Soundbite: Music Man


Thirty-six-year-old country singer Robbie Fulks spent a couple of years trying to make it in Music City, an experience that eventually led to "Fuck This Town," the nastiest anti-Nashville anthem since Waylon Jennings asked "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?" Now based in Chicago, Fulks isn't afraid to take on his own fan base either: His latest CD, The Very Best of Robbie Fulks (Bloodshot), includes a ditty called "Roots Rock Weirdoes," in which one of the title crowd announces a plan to "reclaim music from the kids for our fat dead cracker king."

Not all of Fulks' songs are angry or sarcastic, but most are clever and well-performed. An individualist in politics as well as temperament, Fulks calls himself a libertarian (and a Reason reader). Associate Editor Jesse Walker spoke with him recently via telephone.

Q: Why is country music so bland and conservative?

A: I think it's capitalism working. I don't think there's a conspiracy of evil Nashville fat cats out to deprive the people of their hardcore country music. I don't think there's a lot of interest in hardcore country music, and they're reading the market correctly.

I also think that, just like in any business, when something hits big–like Garth Brooks hit big–all of a sudden everyone aspires to be a second-rate Garth, to keep that little cycle alive as long as possible so everybody can make money as long as possible. And then Shania Twain comes along, and all of a sudden it's all young, good-looking women singing fluffy pop songs. Which, incidentally, is to my taste an improvement on the Garth cycle.

Everything is so weighty. Weighty in the way that The Oprah Winfrey Show is weighty–which is a false kind of weightiness. I think Nashville's definitely lost its sense of humor. I miss the novelty stuff.

Q: In the 1970s, a lot of country singers combined an outsider image with mainstream success. Do you think that's possible anymore?

A: I don't think the culture's accepting it. I grew up in the '70s, when the culture was a lot more laissez-faire, open-minded, and generally scabrous than these days. There's a sort of puritanism in the air nowadays that wasn't there when I was growing up. Mad magazine, National Lampoon, the after-effects of Lenny Bruce–it was different.

Q: On the other hand, this is the age of The Simpsons and South Park.

A: I think the two drive each other. Howard Stern is sort of a mainstream phenomenon, and South Park too. But you have that on the one end, and on the other you have this overarching, awful blandness. That's reflected in the most popular music in America, which is country music.