This year was a rough one. The country felt more and more divided, Disney made moves towards becoming the New World Order, and Hollywood heroes became twisted villains. Grappling with the gross mutations of a messed up world was difficult for me, because I feel like I’m just about to join it.
Don’t be alarmed: I’m not some alien who just now decided to descend from my spaceship and join humanity. I’ve been a member of this world society since birth, but with graduation from college just around the corner, I feel uneasy in taking my full-time position as “Adult Person” in today’s climate. 2017 rattled me, with my love for politics being tested. I couldn’t help but find myself being angry at everyone for not being ideal people. I also began to notice all of my shortcomings, and feared that I wouldn’t be good enough when I ditch the water wings and go out on my own into the world. The irony that an objectively icky year lined up with my own personal year of reckoning is not lost on me. Just as the world is changing, so are my own receptors to it, which is why 2017 somehow has me saying, “Thank you, world, for country music.”
I never much liked country. I grew up surrounded by Christian Rock and Dive Bar Twang, which might be seen as a deep layer of hell for music snobs. When puberty hit and I began listening to other bad music (Hello, pop punk phase!), I left country behind for good, or so I thought.
Fast forward to college, and every tailgate is blaring songs about stomping cowboy boots and being a little too forward with women at the bar. It felt badly written and unrelatable, so I rejected the genre with even more gusto. But country proved to be even more stubborn and adaptable. 2016 gave the world a new album from Sturgill Simpson, a country rebel who doesn’t care what Nashville thinks of him. Intrigued by the story and strong reviews, I gave it a listen and BAM! I fell in love.
After Sturgill’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, I decided to dig a little deeper for those rhinestones in the rough. I found Kacey Musgraves, whose classic sound matched forward thinking while still letting good times roll. Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Allman Brothers, John Prine, and Glen Campbell showed me the deeper roots of this twangy sound. All of a sudden, I was invested in something I once despised.
This year challenged everybody. The nation rushed to either side of political spectrum and I felt abandoned somewhere in between. A lot of people did. I was prepared for inner conflict, but I wasn’t prepared for its solution. Country music, or at least some of its up-and-coming artists, responded in their own ways in 2017. In a genre I used to associate with Red Solo Cups and shallow partying, I found convictions and deeper emotions. The issues I grappled with were brought to light, songs were sung that let me escape these troubled times for a while, and I didn’t feel so alone. Country wasn’t the only genre to tackle personal identity and the current climate in America. We saw glimpses into the embattled minds of legends like Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z. This also wasn’t country music’s first year in the politics game, which they’ve been a part of since day one. What this year saw was me being a little late to the party. I was ignorant to the beauty of the genre, and 2017 changed that.
Hi, country music. It’s me, Joe. I’m sorry I was so closed-minded to you for so long, and thank you for accepting me anyway. We will miss Glen Campbell, who died this year, as well as Butch Trucks, whose name was as country as the sound he influenced. I hope you change as I change, growing together to be more aware and accepting. Also, Darius Rucker’s Wagon Wheel will forever be inferior to the original version by Old Crow Medicine Show, and I will not back down from this.
Your New Friend Joe
Joe’s 2017 Country Top Picks
From a Room: Vol. 1 and 2, Chris Stapleton
Purgatory, Tyler Childers
Colter Wall, Colter Wall
All American Made, Margo Price
The Nashville Sound, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit