My New Book!

My New Book!
My New Book!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

September 20-21, 2014: Crowd-sourcing Country Music

[As with any longstanding, popular cultural genre, country music has a complex, evolving relationship to American society. In this week’s series, I’ve highlighted five ways we can AmericanStudy the genre and those social connections and meanings. This crowd-sourced post is drawn from the responses and connections of fellow CountryStudiers—add yours in comments, please!]
Rob Greene follows up Monday’s post, noting, “I think this shows once again how complicated a genre country music is—far too often associated only with conservative ideology, but your interpretation of Parton's work makes a lot of sense.”
Paul Beaudoin also responds to Monday’s post, writing, “Interesting to talk about country artists, gender and identity. Parton's Jolene is a great song to think of in this respect. Rare is a tune where an unidentified woman pleads with Jolene to leave her man alone because she KNOWS she can't compete with her beauty. Our singer knows the man dreams of the ‘other’ but for her owself (selfishness?) hopes that her love will keep faithful to her. The main character's (who again, is never named) vulnerability is heard as quintessential American femininity - esp. through the voice of the songs composer and lyricist Parton. The soft yet resonate twang, the simple music accompaniment set the scene well for putting the singer's circumstances in our ear's mind. The listener becomes the unidentified lover who is pleading. Yet, when we slow down Parton's recording of Jolene, a wondrous transformation takes place - Jolene because transgender. With Parton's voice now sounding ‘masculine’ the pleading to Jolene now takes on new meaning. With this gender change new layers of meaning (understanding) come in to play. Parton's heteronormative lyric becomes homoerotic and suggests an even more complicated relationship than the original.” More broadly, Paul adds “Male relationships in much country music are about as macho as they come - drinking buddies, gamblers or gunslingers - men - American Country men - adhere strictly to the heteronormative code that is familiar to many (for example see Billy Currington's ‘People are Crazy’ with nearly 24 million hits ). Straight up ‘Gay’ country music (pun intended) is also a bit of a rarity. However, there has been huge breakthrough this pat summer with Steve Grand's ‘All American Boy’ (*curiously released just a few days before the July 4th in 2013). The video for the song appears quite hetero normative but the sensitive listener will hear a twist in the music just as the introduction ends. This foreshadowing suggests that not all is what appears to be. What happens when ideas of Steve Grand's ‘All American Boy’ become a part of the mainstream. With only about 3.4 million hits - it's unlikely to be more than just a blip on the country music scene.”
DeMisty Bellinger-Delfeld follows up that post to add “A Boy Named Sue” “is not Silverstein’s only country song,” sharing both the original and this PG version.
Next series starts Monday,
PS. Any other country connections you'd highlight or artists/songs you'd recommend?


  1. I did want to comment on Paul B's reading of Jolene. While I can certainly agree that the time and genre does ask that femininity be seen through the lens of vulnerability I would argue that this was Parton's intent. There is a quality of acquiescing to another woman's ability to "steal her man" but there is also a the possibility to read this as dominant over her man. Speaker argues to Jolene that "you can have your choice of men, but I know I can never love again" as a nod to J's superiority of looks (as first mentioned at the beginning of the song) but also as a nod to the fact that women have a competition of their own. In a time well before title 9 women had sports, and men were the ball. Speaker urges Jolene to leave her man alone not as a means to keeping her heart safe but her man's. Jolene would steal the man just to steal him and leave him as soon as he was won (as an easy fought victory is just as meaningless to a woman as it is to a man) so the man would be hurt by this as well. Speaker does imply that this would be a senseless theft as Jolene would take the man "just because (she) can". But to claim that this motive is selfish does seem incorrect on either front. If speaker begs J to leave her man alone to keep her heart safe this isn't really selfish, that's like asking someone to not stab me because I selfishly like my blood on the inside of my body. If for the other reason she warns off Jolene then this is truly selfless.
    I admit to never having played with the play-back rate and will have to take a listen to it. Meanwhile I think it's great that a dialogue on a song that (except for Drunk History) no one is talking about as serious feminist criticism!

  2. ps - please excuse any typos... I've been getting my nails did to fight off the Jolene's away from my man! :)