From the "Forgotten" Front Lines


Thought that the insights of the mysterious "Garth Strait" merit a wider read. He's a country DJ forced—at gunpoint, if I read him right—to play that awful, awful incredibly popular song.


NEXT: Child Abduction Rash Officially Ends

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “If this were an anti-war song of an equally simplistic and insipid type, would there be such a problem?

    “Of course not.”

    Yeah, I just love “Imagine”.


    (Damn it, there’s got to be *some* pigeon-hole I can fit into.)

  2. Kevin? You ok man? That was quite a rant.

    Now, who made you (or anyone else) the arbiter of all things good?

  3. Hey, Timothy:

    I did not say that, as you condecendingly paraphrase: “Country songs with patriotic lyrics are “reflexive” and “semi-religious,” and lack “complexity, originality, [or] challeng[e].””

    I was talking about the ones that ARE reflexive, semi-religious and that lack complexity, originality or challenge — ones like “Have You Forgotten?” which you admit to never having heard.

    If your only standard for the quality of a song is that it has a nice beat and you can dance to it, fine, but realize that some people like to actually listen to the lyrics and have them make sense, and enjoy hearing instrumentalists having to stretch a bit for a living instead of just cranking up the backbeat.

    It is possible to write a patriotic song that is not paint by number, that is heartfelt and well written, but you miss the entire point that the way that today’s radio oriented country is churned out doesn’t make for well written music in many cases. There are some excellent artists worthy of the name working in the field but you are unlikely to hear their work on the radio (except possibly on a small “Americana” station). Due to the nature of radio focus and call-out testing where songs are judged by short “hooks” and not as a whole, and the influence of consultants and labels, what you hear has been processed down to be as inoffensive as possible.

    Nothing I say about bad country absolves bad pop, bad hip-hop, or bad opera, for that matter, from being bad — invoking the “it’s all the same old crap” for other musical forms doesn’t mean it’s okay if they don’t reach for better as well. Even though Sturgeon’s Law applies to all music, why do you assume that to demand higher standards is somehow a bad thing?

    And how do you figure that a song like “Have You Forgotten?” with an implicit challenge against the other (the “you” of the title) is meant to unite at all? In practice, by offering no coherent argments for its position that would convince anyone not already on board with war the song is meant to divide — to confirm the believer’s stance and set them against the dissenter. It’s preaching to the choir and telling them it’s okay to hate those who disagree with them. What’s patriotic about that?

    And just what is wrong with demanding excellence instead of settling for the merely marginally acceptable? Do not assume that contempt for shoddy product and the people that settle for it means contempt for the possibilities of the country genre. That’s the same kind of simplistic reasoning that assumes that not liking a bad patriotic song means being anti-American. Do not dare, sir, to imply that I do not love my country just as much as you because I expect better than the lowest common denominator.

    And no, Jeff, I’m not forced at gunpoint. They pay me and the checks don’t bounce, so I follow the playlist that comes from the consultants like everybody else (in today’s radio, music scheduling is too important to be left up to mere DJ’s). Six months from now “Have You Forgotten?” will have been forgotten and we’ll be on to something else.

    And a bonus, here’s how you can write a hit country song:

    1. Find a “hook” — some sort of catchy turn of common phrase that can be used with multiple meanings in a repeated chorus.

    2. Find three incidents that it applies to:
    a). In childhood
    b). At first love
    c). When your first child is born, you get married, or your parent or spouse dies.

    3. Get an established radio country star to sing it.

    Instant hit — just listen to what’s on the radio.

  4. Does anybody remember when FM radio started? I was in a little college ducking the draft 100 miles south of St Louis and only one guy in the dorm had a stero that could pick up KSHE. “Underground” groups like Jethro Tull, Alice Cooper, Elton John (yes, Elton John), Black Sabbath, Ten Years After…

    Ah, the good old days.

  5. Paladin, I don’t think your interpretation of “Imagine” is correct. I was once told (can’t confirm) that John Lennon was quoted as saying, “Someone has to look out for our money. That’s why I voted conservative.”

  6. Garth! Garth! Garth! Garth! Garth! Garth! Garth! Garth!

    Yea, GARTH!

