Manifestations of Collective Identity in Country Music - Cultural, Regional, National
- Art: Masterarbeit
- Autor: Stephanie Schäfer
- Abgabedatum: September 2011
- Umfang: 113 Seiten
- Dateigröße: 607,2 KB
- Note: 1,3
- Institution / Hochschule: Philipps-Universität Marburg Deutschland
- Bibliografie: ca. 104
- ISBN (eBook): 978-3-8428-2301-3
- Sprache: Englisch
- Arbeit zitieren: Schäfer, Stephanie September 2011: Manifestations of Collective Identity in Country Music - Cultural, Regional, National, Hamburg: Diplomica Verlag
- Schlagworte: Collective Identity, Country Music, Cultural Manifestation, Regional Manifestation, National Manifestation
Masterarbeit von Stephanie Schäfer
All American music reflects the landscape from which it springs – and as that landscape changes, chewed up by the developments and industry and environmental disasters, as the air we heave in and out of our lungs is filled with new particles, as the water we drink gets its fluoride levels regulated and mineral content tweaked, it makes perfect sense that American music becomes slicker, more machinated, less like reality. We are all subject to our environs, fashioned and chiseled and sanded into shapes We have highways for arteries and clouds for brains and sticks for bones, The sounds we make are Americana.
As one of the first musical expressions of the United States, country music represents the values and ideals on which the nation was founded. Country music can be seen as the epitome of the American Dream. It has its origins in the 19th century, when cowboys were working in the fields and riding through the lonely prairie, an image that has been romanticized by numerous Hollywood movies. This thesis focuses on country music as a genre as well as the identity which it represents and by which audience and performers are linked. Country music can be regarded as the music of Southern working class Americans. Since before the Civil War, the South has always been looked down upon as being primitive, simple-minded, and extremely religious. Having its roots in the South, country music has had to face substantial criticism in terms of unsophistication and over-sentimentalization. Due to a shift in national economic power, the United States have become increasingly Southernized, both culturally and musically. Southern culture and identity have become desirable. This phenomenon allowed country music to shed its dubious reputation and gain popularity across the country. This paper will shine a light on the American South as a cultural region that has more to offer than what meets the eye. Southern working class culture and its core values are going to be described and put in context with country music as a form of cultural expression. Central themes in American country music are family, love, heartbreak, work, friends, religion, and patriotism. Characteristic for the country music genre are its narrative structures, which by telling a story, enhance its ability to form a collective identity as well as a connection between the narrator, the performer, and the audience. However, country musicians are not solely messengers of the country identity, but they also pursue a professional career. In doing so, they commercialize their work in order to make a living. The line between music as a form of art and cultural expression, and as a commercial endeavor is rather thin.
This paper sets out to answer the question whether increasing commercialization has become a threat to the original country music identity. It tries to define a country music genre which is true to its roots, while at the same time looking at the production and performance of music as a business. When targeting a broader audience, producers have to create a style of music which caters to the masses while conveying an authentic message that remains true to its original identity. Identity is going to be a key issue in this thesis. The concept of identity will be defined and applied to country music as a cultural product. I will then trace the history of country music and describe the various styles that have emerged since the 1920s. Genres like cowboy music, western swing, honky-tonk, outlaw country, country-pop, and young country will be discussed. As an immigrant nation, the United States hosts various cultural communities which have brought and continue to bring their customs and traditions to their new home. This amalgam of cultures gives life to a new musical landscape. Apart from immigrant influences, Americans seek an alternative to traditional forms of music. One prominent social change came about with World War II, when women started working outside the home. Gender roles suddenly became more complex. With the emergence of blues and rock music, traditional country experiences multiple fusions with these modern genres and expresses the changing social realms.
After informing the reader about the essentials of Southern working class culture and the evolution of country music as a genre, I will discuss my central issue of collective identity threatened by increasing commercialization. This conflict will be exemplified by comparing authentic Texas country to the mainstream sound of commercial Nashville country. I will support my arguments by extracting country lyrics that deal with certain themes or issues and apply these to the biographies of various country singers and songwriters.
