got lucky, stole her back again... Anyway, maybe this post is more personal that it seemed at first. Of course I have a great stake in believing that all music is for everyone, that anyone with talent and luck can be successful in any genre, that all American music is all our musical heritage, because I need to believe that all America is for all of us. This land is your land, this land is my land, and all that jazz. So, Aaron Fox, now I've decided not to read your essay, because I don't give a shit if Gillian Welch and all the other alt.country yahoos are a bunch of poseurs; hell, I don't even give a shit if you are as well.