Jason Aldean, Small Towns, and the Monetisation of False Memory

Virgil Hutton, killer of Sheriff Owen Sizemore during the Harlan County coal wars

Virgil Hutton, killer of Sheriff Owen Sizemore during the Harlan County coal wars


Been thinking about the furor surrounding a certain song about “small town” ethics and vigilante justice.

I hate to dignify the singer by naming him – it surely only adds to the magic algorithms which magnify his presence on social media, while swelling his head and bank balance.  But, like a fish rising to the bait, here we go…

I’ll turn 60 in the next year.  I grew up in a small town.  An actual small town that had 2000 people in it back when I was a kid – a town that still hasn’t broken the 5000 population mark yet.

Mill ponds on rivers that flooded us out.  Gas wars.  Demolition derbies.  Five-year-olds allowed to set-off bottle rockets and Roman candles and Black Cat firecrackers.  A chicken house, and a pile of old railroad ties with copperheads living under it.  Being made to go to Sunday School on Sundays AND Wednesdays.  Having an acre of beans you and your brother planted and hoed yourselves eaten by deer in a single night.  Winters so cold the coyotes tried to get into the house.

I don’t know when things changed to the extent that people growing-up in cities with over 150,000 people in them got to start claiming “small town” culture.

But then again, I never understood why country singers from Southern Appalachia and The Ozarks who made it in Nashville suddenly stuck cowboy hats on their heads.  Where I grew up, anyone who was “country” probably wore a cap with “International Harvester“, “John Deere“, or “Skoal” on it which they got for free at the local feed store.

Now that I’m approaching Old Codgerville, watching the wheels of the generations turning, I’m beginning to understand this bullshit posturing that some people get up to.

Each generation is moving farther and farther away from actually knowing and speaking with people who were around back in the old days, and the “like my daddy and his daddy before” stuff has never been passed-down the generations with any real accuracy.  Folks forget things.  Folks hide things.

In the place I lived as a kid, one of the most popular things on TV was a variety show called “Hee Haw“, which played-up to every “country” caricature in the book, in between showcasing some damn fine musical talent.

It was hosted by Buck Owens and Roy Clark, both excellent musicians in their own right, and both children of real, not imaginary country people.

Clark was born into a tobacco farming family in Virginia during the Great Depression. His parents had to abandon the farm and move to New York to find laboring jobs to keep their children fed.

Owens, for his part, was also reared on a farm in Texas, until The Dust Bowl and Great Depression forced his family out, too.

Hee Haw“, for all its silliness, was a show tinged with longing and nostalgia, watched by people stuck in working-class suburbia – people just one generation removed from a way of life which had lasted for uncounted generations.

The wheel keeps turning, and memories get passed down and gilded and curated through selective amnesia.

Many country singers today, and many of the folks who spout the “Make America Great Again” nonsense, are recalling a world they never experienced, and constructing a world in their own heads based on what they IMAGINE things were like.

The “small town life” of current hit country songs doesn’t mention alcoholism caused by violence and trans-generational trauma.  Kids being whipped with belt buckles.  Local sheriffs “escorting” people of color over county lines to keep their “small town” fit for “white folks”.  Young boys who were gay hiding it behind performative violence, and if they couldn’t hide it, being called “pansies” and getting beaten-up at random.  Women with black eyes trying to get the shopping done early in the morning before too many people were around town.

There were of course many good people in small towns, but boy oh boy…

It was hard to be “good” when you were 12 years old at a local baseball game and all the grown men beside the snow cone stand waited for you to laugh loud and hard at their repertoire of n***er jokes.

But still, a few folks knew the real score.  Many had family whose land was taken off them during hard times.  Some had family who had died in the mines.  Others had grandparents who had fought in the coal mine wars.  Most knew of or had children who had died unnecessarily because there was no money for a doctor.

Country singers like Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard and Patsy Cline and Bobby Bare and Dotty West and Buck Owens and Roy Clark and Tom T. Hall and Tennessee Ernie Ford and Dolly Parton were from that time when good people, when real people, knew the truth about life in America for the underclasses.

That’s why old country music was full of drinking and heartbreak and disappointment and money problems and prison and trains and loneliness and longing for family when forced to look for work hundreds of miles from home.

Some bro-country dude from a city in Georgia sporting a cowboy hat, far in time and distance from “small town” reality, isn’t a spokesman for “country” or “small town” values.

If he wants to be a spokesman for something, he should forget the “small town” stuff, and stick to his more general area of expertise – “How to monetise horseshit”.




#SmallTown #JasonAldean #CountryMusic #history


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