While most country narratives are restricted to a particular region, the call for a collective national identity becomes stronger in times of war. In my second part starting with Chapter IX., I will describe how the traditional values of the country music message become important and unify the country in desperate times. I will talk about country music during and after World War II, the Cold War, the Korean War, as well as 9/11 and the War on Terror. A particular emphasis is put on 9/11, after which event country music functioned as a catalyst for feelings of anger and fear that were stirred in the American people. Apart from warfare, country music and its traditional values are also used for political campaigns, especially those of the Grand Old Party (GOP). Country musicians perform at inaugural balls and political fundraisers as well as party conventions. Although strong ties are traditionally formed between country artists and the Republican Party, Democratic supporters can also be found in today's country music scene. Country music may not be as explicitly political as folk music, but the controversy between the Dixie Chicks and Toby Keith shows how the exercise of free speech can lead to a bloody rivalry on the musical platform.
Table of Contents:
|I.||Introduction: Country Music as a Marker of Identity and Cultural Expression||4|
|II.||Stereotypes and Recognition of American Country Music||6|
|III.||Perspectives of Identity and Music: Social Identity Theory||9|
|1.||Country Music Identity||10|
|2.||Where I Come From: Southern Working Class Identity and Country Music||14|
|2.1||Peculiarities of Southern Culture: Sense of Place||15|
|IV.||Generic Themes of Country Music||21|
|V.||History of Country Music: Blending of Cultures vs. Preservation of Identity||28|
|2.||1930s: Western Swing: Bob Wills||31|
|3.||The 1940s and 1950s||32|
|3.2||The Bar: An Alternative Home||33|
|4.||Reaching a Broader Audience: The Emergence of Radio Broadcasting||35|
|5.||Early 1970s: Cosmic Cowboy/ Outlaw Movement||36|
|6.||1970s: Mainstream Country/Country-Pop||41|
|7.||Late 1970s/1980s: Urban Cowboy||42|
|8.||1980s: New Traditionalists||43|
|9.||1990s - Today: Young Country||44|
|3.||Blending of Cultures: Conjunto and Tejano Music||49|
|VII.||‘Don't Get Above Your Raisin'‘: Authentic Regional Identity vs. Commercialization||51|
|2.||Authenticity and Commodification||52|
|3.||Back to the Roots: Country Identity and Regional Pride||59|
|3.2||Texas Regional Pride||61|
|3.3||Austin and Lubbock – Lone Star Country Music Arenas||64|
|4.1||The (Countrypolitan) Nashville Sound||66|
|4.2||Commercialization and Performance||68|
|4.3||Grand Ol' Opry||73|
|4.5||Back to the Roots: The Story of Willie Nelson||77|
|4.6||‘Gone Country’: The Changing Face of Nashville||81|
|IX.||Red, White, and Blue: National Expansion of Country Music||86|
|1.||Country Music Goes to War||86|
|1.1||World War II||86|
|1.2||United Forces against Communism||88|
|2.||Walls Came Tumbling Down: Country Music after 9/11||92|
|2.1||Unity in Crisis: National Identity||93|
|2.1.1||Toby Keith: ‘Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)’||93|
|2.1.2||Alan Jackson: ‘Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)’||95|
|2.2||Country Songs in the Patriotic Tradition||96|
|2.2.1||Darryl Worley: ‘Have you Forgotten?’||96|
|2.2.2||Brooks & Dunn: ‘Holy War’||97|
|3.||Political Campaigns and Country Music||98|
|4.||Country Musicians in Political Battle: Dixie Chicks vs. Toby Keith||100|
Chapter 2, Authenticity and Commodification:
Aaron Fox believes that the authenticity of country music can be viewed from different perspectives. Locals will display a stronger identification with the country music narratives than a cosmopolitan fan, while an academic critic will remain as objective and as least involved as possible in order to equally consider the different perspectives and not rank one over the other. Musical styles that remained folk include sea shanties, camp meeting songs, playground songs, or field hollers.
