Why I keep going back to country music

I am like most people. I feel the music I listen to very much. It moves me in a number of ways. Depending on the mood I am in a song can bring me joy, pain, or confusion. The same song mind you. 

Most of the time, as in the vast majority of my time spent listening to music it is a mixture of dance/pop, techno/dance, 80s/90s hip hop, 90s/2000s pop, girl bands, boy bands, disco, funk, rock, metal, punk and general 80s pop/rock. Every once in a while I will mix it up with some grunge or some alternative from the 90s. But there is rarer still those days when the only music that fits me is country.

Like the other genres of music, my country tastes are very specific and extremely narrow. Mostly mid-late 80s radio country and some early to mid 90s country. Even then it’s really only a smathering of about 50 or so songs from a handful of artists. In general you could say it’s the stuff from my childhood. That’s just the thing. It’s the stuff mostly from the painful parts of my childhood. One of the reasons I buried myself in, basically anything that wasn’t country, was to get away from the stuff. I grew up largely in rural Kansas with parts of my early years spent in Nebraska. Ugh. I hate Nebraska but that’s a story for another day.

The truth is most of the people who hurt me. The painful memories. The bad points in my life if you will, were accented by country music playing in the background. My family is quite country themselves. Dad grew up on a farm on the border of Kansas and Nebraska. He was raised just outside a small Nebraska town called Superior. My mom grew up on a ranch in a place in Nevada so obscure I can’t spell it close enough for Google spellcheck to find it. Somehow a ranchers daughter and a farmers son found each other and started a life together raising four little country children of their own.

Stacy, my oldest sister diverged first. She discovered pop during her awakening which led her to the road of rock n roll and eventually punk, alternative and then she settled on a mix of world styles as the hippie lifestyle took hold in her heart.

Candy, the next youngest sister just beneath me on the age ladder. She started life resisting country, instead preferring old time rock n roll and what today would be considered golden oldies. 

Rebecca also skipped country entirely and dove head first into pop, rap and punk rock. She mostly settled on the latter of course.

Then there is me. I dabbled in country for a brief period in my early years. Going so far as to getting cowboy boots and attending the staple of country folk, the rodeo. It was early on I learned I disliked the way animals were abused by those people in the name of so-called entertainment. It was also around the age of 8 or so, still early on, I discovered rap music. This was my first love. I bought every rap tape my parents would let me get my hands on. Naturally I was a white kid in rural Kansas so I was mostly limited to PG rated stuff. Thus I listened to a lot of Fresh Prince, Kris Kross, MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, Marky Mark, Arrested Development, Young MC and similar sounding artists. 

So where does country music fit into my word now? Well ironically it’s a mixture of nostalgia for days lost, pining for people who’ve recently rejected me from their lives and the realization I was always a country girl at heart. I grew up in small towns. IN fact the biggest “city” I ever lived in was either Salina, Kansas or Twin Falls, Idaho, whichever of the two was bigger at the time. I considered both of those “city”. In fact I was scared to drive around those two towns out of fear. 

Most recently I spent the last 2 years living in an RV on a farm that belonged to my sister’s in laws. It was a small plot of about an acre. It wasn’t mine in the sense I owned it but the house, the camper I lived in, was. I bought it I had the title. The land was leased to me, minus the lease of course, on a familiar basis as in we were family I didn’t need a lease or rental agreement. 

I had chickens as neighbors. They would wander into my yard daily. I fed them, pet the ones that got close enough to let me and chased the rest out of my veggie garden when I found the motivation to do so. 

I spent my summers camping by the lake. It was a different lake most of the time. Since we moved so much it was whichever lake was closest to our current home. Once a year, usually around the 4th of July we’d, as in the scattered remnants of our family tribe, would gather at this one lake in particular. I won’t share it’s name like deadname, it’s a part of my past I’d rather forget in due time. But we went to the lake where I sat alone on the beach or in my tent. I usually brought a book. I always had my headphones and some stack of tapes to listen to. Mostly mix tapes I recorded off the radio. It was to tune out all that country music noise the rednecks around me were constantly blasting. I say redneck but truthfully hick is the better stereotype.

Country folks come in different varieties for the uninitiated. Each brand shares some commonalities such as an affinity for country music, a hatred of “big government”, a passionate, but flawed, devotion to the Bible, and a fairly simple world view based on principals of family comes first. The main branches of country folks, using the stereotypes here for simplicity sake, are: rednecks, hicks, hillbillies, farmers, ranchers, cowboys/cowgirls, moonshiners, rebels and “white trash”. These are names each brand wears proudly among their own kind. Our clan were hicks. We were a blend of bikers, farmers and small town folks.

The motorcycle was our horse. The John Deere tractor was our chariot. The pickup truck was our vehicle of choice. We drank Kool Aid. We ate watermelon. We chased lighting bugs. And we did it all in the heat of the summer with little to no shame. I am not in anyway disparaging simple folks who wish to live a simpler lifestyle. Far from in. IN fact most farmers I knew had better TVs, faster computers and newer cars than the rest of us. There’s money to be had in farming as long as you budget well.

That being said the common thread was all branches of these simpler, earthy folks was their taste in country/western music. Oh of course there is much division and diversity in the umbrella those genres encompass. You have red dirt, bluegrass, rhythm n blues, hillbilly, rockabilly, etc. In a many ways it’s sort of like the great American folk music. Except it’s as polished and packaged by professionals as the rock/pop music many country folks claim to detest for one reason or another.

I speak in rhetoric. I learned the art while in college. I opt to do so as I learned it from watching countless hours of Bloomberg TV, C-Span, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and more. I took classes in college fine tuning the craft of rhetoric. It became second nature to me as I wove stories in the AP style for news publications which provided my employment the past several years. Within that culture is a blend of political correctness, ambiguity, excessive explanations, inverted pyramids and alliterations galore. As a country “boy” turned city girl I learned to alter my language to blend into wherever I was. This is why I sometimes push myself to explain things that need no explanation. It’s part of my journalistic training.

What does that have to do with country music? It was only after I left the country for the city did I begin to appreciate what I had left behind. It was as I drove my car in the summer heat, stuck in city traffic with my windows down because I have a broken A/C that I became bored with my usual mix of noise and tuned my Spotify to the country playlist I carefully crafted. Driving home from work blasting Hank Williams Jr. belt out how made in the shade he’d of had it ha the south won the Civil War, despite the content of the tune, filled my heart with a reminder of where I originated. The person I try to hide, run from, deny, is not a ghost from my past. My childhood is not a curse I need to run from, to heal from. It is a part of what shaped me into the woman I am today. Yes, there are times I dream of putting on tight jeans, a white shirt with tassels, cowgirl boots, a big bucket hat, spurs and head to the local honky-tonk to drink whiskey and dance with the boys. I often resist those urges as I know, as a transwoman that scene might be hazardous to my long term survival. But a girl can dream can’t she? It’s like Trish Yearwood sings in X’s and O’s, I’m an American girl.

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Stephanie Bri

A transgender writer who also does podcasts and videos.