Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Country and Western"

The term "Country and Western" is silly, and should be retired from our beloved English language forthwith.  Or, to end its use in a more thematically appropriate way, the term should perhaps instead be taken out behind the barn and shot.

I trust I don't need to explain the idea of "Country and Western" music* to you, dear readers. We've all heard the strains** of this sort of music as we go about our daily business (assuming, of course, that our daily business takes place at truck stops, barbecue restaurants, and farm-supply stores).

And there's really no need for me to hold forth on my opinions about the merits of the genre; I mean, sure, it's like the Special Olympics of music, what with the ludicrously relaxed definition of "rhyme", and yes, approximately 85% of all Country and Western music was created by a process that starts with "Find a mildly amusing cliched phrase that isn't already the title of a song", but that's neither here nor there.

No, I'm here to review the term "Country and Western" as it relates to music.

First, let's examine the second part of the phrase. "Western". Here in the United States, we have a lot of states. Fifty of them, in fact. Obviously, they can't all be "western" states; some are contractually obligated*** to be "eastern" instead.  Here is a handy map to help illustrate precisely which states are "western".

Where does Country and Western music come from? Well, as one would expect from looking at the above map, it comes from...

...the southeast.  Here's another map to show you exactly what I'm talking about.

Don't believe me?  Just listen to country music some time****. How many songs wax lyrical about farming outside of Spokane, Washington or ranching near Provo, Utah? None of them, that's how many. How many mention Tennessee or Alabama or Texas? Almost all of them.  Another hint: If your song features a character named "Bubba", you're not talking about the American West at all.*****

Did you look at that map in the link above?  See the total, utter, complete lack of any overlap between "states that Country and Western songs are about" and "states that are actually in the western United States"?  Even Texas, the westernmost of the Country and Western states, would be better described as a "Country and Centerern"****** state.  You might even say something like "What?  But that makes no sense whatsoever!"  And let's assume you do, because if you don't, then I don't get to explain the Vast and Sweeping History of Country and Western Music.  So here it is:

It came from Appalachian hillbillies.

Yeah, that's pretty much it.  See, it was originally called "Hillbilly Music", but somebody thought that was demeaning*******, so they changed the name to "Country and Western" for no good reason whatsoever.  And it stuck.  This of course proves that Pat Robertson was right and God hates us.

Don't get me wrong; this would be completely understandable if all of this had happened in, say, 1795, when the country was a tiny, mewling little thing all smashed up against the Eastern Seaboard and Oklahoma was marked on maps with "Here Be Dragons".  But by the time people started calling Hillbilly music "Country and Western", all those states, clear out to the Pacific Ocean, had long been settled... it's not like folks back East were surprised to discover that there was a bunch more land out that way.  I mean, the proclaimed capital of Country and Western music is Nashville, which is in Tennessee for crying out loud.  The only possible explanation is that "Country and Western" music was named by someone who a) had never seen a map, and b) was, at the time, standing waist-deep in the Atlantic Ocean.

If you want real, authentic "western" music, well, I guess there are a few options out there.

But just because the "Western" part of  the term "Country and Western" is wildly inaccurate, at least the "Country" part is okay, right?  Remember Nashville, Tennessee?  The world capital of "Country and Western"?  Well, at least that's a sleepy, down-home sort of place where a simple farmer or ranchhand can feel at home...


I rest my case.

* Alternatively "Country & Western", if you like those newfangled ampersand thingies. Though Wikipedia tells me that the ampersand dates from the first century A.D., and thus isn't really newfangled. It's certainly fangled, however. I mean look at it. It's chock full of fangle. It fangles all over the place, with malice aforethought... but I digress.

** Or, more precisely, "twangs"

*** It's totally in the Constitution.  No need to go look!  Just trust me.

**** If you haven't already built up a tolerance, I recommend having a supply of antidepressants ready and a suicide prevention hotline on speed-dial.

***** I'm looking at you,
Mark Chesnutt.

****** Pronounced "center-urn".

******* The name "Hillwilliam Music", while more formal, never really caught on.


  1. This is a test comment. Please ignore... unless you feel its hidden wisdom is likely to really change your life for the better in some way.

  2. After reading the previous comment, I feel uplifted and more spiritual. I'm off to add it to my vision board. Thanks.

  3. what about "rock and/or roll"?

    [ducks. runs off and hides behind THUNDERCHICKEN and FLAPPY THE EAGLE]

  4. Watch out, AF - Buck Owens (Bakersfield, CA) may be coming to kick your ass...

  5. No worries. I'll be defended by Garth Brooks (Tulsa, OK) and Randy Travis (Marshville, NC).