I wouldn’t call myself an Eric Church fan. I don’t change the station when his music comes on. Most of his stuff is middling, but every now and then he does a great song. It’s more rock than country, but at least it’s closer to rock than it is pop or rap, unlike most of of today’s radio. And since Church only puts an album out every three years and wrote 120+ songs for the new one, I do believe he’s in it for the music. Best yet, in the cover article for this week’s country issue of Rolling Stone, he praises Kacey Musgraves, rightly says “Brandy Clark should be the face of the genre,” and criticizes laundry-list bro-country as “shallow”. Bravo!
But on the giant other hand, Church is an arrogant jerk who glorifies and encourages violence, hypocritically performs with and thus enables some of the very acts he calls “shallow,” and insists he’s an “outsider” despite his industry awards, giant label, and huge sales. That’s either the biggest case of self-delusion the world has seen since Harold Camping, or just pure marketing crapola.
But my real issue is that Eric Church doesn’t respect country music or even understand what real country music is – to the point that he says that, like Santa or the Tooth Fairy, it doesn’t exist. From the RS story:
You can’t really put Bruce [Springsteen] in a box – what kind of music does Bruce do?” says Church. “It could be country. If he came out right now? No doubt, that’s where he’d live.”
Church’s music, on the other hand, could easily have been considered rock in the Eighties and Nineties… “True red-white-blue American rock & roll fans have gone more toward country. Hip-hop has gone down. Rocks’ down. People are kidding themselves if they think there’s a bigger format than country.”
“What kind of music does Springsteen do”? What a stupid question! ROCK! The answer is ROCK! Right in the middle of his own show, he’ll proclaim the concert “a rock and roll exorcism!”
Then Church says that “country” is now the biggest genre. Well, yeah, and if you want to change Alaska’s name to “Alabama,” then we could call Alabama the biggest state in the country. Which is exactly what Church is doing when he says “Born to Run” is rock if it’s the ’80s but country if its the 2010s. NO! It’s the same recording in any time, so it’s the same genre in any time! Nor is the country audience truly growing – the labels and radio conglomerates are just appealing to various portions of the pop, rock, rap, and country lite crowds all at once. It’s a bigger audience than country has, sure – the same way New York has a bigger population than Chicago. Moving from one to the other didn’t mean the city grew; you changed cities!
This “country” format Church says is so big is NOT country. It’s rap, pop, and rock thrown into a blender with a dash of banjo to mask the lack of twang and story. Simply calling it “country” is not enough to make it country.
But Church disagrees – he seems pretty adamant that rock and country are now the same thing. Last year, he told ABC, “Genres are dead. There’s good music. There’s bad music. And I think the cool thing about Nashville is it is at the epicenter of that kind of thinking.” An odd quote for a guy who says Brandy Clark should be the face of the “genre” – and complete horse hockey. To say there’s nothing more to it than bad vs. good music is to demand that we all have the same taste, to declare that if you like country then you’d damn well better like pop and rap, too, because you’re not allowed to have one without the other anymore.
This homogenization is a terrible thing. It is the true straitjacket on country innovation, and it is an attack on the diversity of fans’ tastes.
I know that a lot of people hate “labels.” They feel like you’re putting them in a box and taking away their individuality, especially in music – plenty of artists claim their music transcends genres and labels.
I understand and respect genre hopping. I do. But I also think labels can be a good thing. If I ask for chicken for dinner, don’t tell me, “There’s good food and there’s bad food, pull something out of the good bad!” No, dammit, this bag is labeled “Cheetos” and that bag “chicken” for a reason. Neither iTunes nor the last few record stores actually remaining are going to merge everything into two sections called “Good Music” and “Bad Music,” and it would be too overwhelming to have just one section alphabetizing EVERYthing. Broad labels are not a bad thing – they help us narrow things down, and give our searches somewhere to start.
Switching gears just a little bit, the RS article goes on to quote publisher Arthur Buenahora saying, “With Eric, we don’t need fuckin’ twin fiddles” – as if fiddles are a bad thing! Sure, you don’t NEED them to do country, but why is that supposed to be a laudatory goal rather than just something different?
The same giant, fiddle-appreciating audience that existed for George Strait in the ’80s, Alan Jackson in the ’90s, and Brad Paisley in the ’00s still exists today. It was only four years ago that Easton Corbin had back-to-back #1 hits! No, that audience’s taste hasn’t changed; it’s just that the music industry is ignoring that audience for a new one. It’s not about the music — it’s about the greed, the money, the bigger and bigger profits. So the next time Church defends homogenization, he should think about where that homogenization is coming from, and remember his own quote, “Once your career becomes about something other than the music, then that’s what it is. I’ll never make that mistake.”