In his book Romancing the Folk, Benjamin Filene tries to locate folk music in an industrialized America. Given the explosion of mass media, rigid definitions of folk music become especially illusory when applied to the twentieth century. Since the turn of the century, even the seemingly isolated musicians have spent their afternoons listening to phonographs and dreaming of recording contracts. What makes the formation of America’s folk canon so fascinating, though, is that just as isolated cultures become harder to define and locate in industrialized America, the notions of musical purity and primitivism took on enhanced value, even in avowedly commercial music.
In the late 1920s, folk festivals encouraged authenticity by keeping the old-timey music alive. David Whisnant describes the atmosphere at these festivals in All That is Native and Fine: ‘Confronted by the beauty and authenticity of the ‘real thing’, the audience would be moved to forsake vulgar commercial imitations’. Racist groups like White Top help preserve traditional values with ‘the underlying aim to develop a white national culture expressive of the values and esthetics of a white America’. American music is often categorized as being authentically black or authentically white, but those styles that are authentically mixed are rather hard to define. Petrusich explains how authenticity has become more of a secondary factor in mainstream country and hip-hop music as opposed to early examples of Americana.
Early folk, blues, and country records are gritty and under-produced, concerned with exposing the plight of the workingman, offering empathy, hollered by everyday-looking people as a way of retaliating against perceived injustice. But most mainstream country and hip-hop albums are excruciatingly produced …, narcissistic, alienating, and more concerned with escapism ((own paraphrase) forgetting about our dull lives and shitty jobs) than authenticity. Hank Williams is known as the icon of sincerity in country music. He did not create a specific style of music. It was the intensity of feeling in his performance that made him so admirable along with his high, piercing hillbilly voice that turned every song into an emotional disaster. Hank Williams suffered from a herniated spinal cord early in his youth, which made him unfit for most work. Due to his constant back pain, he would lean forward into the microphone with his knees bent, expressing an overarching sadness with his half-yodel breaking voice. Dressed in western attire, Hank Williams played the singing cowboy on stage. He always made direct eye contact with his audience. In 1952, Williams stated: ‘Folk music is sincere. There ain’t nothing phony about it. When a folk singer sings a sad song, he’s sad. He means it. The tunes are simple and easy to remember, and they’re sincere with them’. Although Williams’ songs are sincere, they are not always autobiographical. He takes his own experiences and turns them into something universal. His ‘candid, first-person lyrics’ ‘fatalistically accentuated guilt and remorse in the honky-tonk style’. He was utterly convincing in staging the epic struggle between good and evil. His repertoire comprised upbeat honky-tonk songs, ‘guilt-drenched’ love songs, as well as sacred songs. His music portrayed a mix of sentiments that defined country music for years to come. As Peterson proceeds to describe, ‘His heroes are undone by their own desires, tempted by illicit sex, plied with alcohol, rejected by a cooled lover, and left alone bathed in guilt and remorse, groping for eventual reunion with wife, home, and God’. He was known to be a heavy drinker and ‘a wild man with guns’. The press tried everything to make the public believe that none of his songs were based on personal experiences. One headline in the 1950 National Hillbilly News reads: ‘Got ‘Lovesick Blues’? No sir, not Hank Williams, …The real Hank Williams…is happily married to a beautiful girl and has two fine children’. Publishers and producers almost turned him into a saint after his death in 1953. His family kept his legacy alive and accentuated the positive aspects of his life in the public realm. But Jim Denny, manager of the WSM Artists Service knew what Hank Williams was really like: ‘If Hank could raise up in his coffin, he’d look up toward the stage and say, ‘I told you dumb sons of bitches I could draw more dead than you could alive’.
Barbara Ching reviews Nick Tosches’ book Country: Living Legends and the Dying Metaphors in Americas Biggest Music and argues that his Living Legends seem to be pure and authentic ‘artists’ apparently untouched by the commercialism of the Dolly Partons and Willie Nelsons whom Tosches scorns. That these so-called legends are quite likely would-be or have-been commercial successes seems to not have entered Tosches’ picture; likewise the notion that any ‘artist’ that has entered into that picture probably got there through some impure, commercially tinged medium has also remained conveniently mystified.
