Back in the day when I was a Hippie who looked like the Zig-Zag Man in a Hawaiian shirt and torn Levis, I thought I could find the secret Meaning of Life on the back of a Moody Blues album.
The thrashing guitars, swooping bass lines and drums that thud like waves pounding the edge of the world still sound good. But the plaintive vocals have lost their exotic mystery. All that weepy wailing about the end of the world sounds as dated as "bummer" and "faaaar out, maaaan."
The Moody Blues had a gift for insinuating deep meanings they couldn't deliver. It got so bad they turned on their overwrought fans with a song that said, "I'm just a singer in a rock'n'roll band." It was like having the Pope tell thousands on Vatican Square, "Hey, don't ask me, I just work here."
Music of America
I should have known you can't find the meaning of life in rock 'n' roll. For that, you need Country. It's America's music.
The British ripped off the blues. Even the French can do jazz. But nobody does Country like our country.
The picnic of fiddles and mandolins, banjos and guitars sounds like our American family at a reunion under a shade tree in July. The roots spread out from the Appalachians to the Rockies, from Texas to Tennessee.
But they curl and die as they get near the elitist coasts.
That's because Country clings to the simple honesty of the heartland the way crops cling to soil.
I fell in love with Country while I was painting my house and heard George Strait singing about "The Chill of an Early Fall'' on the radio. There's something about working outdoors that fits Country music the way pointy-toe boots fit a rodeo cowboy.
Country is the poetry of ordinary people. The songs and deep universal truths are spun out of the plain cotton of casual remarks you'd hear over a Bud after framing a house.
And nearly all of it has a moral rhythm that's as "Country'' as steel guitars. There's cheatin' and lyin' and drinkin' to drown the hurtin'. But there's always a price to pay for "doin' her wrong." The rules are as straight as fresh-plowed furrows.
That's why the Dixie Chicks are as popular as a flat tire on a Friday night.
The cowboy code
The lazy rocking-chair drawl of Randy Travis sounds like screen doors and crickets on a porch at sundown. He sings about the sad "reasons I cheat," but he also sings about fidelity: "On the other hand there's a golden band, that reminds me of someone who wouldn't understand.''
Some of his stuff is "as honest as a robin on a springtime windowsill."
"I keep waiting for you to forgive me. You keep saying you can't even start. And I feel like a stone you have picked up and thrown, to the hard rock bottom of your heart."
When Travis and Strait sing about the Lord, it's not Styrofoam-peanut filler. It's full of meaning I never found in the Moody Blues.
America's music is the simple cowboy code: Faith. Family. And love of Country.
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