When Usher’s “Yeah!” came piping through my earbuds the other day as I struggled up Righters Mill Road, I’ll admit that the thumping rhythm lent a spring to my step and that I clicked up the volume as I pumped my legs. But I also found myself slightly repulsed as I listened closely, for perhaps the first time, to Ludacris rapping about “these women all on the prowl/If you hold the head steady I’m a milk the cow.”
Usually, I’m in favor of a little smut. I often find that a lick of licentiousness can really lighten the mood. However, for some reason on this particular morning, Ludacris commanding me to “bend over to the front and touch [my] toes” struck me as pushing matters just a bit too far.
That’s why I’ve grown to love country music. It’s so wholesome. Artists like Jason Aldean appreciate the quaint aspects of life, such as a “honey drippin’ honey from a holler in Kentucky.” He politely offers a gal a “ride” on his “big green tractor,” noting, “We can go slow or make it go faster.” Florida Georgia Line knows to use the diminutive when asking a woman to “slide that little sugar shaker over here.” And if a country singer refers to milking a cow, he’s probably really talking about milking a cow.
Granted, cowboys do tend to bellyache over failed relationships and to saturate their lyrics in beer and whiskey. But when Dierks Bentley invites me to “Tip it on back, make it feel good/Sip a little more than you know you should,” I’m charmed and tempted by his proposal, especially while out doing errands with my 2-year-old.
And oddly, although I live in a northeastern urban hub, I’ve found I’m not the only one who’s a little bit country. For instance, when one of my husband’s friends complained at a Thanksgiving Day touch football game that he was going to be “hurting” on the morrow, another player told him, “It’s all about today.”
“No,” I interjected. “It’s ‘All About Tonight.’”
“That’s Blake Shelton!” Jeff’s friend cried.
“I know,” I said, more than slightly proud.
Being a country fan in a place like Philadelphia is like belonging to a secret club. You keep trying out the handshake to see if anyone returns it, and when someone does, you feel an instantaneous connection. Once he knew that I knew Blake Shelton, Jeff’s buddy felt safe to confide, “I was country before country was cool.”
I wasn’t, but Jeff’s addiction to the stuff has rubbed off on me, and I now have 92.5 XTU, “Philadelphia’s Country Station,” programmed into my minivan presets. If I accidentally play Sirius XM’s mellow, folk rock station, “The Bridge,” our kids clamor for “The Highway”—“the road to new country” that’s “way ahead of the curve.” Eric Church and Kenny Chesney accompany our basement play. And country music provides us with a common language.
“‘Come on, come on,/Baby, I’m buying,” my 2-year-old shouted along with Kip Moore the other day. “‘Beer Money,’” she added. “We hear this a lot.”
We do. And I like how cowgirls like the Pistol Annies are training my nearly 6-year-old daughter to be a tough broad. “I got a pink guitar/A Lincoln town car/From ol’ what’s his name/I met at a bar,” Georgia sings. After all, she needs to accept sooner or later that she is, indeed, “Hell On Heels”—already a “Tornado” who will soon be “looking for a man to break.”
In addition, country music offers Georgia’s twin brother instruction on how to be a man. Greg Bates is teaching my son that if he wants to win a girl, he’s got to get the “Chevy all shined up” and douse himself with a “little extra smell-good splash.” And I agree with Bentley that Griffin should be up front with the ladies. In fact, my son is already rehearsing the lines, “If you think I’m gonna’ settle down/I’ve got news for you/I still got a lot of leavin’ left to do.”
Furthermore, my husband and I find our lives reflected in the country music narratives. Take the other Sunday, for instance, when Sugarland flowed out of the radio as we drove home from a dreary morning at the park with our three, ornery kids. “There’s gotta be something more/Gotta be more than this,” Jennifer Nettles sang. “I need a little less hard time/I need a little more bliss.” Jeff turned to me. “This could be our theme song,” he said.
Indeed, it could. “Something More” rings eerily true these days. But maybe country music can also offer us a way out. Maybe it's time for us to get our “shine on” via some “Kentucky Clear.”