  7. From what I know of Lennon’s politics (and no one got the Don McLean Reference (‘while Lennon read a book on Marx…’) he was certainly not a conservative.

  8. Last October I heard George Jones complain about how country music had lost its roots: cheatin’ drinkin’ and lost love.

    It has become family values entertainment. Enough to make me barf.

  9. As lame as the song is I think I actually prefer it to Morris Albert’s melodramatic “Feelings” and (anybody remember this one–>) David Geddes’ melocomedic “Run Joey Run”. Aaaah, memories…..

  10. I never cease to be amazed at the presumption among the Condescending (left, right, and libertarian). One of their most popular articles of faith is that whenever a person waves the flag in any big way, that person is automatically a mindless jingoistic drone. “Garth Strait”‘s comments are a good example. Country songs with patriotic lyrics are “reflexive” and “semi-religious,” and lack “complexity, originality, [or] challeng[e].”

    Four observations come to mind:

    1) If middle America loves nothing more than to be coddled in their preconceived notions of God and country, so the Condescending likewise love to be coddled in their preconceived vanity that they are Genuine Intellectuals, unlike the rest of America, made up of lumpenproletarians living in doublewides. “Oh, I’m Mr. Sophisticated because I have contempt for bad patriotic country music. *My* music is challenging and original, but *theirs* is the music of mindless dittoheads!”

    2) What in God’s name is challenging and original about music from “Rage Against The Machine,” “50 Cent,” “Eminem,” et cetera, ad nauseam? It’s all the same old crap.

    3) Rock and country music isn’t supposed to be thoughtful and sophisticated. It’s damn near impossible to be thoughtful and sophisticated in 2 ? minutes, with a nice guitar solo in the middle, and it’s not very desirable. You could set Plato’s Symposium to a 4/4 beat, but nobody would want to listen to it, because IT’S A SONG! As Dr. McCoy says, the words aren’t important, what’s important is that you have a good time singing it, and the best way to have a good time is if the song is not some wannabe doctoral thesis, but a simple, rhyming song about something everybody knows about: finding love, losing love, winning the game, losing the game, taking a stand, regret?simple, unsophisticated stuff. Does that make it a low art? Yes. Anyone who holds an electric guitar and thinks he’s producing subtle insight is kidding himself. But does that make it worthless? Stupid? Deserving of contempt? No. It’s a song, for godsake. If you want sophisticated originality and challenging political insight, turn on some Miles Davis and OPEN UP A BOOK.

    4) ALL patriotic music is bland and “unchallenging.” Otherwise it would not be patriotic music. It’s supposed, in the deathless words of our president, to unite us, not divide us. Anything more complicated than “amber waves of grain” and “purple mountains majesty” is bound to set us to arguing with each other, because we’re a free country full of differing political opinions–and then it would not be a patriotic song. Patriotism is no more complicated than “There are things I don’t like about my country, but I love it and would never want to live anywhere else.” That’s not a very sharp observation, and that’s not a bad thing. Don?t people say the same thing about their marriages? Their jobs? Their social clubs? It?s not a challenging insight. Patriotic music, from Yankee Doodle to “Proud To Be An American” says nothing more or less than that, and it’s not supposed to. Imagine

    Oh beautiful
    For Patriot dream
    That sees beyond the years
    Thine alabster cities gleam
    Except for Detriot,
    which really sucks
    as the result of decades of welfare state policies
    and an interminable drug war
    which is totally indefensible on Constitutional and policy grounds,
    and Denver ain’t that hot either,
    America! America!
    God shed his grace on thee!

    Doesn’t have the same ring to it, you know?

    I’m not a country music fan, and I’ve never heard the allegedly awful song in question. My point isn’t to defend it–I’m sure there are terrible patriotic songs just like there are terrible songs of all other types. (I mean…have you ever listened to the WORDS to “Wild Thing”? Hm?! But it’s a great song!)

    It’s irritating as hell that the badge of sophistication is contempt. There’s a lot in middle America that deserves contempt. There?s a lot on the coasts that deserves contempt. There?s a lot about America in general that deserves contempt. But I love America, and I would never want to live anywhere else. Not very sophisticated, I suppose.

