Dana Jennings shares through his personal experience why traditional Country music endures and has meant so much to so many generations. He also reflects on how it has changed, and conjectures as to why modern country music has changed its tune. The primary factor is socio-economic and demographic. Histtory teaches us that after the great depression and World War II America was unleashed in an economic expansion that turned our country into the juggernaut we are today. However, Jennings points out that in much of rural America post-war prosperity was a mere rumor. This held true in the North as well as the South. (In fact, Jennings himself was from New Hampshire) It is Country Music of the 50's and 60's that tells this secret history of the American rural working class. It also characterizes the move from the country to the city many rural Americans were forced to make in search of work.
Jennings tells this story by juxtaposing Country Music themes and songs next to the experiences of his own immediate and extended family during this time. In this memoir the characters themselves are worth the read. He had a Grandmother that let's just say "got around." His father was a hell raiser who aspired to be a Rockabilly bad-boy. His mother struggled to keep it together and turned to her records for solace. His aunts and uncles are even more entertaining (and sometimes a bit scary). Music had a big influence on his family. In fact, he makes a point that to much of rural America the death of Patsy Cline was far more devestating than the death of John Kennedy. They related to Patsy Cline but left the politics of the day to the middle and upper classes. The only place he misses it is religion. Because his family wasn't very religious I think he misses the importance of God in the lives of the rural people of that era. In fact, when the Cross was all they had to cling to it was truly meaningful.
Eventually prosperity found rural America and urban America found Country music. As times became easier Country became corporate and Nashville devoured Country music. But Country music of that era still has meaning today. As Jennings says in his final Chapter:
"In the spirit numbing information age we gorge on the Web and CNN...but in the end we know less of each other...of our hearts...of our souls. But Johnny Cash singing "I walk the Line" or Hank sorrowing through "I'm so Lonesome I Could Cry" still gives us more insight in three minutes, tells us more about what matters most in our lives, than we get in an entire twenty-four-hour news cycle"
... and let's not forget it.
Next up: Amanda Petrusich - It Still Breathes
This review also appears on Twangville