I like wit, perhaps to a fault.
Everyone knows that ninety percent of everything is garbage. So I should have known, when I offered It's not Country. It's Johnny Cash, as a way of saving this great man's canon, that my friend would call me on it. I did it, of course, because Country has come to be sluggish bland pop with a twang, nothing at all like what Cash does.
Scott's the kind of guy who will never be fooled by the cover for the text â€“ someone who will never take flash over content. I should appreciate people like that, because whatever my webcomic has to offer has nothing to do with flash. Anyway, Scott called me on my pithy It's not Country. It's Johnny Cash bumper sticker philosophy comeback to someone calling Johnny a guilty pleasure. It would be a nice shortcut defense which gets an ironic point across â€“ that what U.S. radio stations have reconceived Country music as has nothing to do with what Cash does.
But my friend's right.
It's unfair to country music, and to ourselves, to allow them the new definition of country by pulling Johnny Cash out of it. We can't be cute and we shouldn't let them redefine Country music. Johnny Cash is Country – so were Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins and Patsy Cline and the Louvin Brothers and Willie Nelson and Glen Campbell and John Denver (more on them below) and Hank Williams (Senior) and the Carter Family. The Carter Family – how could I try to save Johnny from the genre of whose founders he was the son-in-law?
Glen Campbell and John Denver – yes, I included them in my selective list of what country used to be. Allow me to remind you that the 70's weren't kind to anybody. The same guy who wrote Leavin' on a Jet Plane and Rocky Mountain High (I think LoaJP was the life that was "hangin' by a song" in RMH), who co-wrote Country Roads, and who wrote forgotten gems like Two Shots â€“ well, he was the same guy who looked like Cousin Oliver all growed-up singing Thank God I'm a Country Boy and Grandma's Feather Bed. And the guy who made hits of songs that sound like they've always existed, like Wichita Lineman and Gentle on My Mind was the same guy who trumpeted Rhinestone Cowboy. These personae non-grata are worthy of mention â€“ and defense â€“ because they help mark the shift in country. In them we see when country music became less honest.
Yeah â€“ less honest.
That's the biggest problem with country music today. Country music has always told stories. The Carter Family really knew about getting married in the shadow of Clinch Mountain, Hank Williams really knew about places where the soda pop and dancin' were free, and Johnny Cash (remember Johnny Cash? It's a column about Johnny Cash) really knew about love being a ring of fire.
I defy anybody to find a real counterpart to that putrid song about the singing family with the deaf dad and blind mom (how could they communicate?), or that God-forsaken song about the kid buying shoes for his dying mom (I always like to imagine myself as the cashier who says, "this isn't enough money â€“ it's not even close!"), or that one now about the three crosses and the prostitute and the preacher son (how long ago did that crosses on the highway thing start up, anyway? Certainly not a generation ago). It's art that exists not because the artist likes it, but because someone thinks it will sell. The singer is left not singing about personal experience, and the insincerity shows through. If a country song came out wherein the singer admitted he hated country music growing up, and that he listened to a lot of Molly Hatchet while drinking warm beer on the hood of a car in a field because where he grew up was too damn boring to do much else, then they'd have country music worth listening to.
So where does that leave us? As much as I would like to make a lot of money selling It's not (or It ain't) country – it's Johnny Cash bumper stickers, I can't. Not in good conscience. I have to take the boring, hard-to-get-people-to-pay-attention tack of pointing out that there's nothing wrong with liking Johnny Cash because he's what country music is supposed to be â€“ sincere, simple songs that don't usually have a thudding bass line and drum with an overmixed slide guitar washing in slow-motion across the top of it all.
What does this have to do with webcomics? I don't know. How would it feel, though, in a few years, to have somebody say that Sluggy Freelance was a guilty pleasure, and some would-be wag suggesting that it shouldn't be a guilty pleasure, since it wasn't a webcomic â€“ it was Sluggy Freelance? I think it'd suck. And I hope Pete Abrams would find it as sucky as I would.
BoxJam is a contributing columnist for Comixpedia.