My buddy, Bob, almost jumped from my moving car a few weeks ago. I had offended his city slicker-trained ear; and I had placed my friend in jeopardy. I had dared to play country music in a Country Western Exclusion Zone (CWEZ).
You'd a thought I stole his wife and shot his dog or ... perhaps the other way around.
It was a rainy Friday and I had spent the day ridin' fences (CWEZ translation: Honey, Do ... List); punchin' cows (Took the dog to the groomers.); and balin' hay (Picked the mower up from the repair shop). The country music playlist on the iPod was fitting in nicely with the weather, the chores, and my mood. And it was giving me a few good laughs along the way.
'Cause nobody tells a story like a cowboy!
Actually, I think the cowgals tell a much more entertaining story, since they inevitably get around to how their man is behavin' like the south end of a northbound horse.
I reside in the Philadelphia CWEZ. CWEZs blanket the East coast north of Baltimore. The typical CWEZ extends for miles from the center of every major northeastern city. Larger cities - like Philadelphia and New York - have larger CWEZs.
There are those who will flaunt CWEZ convention, and listen to these contraband music stylings. But they are few. They are hardy. And they keep their anti-establishment behavior to themselves, like resistance fighters in German-held France during WWII.
So while growing up I never listened to country music, as is required of all people born within a CWEZ. The requirements also include loyalty to NFL teams as opposed to college or high school football, minivans in lieu of pickup trucks, and white sneakers instead of a good pair of shit-kickin' boots.
Of course, there was a time when country music was THE Thing. That was back in the '80s, I think. Suddenly country music was OK. City folk wore checkered shirts, blue jeans with HUGE belt buckles, boots, and went around yelling, "Yee haw!!" They went line dancing; had square dances. But it was just a John Travolta-Urban Cowboy fad, which soon faded away like disco. Suddenly it was forbidden once again ... Never to be spoken of again by respectable CWEZ types.
My country music dalliance began when I heard my neighbor Vince listening to some alien, nasally twang as he pulled into his driveway in his Ford F-150. When I yelled out in my best CWEZ, "Yo, homey ... Whatcha listenin' to?!?"
He all too quickly reached over and flipped off the car stereo. "Nothin', buddy ... How 'bout them Eagles?!?" He responded glancing around nervously to see who else might have been listening.
But the damage was done. My curiosity piqued. I was a man set on skirting CWEZ compliance and the ridicule of friends and family. Rumor has it they have huge, clandestine CWEZ Renditioning Centers for the likes of me. They break you; destroy your spirit; turn you into *shudder* Jay Z and Adam Lambert fans! My life would never be the same.
Due in no small part to my CWEZ upbringing, to this day I do not listen to most of the older, more established masters of the country genre. No Hank Williams, Patsy Cline ... No Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette or Conway Twitty ... And yet, I get a mighty hankerin' for Johnny Cash; and really enjoy the diverse talents of Willie Nelson.
Thus far my favorites consist of relative little-knowns - to me anyway - like Sarah Johns (Favorite song: The One in the Middle), Justin Townes Earle (bluegrass influence), Lyle Lovett, Faith Hill, Delbert McClinton (also blues rock, electric blues) and Elizabeth Cook (Fav: Sometimes It Takes Balls to be a Woman). Both Jones and Cook can really get down on a man bent to make a fool of himself.
What I love about their music is their ability to simplify the challenges, goals, and disappointments of life to a level which anyone listening can easily relate. There is little self-import or complexity. A scoundrel of a husband (or wife) is just that. Life is what surrounds you. Who you are defined by the kind of life you lead.
The kicker is, you can get a good laugh while you're listening.
If you would like to read some more down home writing from Hatboro Mike, visit my blog at www.crankymanslawn.com.