April 28th, 2007

Rednecks and Bluenecks

Willman's book about politics and country music is perhaps the most enjoyable non-fiction I've read since _The United States of Arugula_. Just amazing. Like USA, _Rednecks and Bluenecks_ covers an area I enjoy (country music), expands my knowledge of it a lot (really not up on the alt country, despite my politics; yes, I know, wacky) and interprets both what I already knew and what I learned in some very interesting ways.

Like my favorite non-fiction in general, Willman is wandering about interviewing people, dragging the reader along with him as he explores (in this case) the intersection between Red States, Blue States, mainstream country music and alt country. The interviews were conducted around the 2004 presidential election and I bought the book in 2005. Reading it now (after the 2006 election, and after the release of Taking The Long Way and its sweep of the Grammys) is interesting, to say the least. Even in late 2004, the mainstream country music's appetite for boot-in-your-ass propaganda music had significantly dropped. By now, it's clear that the Chicks transition to pop is relatively complete, and while they aren't getting airplay on country stations they are still selling to a chunk of their old country audience (by no means all of it). It's fun to see that all the people -- on both sides of the political divide -- predicting the demise of the Chicks career turned out to be rather thoroughly wrong.

The author, given a distinct left coast/liberal bias, is remarkably even handed in his interviews and got a lot of people to talk to him quite candidly. I have not encountered any discussion of recent politics that got such a wide array of people to talk so openly about their work, politics and religion. In combination with my experience of radio while driving across country over the years leading up to when these interviews were done, it is enlightening. It can be hard for a highly connected person on either of the coasts -- in or out of a city -- to really understand how tightly controlled all the available information is in the middle of the country. And the repercussions, while predictable, are chilling when heard in the voices of so many well meaning, basically good people.

I don't know if it's possible to over-recommend this book. I think it would be interesting even to someone who knows absolutely nothing about the artists interviewed (I don't know much about the majority of the alt country people interviewed, and those were really interesting to read about), altho it helped that I knew a lot of the songs he referred to in the mainstream country section. But it really was a pivotal time in the culture wars -- those months when the pendulum had already started swinging back down towards the middle, but was still moving slowly, and the recent savagery of the attack on the Chicks still chilling discussion and debate.

I think it'll be out in paperback later this year, altho it was absolutely worth buying hardcover:


the wheels of the bus go round (bump) and round

It's a discouraging country we live in. The AG is lying to congress in the most infuriating and repetitive fashion imaginable. Our Fiendish Leader appears to have well and truly lost whatever hold he may once have had on reality. And recently, a deputy over at State stepped down because his name was in a madam's phone book.

Having just finished reading a book about country music and politics written around the 2004 election, and therefore having fresh in my mind the political scene of that fall, I am forcibly reminded of just how many conservatives have been thrown off the bus in recent months.

Sure, Don Imus is fresh in the mind, and Gonzales cannot have that much longer to go. But when Willman was writing, Frist was a plausible 2008 presidential candidate and Delay was Majority Leader. Don Rumsfeld looked like he'd last as long as W. did. Trent Lott's remarks about Strom Thurmond were still a fresh scandal back then and Abu Gharib was still getting a ton of coverage, but Haditha wasn't a name anyone had heard yet. Anne Coulter had not yet come under investigation for voter registration irregularities. Also fresh in those days was the Loofa/Falafel confusion committed by O'Reilly, which only partially came to light during the brief, duelling lawsuits between him and his producer. And of course, Katrina and Walter Reed had not yet broken. Perhaps the juiciest of all: Mark Foley. Some people knew at that point what was going on, but it had not yet hit cable news. Cheney had not yet shot Whittington in the face. Fitzgerald had been appointed to look into the Valerie Plame affair, but indictments were in the future (which took out both Libby -- Cheney's chief of staff -- and Robert Novak, conservative blowhard). Ken Lay had been indicted, but his conviction, death, and vacation of the conviction still lay in the future (and Skilling to actually serve his term). Terri Schiavo wasn't a name everyone knew, much less a horrible misstep for the Republican right-to-life crowd. Claude Allen had yet to leave, much less plead guilty to shoplifting at Target. George Allen hadn't said macaca on video that would play endlessly on the internet. We hadn't heard the truth about Jessica Lynch from her own mouth. Tillman had still died a "hero's death"; the gross negligence that resulted in his death by friendly fire had yet to be revealed. Abramoff was having trouble, but the scandal had yet to spiral out to include Ralph Reed, James Dobson, much less for Ney to resign. Duke Cunningham not only wasn't in jail -- he still had a job. Don Sherwood had been beating his mistress, but the police report went unnoticed until the run up to the 2006 elections, when a third party candidate exposed them. Ted Haggard had yet to appear in Jesuscamp, much less be outed by his dealer. What else: Wolfowitz and his girlfriend, a whole lotta revelations about Giuliani, his wife and cronies, George Tenet's book contract in which he apparently dimes out a lot of people (and displays his own lyin' ways), setbacks for warrantless wiretapping, exposure of signing statements, the lies about the air quality at ground zero in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, resistance to implementing Real ID, extensive violations of the Hatch act in the run-up to the 2006 elections. . .

Not all the scandals are on the Republican side, of course. Who can forget (particularly with the current NJ governor in the hospital and black box from the vehicle revealing some very poor judgment on the driver's part at the very least) the NJ governor who was outed cheating on his wife with another man? And then there was that incident with the cash in the freezer of William Jefferson.

Monday and Tuesday night, a 4 hour television program on the Mormons will air in two pieces, produced by a combination of Frontline and The American Experience. By all indications, it will be very, very good and Mitt Romney did not in anyway participate altho the makers would have loved to include him. On Wednesday, at the latest, we should be able to tell whether Romney, too, has been pushed -- and whether he can hang on, or if he, too, will be yet another bump under the wheels of the bus. Equally important -- but not mentioned at all that I've seen -- Harry Reid could take a little damage with him. I wouldn't cry.

There's blood in the water. The AG scandal was not fomented by Democrats. That's internecine warfare. The evangelicals are starting to notice they're being treated like the tools they are. Huckabee caused the hunting trouble for Romney (is Huckabee's son getting caught with the gun at the airport related to this? Naaaahh...). Renzi is about to go down because of $200K of suspicious origins. Are pro-stem-cell-research Republicans helping this father of 12 out the door? Or is it because he's no longer protected from prosecution in the wake of the AG scandal? Tom Feeney's in some hot water with the ever-expanding Abramoff scandal (something about a $160K trip to Scotland he claimed cost about $3K). The sharks are circling.

And it's none too soon.

Bumps too small to even notice nationally: Mancow Muller and JV and Elvis on The Dog House.