The commercial nature of country music is debatable. Country songs have become a commodity, and country artists sing and perform for a living, while songwriters and producers work behind the scenes. Horstman believes that it is inherent in American capitalist culture, whereas Ching praises Sun Records as an independent label which generated pure and creative country music. Buck Owen’s ‘Act Naturally’ of 1963 shows how producers form actors and singers to fit the image they think to be the most profitable at the time, while telling them to ‘act’ naturally and ‘pretend’ to be authentic:
They’re gonna put me in the movies, they’re gonna make a big star out of me/ We’ll make a film about a man who’s sad and lonely and all I gotta do is act naturally/ Well, I’ll bet you I’m gonna be a big star might win an Oscar you can never tell/ Movies are gonna make me a big star cause I can play the part so well… Barbara Ching sees naturalness as a self-conscious act. Natural and authentic goods highly prized in times of mass-production. In her book Against Interpretation, Susan Sontag cites Oscar Wilde saying that ‘to be natural is such a difficult pose to keep up’. Barbara Ching ends her essay with a clever play on words: ‘The singers and listeners are acting naturally, and naturally, they are acting. And naturally, not everybody likes to hear that’. Fiddler John Carson made the very first country music record in Atlanta, GA in 1923. 500 copies of the record were produced. The strongest appeal of country music has always been the message of authenticity conveyed by its performers and not necessarily its historical accuracy. Peterson called his book Fabricating Authenticity, which implies that it is an image of authenticity which does not come naturally, but is rather constructed. Many country songs tell stories of an idyllic past that was too perfect to be true (‘A Past Misremembered’). Roy Acuff, the ‘King of the Hillbillies’, was a performance model for many of his successors. He never performed songs about the American West and his preferred outdoor activities were hunting and fishing instead of riding and roping.
Most executives of the entertainment industry came from the urban middle class and did not comprehend the message that authentic country music transmitted to its listeners. And those who had recently moved to the city were trying to hide their rural origins in fear of their reputation. Country music was denigrated as hillbilly music. The term itself had two components: Billy was a ‘rough, unschooled, and simple-minded person’ who came from the ‘hills’, the remote backwoods of the Appalachian Mountains (ibid). Fans of this type of music were just as condescendingly branded as their favorite musicians. Peterson describes today’s identification with country music as ‘a way for millions of people of mixed ethnic identity to express their imagined place in society against urbane corporate ways and in distinction from other nation-race-and religion-based ethnicities’. Having a family background in country music enhances the authenticity of a musician’s work. As mentioned before, the countercultural outlaw movement of the 1970s was all about the money for Nashville producers. The collaborative album Wanted! The Outlaws was released in 1976. It was the first album to receive platinum. Waylon Jennings ‘Mamas don’t let your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys’ became the signature song of the outlaw era. Peterson transcribed parts of the conversation between Waylon Jennings and his producer Jerry Bradley. Bradley: ‘Go cut this song, this is a damned hit, go cut this song, can you do it tonight?’ ‘I’m tellin’ you, Waylon, this is the song. And by the way, shred one of those other songs, ‘cause you’ve only got the right to do three.’ In the late 1970s, country music had grown so big that West Coast executives felt that hillbillies in Nashville could not handle it on their own. MCA forced Owen Bradley into retirement and started controlling the A&R department from L.A. Producer Jimmy Bowen revolutionized the record industry by introducing digitalization technology that he had inherited from California. Bowen felt pressured by the growing country music corporations mushrooming around Nashville. He said:
‘Country music got so powerful corporate-wise, and became so meaningful to the bottom line of these major corporations, and when that happens, the pressure gets on them to succeed. When you have a good year, they want 7% more the next year, like you were raisin’ wheat or buildin’ apartments. And when that happens, it gets so tight, coupled with the fact that half the people in the business are gone now, because of economics. Everybody’s making what they hear on the radio, and when you do that, the music stands still and when you do that, the music stands still and just gets slicker and slicker, like you’re spinnin’ in a wet rut with your wheels’.