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Fred's Views

Make Mine Music

I'm reading Shania Twain The Biography by Robin Eggar. This is the second book about Shania that I have read. The first was much thinner and, except for the incident when Shania supposedly ended her connection with Mary Bailey, was pretty much a flattering portrayal. This book is somewhat less flattering. It portrays Shania as driven and determined to be successful in her chosen field. While it does not go so far as to say that Shania "used" people for her purposes and then discarded them, it does suggest that she knew who could help her with her career and sought them out. A few people interviewed had reservations about her, but it did not appear that anyone truly disliked her or felt used or betrayed by her. I should point out that I haven't reached the point in this book where Shania and Mary part company quite yet.

This book is much longer than any other Shania bio I have seen. How does one fill a whole book about someone who has lived less than half their life and has been in the "limelight" for only a few short years? One way is to include a rather thorough, if succinct, overview of the history of country music. Another way is to provide a fairly detailed bio of Mutt Lange, Shania's husband. This book does both. And now we come to the theme of this column.

Mutt Lange is credited with saying something to the effect that "Nobody really listens to the words of a song, so the lyrics are quite unimportant." The actual quote was much more forceful and colorful, but you get the idea. I have to take exception to that.

Let me first say that I have been a lover of country music for as long as I can remember. My parents had a radio in the kitchen and my mother listened to it regularly as she prepared the evening meal. Her favorite radio station was 900 CHML and, as radio stations do, it changed formats every once in a while. For a while, it featured country music. I can still vaguely remember hearing "Cattle Call" by Eddy Arnold as well as songs by Tennessee Ernie Ford and, of course, Hank Williams. But the format would change again, and, not having a radio of my own, I would listen to whatever was available. Other songs that still haunt (in a pleasant way) my memories include "Ricochet", "Apple Pink and Cherry Blossom White", "Secret Love" and many more pre-Rock and Roll favorites.

Over the years, I have "dabbled" in many music formats: Classic Rock and Roll (the latter half of the fifties), classical music (my college days), and "pop" which my wife still prefers. But I always come back to country. When my wife and I commute to work, we listen to a "pop" FM station until I drop her off, then I quickly switch to country. There is something about country music that reaches way down into the root of my being, that stirs my soul in ways no other form of music can. I am not a "red-neck", despite being raised and living most of my life in a rural (now semi-rural) area. If anything, I am super liberal. I have very little in common with some of the traditional themes of country music: womanizing and drinking. And I despise manual labor. So why the attraction to country music? I'm not sure I can give a definitive answer. The best answer I already mentioned: it reaches deep down inside me.

I have never been a fan of what today falls under the general heading of "Rock" music, which I date from the early sixties, the Beatles being the harbinger of the new and the death of classic rock and roll, at least for me. I don't get the appeal for "rap" music - if putting "rap" and "music" in the same sentence makes any sense. But I must tie this in with my theme.

One of the reasons why current rock music doesn't appeal to me, beyond the sheer volume of "noise" is the fact that the words are usually quite incomprehensible. The same, ironically, is true of most "rap". When Mutt was quoted as saying the words were unimportant, he was still producing rock music. Perhaps his ideas will change when he moves into country, because they should. Country music, most of it anyway, is all about the words. Sure, there may be a musical "hook" to a song, but usually, the hook is in the lyrics. It can still be hard, sometimes, to understand some of the lyrics as sung. For example, Jessica Andrews in her hit song "Who I Am" sings a phrase in the chorus that I could never make out. What would sound logical sounded nothing like what she seemed to sing, and what she seemed to be singing, made no sense in the context. It wasn't until I bought her CD and saw the lyrics, that I knew that she was actually singing what logically fit - but it still doesn't sound like those words when she sings it. But what would be the point of such a song without listening to the lyrics? Or Leeann Womack's "I Hope You Dance"? Or the unusual but true-to-life almost novelty song "I Want to Talk About Me"? Or Alan Jackson's "Where Were You"? I could go on, but do I need to?

Country music may be rooted in the southern states. It may be influenced by "red necks" and "good ole boys", but it has an appeal that reaches out across the land, across the continent, across the world to millions who feel the music strike at their very core. The music may reach some elemental essence within us, but it is the words that inspire us, bring a tear to our eye or a smile to our lips. It is the words that remind us not only of who we are, but of who we could be, or who, but for the grace of God, we could have been. Country music brings out the humanity in us all: our faults and failures as well as out small successes. The dreams and the nightmares. The reality of our existence.

Can anyone keep a dry eye as love wins out in "This is Austin", as God steps in with "The Little Girl" or as the human spirit endures with "I'm a Survivor". If few if any of these titles mean anything to you, then, I encourage you to give country music another look. It's not all beer and betrayal. You'll find music that stirs your soul and words that enthrall you, inspire you, or just plain affect you. And most of the time, you can actually understand what the singer is saying. That's music.

Copyright © 2002 by Fred Oldfield. All rights reserved.

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