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A Final Bit Of McMurtry

Okay, last time, I was nattering on about James McMurtry and how he was kind of the anti-Country and Western star. Maybe I should explain that.

Here’s the thing: I’m living right in the middle of the Country and Western Music Central. You can’t go to a shopping mall, a grocery store, a diner...well, almost anywhere without hearing it. They play it from concealed speakers in the ceilings, in the walls, and, even (whoa) in fake rocks when you’re outside a cafe and having coffee.

Now, I don’t mind Country and Western Music. I really don’t. I grew up with it. But, well, it can be a little overwhelming here. There’s no escape from it.

About the photos: Two today, both on the theme of rural and small town America. We visited the town of Winfield, Kansas, a while back. I snapped this picture of a windmill that just seemed to sorta scream the Great Plains. recent years it has gotten increasingly political. You think that, given my own taste for political topics, that would be okay with me. However, right now, I think there’s something going on in the music which really needs to be looked at. And thought about.

Specifically, as everyone knows, America is in the midst of some major political, social, and economic changes. We are seeing demographic changes, we are seeing changes in the relationship between the sexes, we are seeing changes in the whole idea of what sex and gender mean...

Economically, meanwhile, there are enormous changes underway. When I was a boy, the concept of “computer programmer” was virtually unknown. Today, software is a major industry and every child is told “learn to code.” (Yet, ironically, already that’s changing as well. Just ask the people who worry about their programming jobs being phased out due to AI.)

And that brings us to human geography, one of my favorite topics. Again, not that long ago, small towns had a serious economic function. They provided services and supports to farms across America.

But...then...change happened. New roads, new highways, semi-trucks and trailers, meant that it was about as easy for farmers to go to big cities as it was to their nearest town. And, maybe worse, the farmers themselves changed. Again, when I was a boy, farming was often a family business. And there are still a lot of family farms in the world...but they grow larger every day. There are fewer families, fewer people, running bigger farms.  And you see ever more corporate farming. I believe the term is “Agribusiness.” It isn’t here yet, but you could envision a day when the countryside is empty of human life, and only machines operate in vast fields of wheat and corn.

So, I think, in recent years, I’ve picked up a bitterness in country and western music. I feel increasingly that I hear the voices of men and women who fear their way of life is doomed, or at least very seriously threatened. And they are angry about it.

The classic example of that is, surely, Jason Aldean’s “Try That in A Small Town,” which, regardless of the singer’s own intentions, became a sort of political anthem, contrasting the evils of urban life with the purity of life “in a small town.” (1)

And, honestly, I hear that kind of thing in a lot of music around here, just as I hear it in a lot of political discourse. Also honestly, it worries me.

Okay, but let’s get back to McMurtry. His tunes are less obviously political. And he critiques city life as much as he critiques everything else. But, in some ways, he reverses “Try That In A Small Town.” He presents the small town version of America...but one in which there is sickness, spousal abuse, a plague of opiates, poverty, and vast loneliness.  It is a small town America that is spiraling down toward the darkness and the void.

I guess...I guess...that of the two, I lean toward McMurtry’s interpretation of events. Oh, yes, I understand the heroic defiance of “Try That In A Small Town”... its willful and stubborn denial of change.

But the fact is that change has already come and more is on its way. That’s reality. And McMurtry is the realist.

It is our job, as a society, to deal with that make it humane and find ways to give people in small towns, and big cities, too, dignity, jobs, and safety.

That is the challenge.

And, dear Lord, I hope we are up for it.

More to come.

Second, here’s Martha having a bite of lunch in one of the restaurants in Winfield, which boasts several excellent places to eat.


1. See “Try That In A Small Town” on Wikipedia here:

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