Each week in God and Country Music, Nick Rynerson gives country music a chance and examines the world of Americana, folk, alt-country, and popular country music.
Picture this scenario in your head: a rich, probably out of touch, record executive writes a song about partying, girls and living the good life and then hands it to the biggest name on his label to record. The song is a major radio hit and becomes everyone’s “favorite song” for about ten seconds until the …OH LOOK A BIRD… next big thing comes along to entertain the A.D.D. generation.
Now, am I talking about a new hip-hop song or a new country song?
Today, big music treats the two genres as predominately the same. Both are controlled by roughly the same groups of people and appeal to the same crowd. White teenagers are eating this stuff up like it’s going out of style. The song I could have been talking about could very well have been Toby Kieth’s party anthem “Red Solo Cup” or the intellectually stimulating “Aww Yeah” by Travis Porter.
Interestingly enough, white teenagers are consuming most of this music. The dichotomy of race is still a throbbing sore in American music. As has been happening for years and years, the white adolescent masses sort of “take over” parts of African American culture and gentrify it, if you will. This happened with swing, the blues, be-bop, R&B, rock ‘n roll and now Hip Hop. Rich traditions get taken over by a desire for capital and sold to an audience who does not want to understand the significance of the genre. But there is still is separation of identity and, at the risk of sounding extreme, hip hop acts as a neo-Minstrel show for white suburbia.
While on the flip side, traditionally “white” music gets the same industrialized treatment. Country becomes whitewashed and comes to represent white culture in comically absurd ways. Take for example, all of these songs about tractors, farms and small town football games written simply to inspire faux nostalgia in whites, not actually tell a story (sometimes that is just a bonus). All of this, whether willingly or unwillingly, pushes away actual dialogue between the races and genuine culture sharing. Stereotypes still reign and kids still get their music spoon-fed.
Why such a rant? Well, recently I have been thinking a lot about the sad separation of the races in our churches. It saddens me that I am not sitting with very many of my black brothers and sisters in home groups and Sunday services. It’s a deep issue in the American church and I am thankful that some are working to change that. But there is still much to be done and our music proves that. The connection to the music is clear, as American music and American spirituality have always been connected. Country music, like “white churches” does not have to be a pillar of exclusion but can act as a hand of dialogue and a culture to be shared. But to do this honest communication must take place and an honest assessment of our hearts must happen. We need to be ever aware when we are being sold a marketed version of another culture and strive to know our own culture, in order to love and respect other cultures.
For white guys like me, this is why Americana music is so important to me. It is a peek into the struggles and joys of white America, amidst their struggles and foolishness. While great jazz and hip-hop lets me listen to another group of people in the purest sound they have to offer. Soon, the two begin to influence one another in a positive way. And before you know it, you have early Rock ‘n Roll, one of the greatest cultural collaborations in American history.
My hope is for the American church to look deep into their traditions and subsequently into the rich traditions of other church cultures, and then collaborate. Is that so much to ask?