  11. Thanks, Garth, for reminding me of “The Little Girl.” That was surely one of the ugliest songs ever to be a hit, and no, I’m not talking the mean-spiritied by saccharine lyrics. I’m talking musically. Wasn’t that just a C F chord change repeated over and over again?

  12. All of us Flag-Waving-Teary-Eyed-Sing-the-Natioal-Anthem-at-the-Ballgame-not-Terribly-“Intellectual”-Midwestern-types salute you.

  13. oh, yeah…I thought Libertarians believed the market determined whether or not something had “value”.

  14. I don’t know about Libertarians, but most libertarians I know certainly do not believe that the market is the final arbiter of value.

  15. If this were an anti-war song of an equally simplistic and insipid type, would there be such a problem?

    Of course not. I used to like Reason because it was a magazine that tried to sort out the bullshit and present facts. Aesthetic judgements are not facts, nor are people’s opinions about others’ aesthetic judgements. Maybe people are just tired of hearing how everything in the world is Americas fault? Maybe Worley doesn’t say it well, but what he has to say must be said. Of course, now I’m a racist, jingoist, reflexive patriot for having said that, right?

  16. Steve:

    Speaking for myself, I’d say the market establishes EXCHANGE-value, not intrinsic value. Libertarians are not necessarily moral relativists. Consumer sovereignty is right because it means doing what you want with the product of your own labor. But that doesn’t mean that the tastes of a majority can’t sometimes be shit.


    I don’t like ANY kind of music where cynical “artists” and producers barely bother to disguise the fact that they’re churning out crap from the sausage grinder because their audience can be expected to suck it up on cue. “Today’s hot new country” (with the exception of some genuinely good groups like the Dixie Chicks) is just one step above Bobby Sherman, The Archies, ‘N’Stink, The Backseat Blowjob Boys, and Shitney Spears. Prefab, formula shit done by the numbers.

    Being “country” or working-class doesn’t mean not having taste. Call up one of these “today’s hot new country” stations and ask for something by Bob Wills, Roy Acuff, Hank Williams, or Merle Haggard. You’ll find out who’s “condescending”: “Oh, Gawd, like, that is SOOO five minutes ago.”


    You know who’s more cynical and condescending than any of us? The people who write, perform and produce this shit, on the assumption that if they barely make an effort and throw in the right “patriotic” buzzwords, people will feel some kind of “patriotic” obligation to buy it–the same captive audience that buys fourth-rate “Christian” pap by Christy Lane. The same people who churned out those shitty plastic flag decals (the ones on a white background, to remind everyone that it was plastic–the ones on clear plastic, that you hardly ever see because they cost a dime extra, actually looked halfway decent). You think Pavlov had any respect for his dogs?

  17. Lefty, sometimes you’re such a pain in the b%#&!

    I know many folks get their “values” from TV, but do you have to join them? Besides, we’re talking about core values here — not cultural values.

    CORE VALUES: like Honesty, Integrity, Respect, Independence, and the like. Get it now?

  18. And the final arbiter of value is … YOU! (Yes, you.) And if you bring that value into the agora (the marketplace) so others can judge it against their own values, well, so much the better.

    And that’s exactly what a marketplace ought to be. No more, no less.

    YOU judge. YOU value. You acquire or discard. There ain’t no arbiter out there who can know better what is of value.

    But if your values and those of another coincide or overlap, well, then maybe we can have common ground here, along with some beneficial EXCHANGE — be it country music or country wine.

    Basic stuff, I know. But sometimes (thanks to the many perversions caused by proponents of a command economy) we tend to forget.

    By the way, what is wrong with family values? Why are you throwing up? Isn’t that where it all starts? Or perhaps you had a bad childhood, did you?

  19. Tim Sandefur (first post) — Kudos to you. Your head is in the right place. You’re a very rational man. I couldn’t have said it any better.
    Thanks for saying it.

  20. Which family values is everybody talking about, anyway? Is it the Cleever one of 2 white folks married for life, mom home polishing the silverware, packing lunches for their 2.2 kids and going to their Protestant church every Sunday together?

    I bet it is.

  21. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/20/2004 02:33:02
    Don’t worry that other people don’t know you; worry that you don’t know other people.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.