Garth Brooks And The Downfall Of Country Music

So it’s been raining all weekend and I haven’t done much and I haven’t blogged because I haven’t done much and I was good with that when a friend posts that she’s going to see Garth Brooks!!! and a couple of friends respond with “Have fun!!!” and I respond with “Why are you telling her to have fun? It’s Garth Brooks,” and she responds thusly:

If you know anything about country music you would know he is like the best artist ever

OK. Now I have something to talk about.

Do I know anything about country music? Well, let’s see. I was born in the country. I spent the first 18 years of my life in the country. I occasionally go home to the country on holidays and long weekends.

Yeah, I know a little bit about country music. It’s the music of my people.

My pa had a pickup truck with an AM/FM radio that had six programmable buttons. He only programmed two — one was for KWTO (Keep Watching The Ozarks) and the other was for KTTS (No Obvious Acronym). Neither was a rock-and-roll station. Neither was in the classical or all-news format. It was all country, all the time, in Pa’s pickup.

You didn’t touch the dials on Pa’s radio. Even when he would get out and say “stay here,” you didn’t touch the radio. I spent many a day listening to country music on KWTO and KTTS. There was no 8-track player in Pa’s pickup. At home, Pa didn’t listen to records, but Ma did. There was Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard and Roger Miller and Tom T. Hall and the Statler Brothers and a few others.

Gunfighter-Ballads-Robbins-CDI wasn’t a big fan of country music but I respected it and I liked most of it. When I moved out I left country music behind for the most part. None of my friends or roommates listened to it. Laurie wasn’t into it, although she did have a strong love for Marty Robbins’ “Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs.” I had never heard of the album so I got a copy and soon fell in love with it as well. I especially like the hot pink background on the cover.

I first became aware of Garth Brooks while watching a news show where they did a segment on “Up and Coming Country Superstar Garth Brooks.” I was intrigued because Garth had taken a less-than-great Billy Joel song and turned it into a hit. In fact, during the segment they showed concert footage of Garth jumping up and down and climbing on cables while singing Joel’s “You May Be Right.”

“Why is this country guy so into Billy Joel?” I thought. But I didn’t think enough of it to go out and buy a Garth Brooks album.

Shameless_(Garth_Brooks_single_-_cover_art)It turned out — and here I’ll be sociological for a moment — that Garth Brooks was at the forefront of the “New Country” movement. By the 1990s traditional rock and roll was in decline, having been muscled out by rap, grunge and alternative rock. Young white people who feared rap and couldn’t sing along to Kurt Cobain and Michael Stipe had nowhere to go. So they turned to Garth Brooks and his ilk, who had taken rock and roll and meshed it into an unholy alliance with country music. If there’s a Frankenstein Monster of music, it’s New Country.

Or, as Tom Petty put it, “What they call country music today is like bad rock groups with a fiddle.”

You think Tom Petty and I are being too harsh? Don’t take our word for it, take country music’s word for it. Every year the Country Music Association holds its music awards show. The tagline: “It’s Country Music’s Night To Rock.” Think about it.

The country music I grew up with didn’t aspire to be rock and roll. It was country and it was proud of it.

But hey, Garth has sold millions of albums and has billions of fans, so that has to count for something, right? Not especially.  Michael Bay’s “Transformers” movies have made millions of dollars and have plenty of fans but no one would call them “great cinema.”

Still, it’s probably true that in the hierarchy of country music that Garth Brooks is like the best artist ever.

As long as you don’t count Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, Roger Miller, Tom T. Hall, Charlie Pride, Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Kris Kristofferson, Don Williams,  Hank Williams Jr., The Statler Brothers, Marty Robbins, the Carter Family and the Oak Ridge Boys.

Well, I’ll give you Garth over the Oak Ridge Boys.

(Yes, I am aware that this post makes me look like a “music snob,” but let’s be honest — when it comes to music we’re all pretty much snobs. At least I didn’t resort to the standard argument: “All (musician I hate)’s music sounds the same.”)






One response to “Garth Brooks And The Downfall Of Country Music

  1. Excellent observations about New Country music and Garth Brooks. Back in the early 80s, I had to program a Classic Country radio station. All the artists you mentioned, from Hank Williams to the Oak Ridge Boys, were included in the daily rotation playlist. I’ve always be a huge rock fan, however, I learned a lot about counrty music: the good, the bad and the ugly.

    There is a difference. Marty Robbins is one of the good classic singers. Some of his songs are traditional cowboy music, while others are basic country. I still own several of Marty Robbins’ las, including your favorite, Ronnie, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. Robbins has a very smooth voice and listening to him sing these simple songs is quite relaxing.

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