Magazine article Insight on the News

Country Road, Take Me Home

Magazine article Insight on the News

Country Road, Take Me Home

Article excerpt

If during the post-World War II and Korean War years you lived in a two-bit town or rural area -- almost anywhere outside a city -- you probably had a distinct opinion of what constituted music. And that would mostly mean country and western.

That would mean, too, that Hank Williams was your Mozart, with Tex Ritter, Roy Acuff, Lefty Frizzell and Hank Snow and his Rainbow Ranch Boys among those in the pantheon. The Grand Ol' Opry was a weekly highlight, piped from Nashville to the radio stations that stitched the cultural patches of America.

There was an asterisk recently in the newspapers for that generation. J.D. Miller, 73, died in Lafayette, La. His name notably connects to a song he wrote in 1952 -- "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-tbnk Angels" -- and its singer, Kitty Wells, born Muriel Deason in 1919.

"Honky-Tonk Angels" was on every jukebox in the land in those years. It was the first No. 1 song and million-seller by a female country vocalist (properly referred to, then and now, by admirers as "Miss Kitty Wells, the Queen of Country Music"). The song was written as a response to another by Hank Thompson, "The Wild Side of Life," and in the retort Kitty Wells remonstrated in her parlor-pure sweet voice:

It wasn't God who made honkytonk angels,

As you said in the words of your song.

Too many times married men think they're still single,

That has caused many a good girl to go wrong.

From across nearly half a century that sentiment sounds as dated as 25 cents-a-gallon gasoline. If it doesn't evoke the flavor and mood of the early fifties, well, you weren't there. Country music never went away, certainly. But it did fade as rock 'n' roll established dominance in the sixties and seventies.

So here we are in the shank of the 20th century and look what's pounding down the pike -- country and western as a prevalent sound once more in American music. In the past months, there've been a freshet of articles about this resurgence -- in a nation which is less countrified by the day and is eons removed from the roots of this music.

"Just as rock-and-roll foreshadowed many of the changes in gender and race relations that followed in the 1960s, country music today -- with its suburban, middle-aged themes of family and renewal -- may be the clearest reflection of many of the anxieties and aspirations that have just begun to bubble to the surface in American political life." Thus writes Bruce Feiler in a recent issue of the New Republic. …

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