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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Independence Day Hangover

The title of this piece doesn't actually refer to me. Whilst not a teetotaler, I rarely have more than a single alcoholic beverage in a 24 hour period. The one exception was at Zimpter's wedding, where I consumed no fewer than 5 glasses of Martini and Rossi Asti Spumante during the festivities. Fortunately, this was over a five-hour period, as Zimpter loves to dance, dance, dance. If memory serves, I saw at least three of him dancing at the end. I should have stuck to the beer.

No, the hangover in question was that undoubtedly suffered by the organizers of the music for our local community's Independence Day celebration. First a little background for non-Americans.

Here in the States, the 4th of July is remembered for the Colonies Declaration of Independence from Mother Britain. Actually, it was from Father Britain, since George III, looney tree-whisperer, was the ruler at the time. Anyway, this particular declaration, written by Thomas Jefferson, was offically adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4th, 1776, and that date is recognised by all Americans, including yours truly, as the founding date of the Republic. This is even though the first technical declaration was passed two days earlier as a resolution presented by the not-so-well known Richard Henry Lee. As Lee was not as flowery a writer as Jefferson, the text of that resolution is also not so well known. It read:

From: The Thirteen United Colonies of America

Dear George, Royal Majesty and King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and King of Hanover,

Piss off.


The Continental Congress

I understand a later letter from Lee to Jefferson says very much the same thing.

Anyway, here in the States this glorious celebration is traditionally observed with cookouts, picnics, and exciting displays of fireworks. In the nation's capital, Washington D.C., the fireworks are preceded and accompanied by the National Orchestra, in a resounding program of classical and patriotic music.*

However, where I live, the city fathers and mothers, in their down to earth wisdom, decided to eschew such pretentious and moribund tastes, opting for something altogether more characteristic of the local colour**: A really loud honky-tonk, country-western band.

I'm not certain I've addressed my views on country-western music on this blog. My general feelings on the genre drift somewhere between "unreserved loathing" and "convulsive repulsion."

Now, in all honesty, I've a fair amount of respect for folk styles, English, Scots, Irish, and American. I'm quite fond of Irish music and certain strains of Bluegrass here in the States, which are based in part on some English folk traditions. However, "country-western, " and in particular the "honky-tonk" style generally makes me want to puke in a bucket.***

The Missus and I knew we were in for a bit of a rough time when we arrived at the venue shortly before dark and heard the following "lyrics" being warbled at high volume to the large crowd assembled for the festivities:

"Please don't touch my willy, cause I don't know you that well."****

The Littlest Fando was completely oblivious, thank heavens. I suspect that in the fall a number of juveniles will find their way to school administrators' offices for absent-mindedly singing that tune in class.

Anyway, this was followed by a song that referred to the "three things that every redneck knows they need": Women, alcohol, and ammo. It was bookended by a song about "Losers," in which the lead singer identified himself with the title class.

The musicianship of the performers was actually quite proficient, once you got past the "drop dead in the holler" bad lyrics. However, this performance contained three of the things about country-western that make my skin crawl:


1. The sappy fiddle. For some unearthly reason, country-western performers seem to think that the fiddle was an instrument designed to reproduce the sounds of a weeping, despondent tomcat. That's just one man's interpretation of course, but the goal I believe is to draw as much emotion from the strings as is humanly possible. I expect it's a bit like listening to Paganini at his most emotive, were he overly sentimental, extremely drunk, and being attacked by a rabid badger.

2. The steel guitar of woe. Along with the rabidly sentimental fiddle, there is usually a lap steel guitarist who joins in on the maudlin theme, sliding notes left and right, determined to seek no single note upon which to find purchase or for that matter, consonance. Every time I hear it I find myself thinking, "Just pick the bleeding thing up man, and rock out with it!"

3. The utter lack of self awareness. Now, it is very true that in some country-western venues, such as The Grand Old Opry or Hee Haw, there is a playful, if annoying self-parody that plays upon the impression held by some faux-sophisticated citizens of the nation, many who live in The Hamptons, that people in the south are backwards marroons. When Minnie Pearl leaves the tag on her hat, this is a joke.

However, there are also many country-western bands who truly seem to think that over-intoxication, barfights, and juvenile, if lurid, sexual references are the keys to a pleasant evening out.

I have a general rule about this. If you cannot tell for sure which category the performers are in, it's usually the latter.


Now, even all together, as they were in the band in question, this would be rather ordinary within this genre. Even the cowboys hats sported by at least two of the band members, both of whom looked as though their closest proximity to an actual horse was at the local racetrack, from the safe distance of the bar, was not out of the ordinary.

However there were two added aspects that definitely pushed the band in question from annoyingly foul to seizure-inducing awful. The first of these was the "dancing" of the fiddle player. This chap was a tallish bloke, with unnatural blonde hair and a sagging midsection. Unfortunately, this did not stop him from shimmying around the stage in a series of pelvic wiggles that made one think of what Charo would be like, were she to trade in the guitar for a fiddle, have a sex-change, and put on about 30-40 pounds. If one of the blokes in Brokeback Mountain had been on the range with this chap, he'd have chosen the sheep. This was camp with a full-sized tent and a roaring fire.

The second thing was the constant references by the front man to rednecks, white trash, and losers, all with the kind of off-putting, affectionate denegration of someone who looks up to this class of people because they make him look good.

Somewhere, in the vast mass of humanity that is America, Jeff Foxworthy was shaking his head and thinking, "You Philistine!"

The fireworks were brilliant though.

A local radio station provided some patriotic music that was piped in. We knew exactly which station it was because their little jingle popped up between every song. Somewhere in the crowd, some poor child is thinking that America is all about freedom, democracy, equal rights, and the local soft-rock station.*****

Well, I suppose three out of four isn't a bad average.


*In Britain, the date is celebrated with much beer drinking, just like every other day in Britain.

**I'm jesting, of course. If you read my post on local busking, you'd know that a truly representative local band would play acid-folk guitar music in a haze of marijuana smoke and political conspiracy theories.

***Yes, I am "sugar-coating it."

****This is also the theme song for the absolute worst sexual abstinence program in America

*****If you should ever see anyone stand at attention with their hand over their heart at the sound of a Peaches and Herb tune, chances are you're close to where I live.

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