The Critical Rockist and Gretchen; Gretchen Wilson's Traditional Country May Have Too Red State a Tilt

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 30, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Critical Rockist and Gretchen; Gretchen Wilson's Traditional Country May Have Too Red State a Tilt


Byline: Scott Galupo, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

What should a proper rockist make of country singer Gretchen Wilson?

Before we answer that, we'd better define terms. "Rockism" is a critical theory that holds that popular music was good for about five minutes in the late 1960s. Art and commerce then were in some of kind of magical synchronicity; the public's tastes were as refined as those of critics. Alas, the theory goes, things slid inexorably downhill until the horrors of disco, Madonna and hip-hop made a mockery of all that was holy about rock.

Rockists disapprove of, in no special order, drum machines, sampling, lip-syncing and synthesizers - basically any form of prestidigitation that distorts the direct expression of guitar, drums, bass and voice.

For a long while, rockists also have taken it upon themselves to monitor the health of country music, a genre whose simple virtues are easy to lionize as well as caricature.

The structure and instrumentation of an authentic country song are seemingly as set in stone as religious liturgy. (Country artists themselves are often as jealously protective of their music as rockists are of rock - witness Alan Jackson's hits "Gone Country," which lampoons venue-shopping country poseurs, and "Don't Rock the Jukebox," on which a heartbroken hillbilly can't bear to hear noncountry noise.)

Thus, it's a truism in the rock press that any music that emanates from Nashville today is by definition impure, inauthentic and patently commercial (an unforgivable vice among rockists). To differentiate it from the country they purport to cherish, it's often dismissed as "pop" country.

Music critic Sasha Frere-Jones defined the rockist attack on pop this way in the online magazine Slate: "Pop music isn't made by people, but by bands of hired guns on assembly lines, working to rationalized standards established by technocratic committees maximizing shareholder investment. The emphasis of pop songs is on transitory physical pleasures, instead of the eternal truths that rock protects."

And, the kicker: "Pop is also consumed by lots of women and kids, and what do they know?"

In the lesser country category are crossover commodities such as Kenny Chesney, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw and Shania Twain. (The least generous rockists tend also to overlook arguably "authentic" country stars such as Toby Keith and Brad Paisley.)

The pure typically include: Hank Williams I and III, but never II; old soldiers such as George Jones, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and the late Johnny Cash; and the late Gram Parsons.

It's curious, is it not, that Mr. Cash, Mr. Nelson and Mr. Parsons weren't strictly country singers; they were themselves "crossover" artists, albeit of a rebellious sort more acceptable to rockists. …

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