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April 01, 2003


Classic country music patriotism
Some years ago I bought a Rhino compilation of patriotic country songs called Country Shots: God Bless America specifically for this Bill Anderson song that I was mocking in an old public access show. It turned out to be a pretty listenable collection [mostly Vietnam era] with a fair variety of styles and tone, suprisingly good for not even having Merle Haggard. Here's the line-up:

1. God Bless America Again - Bobby Bare
2. Viet Nam Blues - Dave Dudley
3. It's America (Love It Or Leave It) - Ernest Tubb
4. God Must Have Blessed America - Glen Campbell
5. The Minute Men (Are Turning In Their Graves) - Stonewall Jackson
6. Ballad Of Two Brothers - Autry Inman
7. Americans (A Canadian's Opinion) - Tex Ritter
8. Where Have All Our Heroes Gone - Bill Anderson
9. Don't Give Us A Reason - Hank Williams Jr.
10. God Bless The USA - Lee Greenwood

I've just dug it out again, and it all sounds interesting and fresh in many ways in our current situation. Hearing it from a real wartime situation, instead of from the safe campy comfort of even two years ago makes it vital. I would highly and heartily recommend it to one and all.

One track has jumped out at me in the current context. Autry Inman's "Ballad of Two Brothers" is more of a drama/comedy sketch than a song, but it's excellent however you want to label it. He narrates a letter home from a dedicated soldier in Vietnam, interspersed with his highly mockable brother back home at the university, and his protest marches.

What fascinates me is the contrast of this silly protester brother to modern protesters against the Iraq war. I regarded the Inman character as a cheesy caricature of peace activists. Yet this broad parody of a Vietnam protester does not BEGIN to look as utterly stupid as the ignoramuses at the modern "vomit-ins" and such.

I got the CD in the first place for "Where Have All Our Heroes Gone?" It is mostly a breathy Bill Anderson narration with a female chorus. He's basically lamenting the no-goodniks that our young people look up to today (1970ish) versus his boyhood heroes. I mocked it on air, and would do so again- but still with an appreciation for his execution. The examples and explanations have real personality, and a strong air of real conviction- more so than a lot of his better known hits.

I saw a group of boys the other day standing in the corner of a playground, looking and laughing at a magazine. And I overheard one of the boys say, 'Man is he ever cool.' And he pointed to the man whose picture was on the magazine cover. And everybody kind of said under their breath, 'Yeah, he's cool all right' And I got sick to my stomach, because I had seen the cover. The man that they were talking about had instigated a riot in one of our major cities last summer. The magazine was writing about how the police were 'unkind' to him, the judges were 'unfair' with him, and how he talked back and slung his long hair about and cussed, and 'did his thing.' And they made him into a regular hero.

The most musically satisfying jam comes from Dave Dudley singing the "Viet Nam Blues". This is a pretty good trick for something that is basically through-composed, one long narrative lacking a recurring melody or chorus. Kris Kristofferson wrote this evil talking blues about a soldier on leave in DC, wandering amongst the anti-war protesters and having to actively restrain himself from beating ass on some ignoramuses circulating a petition of support for Ho Chi Minh.

Three of these of the least interest were probably actually the biggest hits. "God Bless America Again" along with "God Must Have Blessed America" and the infamous "God Bless the USA" are pretty much Madison Avenue jingle writing. They have nice pro-American sentiments of a muted and impersonal nature, bathed in sappy strings. Beyond anything else, they're not particularly country. At that though, I will admit that they are reasonably well written bromides; they do have hooks.

The Ernest Tubb and Stonewall Jackson tracks are both outstanding songs, whatever you may think of the specific political content. "It's America (Love It or Leave It)" sounds fairly offensive on the basis of the title, even to me, but try it out. Ernest Tubb was absolutely not a belligerant or bellicose guy, and the tone of the song is more thoughtful and carefully considered than you might guess. "If things don't go their way, they can always move away. That's what democracy means anyway." Hmm. That's certainly what the liberals would be saying if Gore had won the election.

The least musically interesting track still has a pretty interesting ring today. "Americans (A Canadian's Opinion)" involves Tex Ritter reading a letter to the editor from some Canadian speaking up in praise of America. It's nothing to do with the war, but basically excoriates the entire rest of the world for being ingrates, with nice details. Again, it's not really a song, but I am really, really appreciating the sentiment about now.

Oddly, the most recent and directly relevant song here seems the most distant and out of place. Hank Jr had a decent sized hit during the first Gulf War with "Don't Give Us a Reason." It's even a pretty good outlaw rock song with good hooks, actually one of his best musical constructs.

The tone of this thing absolutely would not fly today, however, and makes a real clear display of differences between then and now. The whole glib tone of this, the truly jingoistic and arrogant belligerance would be totally unacceptable. "You can take that poison gas, and stick it in your sassafrass." I seem to remember a lot of guys with cheap macho posturing about killing them all and letting God sort them out, and so forth. It's a much more serious world now, and I'm not hearing ANY of that, not even out here in rural crackerland. "I'd like to find out just for fun just how fast those camels can run." Yup, that was a different era.

You need to hear this. The CD is long out of print, and most of the songs do not seem to be commercially available. So here are the better half of these songs for download:
"Americans - A Canadian's Opinion" by Tex Ritter
"Ballad of Two Brothers" by Autry Inman
"It's America, Love It or Leave It" by Ernest Tubb
"The Minutemen Are Turning in Their Graves" by Stonewall Jackson
"Vietnam Blues" by Dave Dudley
"Where Have All Our Heroes Gone?" by Bill Anderson


posted by Al at 4/01/2003 03:47:00 AM

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