July 4, 2012 by Manny Wordsmith
I guess it’s finally time to confess…it all started when I was a kid.
I wasn’t forced to watch John Wayne and Clint Eastwood westerns, but my father was highly influential.
“Hey boy! Come here and watch this shit. This is what a REAL man is.”
He said the same thing about Shaft too, but that’s a tale for another time.
My dad wasn’t around long enough for me to clarify his statements, so I was left with a bit of mystery, forced to put together a patchwork archetype.
“Strong minds, strong hearts, a deep love of friendship and heroism, big drinkers, and the ability to shoot a person off of a moving horse… THAT’S a real man.
I was pretty sold when I came to this conclusion. So I watched westerns a bit closer, wondering how those cheesy death scenes fooled everyone in the 50s. One of my favorites was “Wyatt Earp” starring Kevin Costner. The movie is long as hell, but good. My mom made sure we watched the two parts whenever they were on television. I thought this was because KC was my mother’s favorite actor. While that was true, it was also because my mother, who grew up on a farm in Alabama, was in love with country lifestyle.
I didn’t figure this out till I was 14, when I walked in on her watching the musical “Oklahoma!”. She first pawned it off as her just enjoying a musical. Most women did, so I didn’t pay any mind. Then I came in and caught her watching CMT, singing Reba McIntyre. There really wasn’t any going back from that.
My mom would drill me about “secular” music and how hip-hop wasn’t real music and it had too many bad words. In her mind, Gospel and Christian Contemporary music was REAL music. And then the country bomb dropped and things looked a little different to me. “Country music is different sweetheart. It has a story and it doesn’t have harsh lyrics that disparage people,” she said.
She said the same thing about soul music too, but that’s a tale for another time.
My mom wasn’t around long enough for me to clarify her statement, but I held on to her words and have applied them to the songs I’ve heard.
“You know I like my chicken fried…” Holy shit Zac…so do I! “…a cold beer on a Friday night…” Wha? I love Friday beers! They’re like the best beers next to Saturday beers! “…a pair of jeans that fit just right…” Sure Zac, it’s 2008, things should tighten up a bit, but I don’t think this trend will take off! “…and the radio upppppppppp…” A girl once told me that I looked like Cuba Gooding Jr. from the movie “Radio” (He was mentally disabled and buck-toothed). So I told her she was ugly and that her mother secretly hated her. But damn Zac, I love every other type of radio!!
I think my mom was right.
I had heard a lot of country before I caught my mom listening to it. Thanks to my elementary school bus driver, Helen. She would play country loud, whether we wanted to hear it or not. We all hated her for it. Because we all know that country wasn’t “popular” with kids in the 90s, especially ones in the burbs, who were too busy singing songs from the New Kids on the Block and “Color Me Badd” to ever pay attention to Garth Brooks or Randy Travis. But on the last day of school, in 5th Grade, “Achy Breaky Heart” came on during our ride home. My friend Dominic Hutt thought it would be funny to change the word “heart” to “fart”, and turn the song into a parody. It worked. The whole bus was singing the Billy Ray Cyrus hit at the top of their lungs. Helen even cracked a smile. I guess she liked that we liked it, even though we changed it into a song about flatulence.
Since then, I figured country was alright with me. I had a triple, heavy dose of it every day when I was in Kentucky in 07, and 09, but all that did was fixate what I was already feeling.
Some will make fun, or wonder how a black person can like country.
Racism is everywhere. North, South, East, and West. I’ve been treated like shit in areas where only hip-hop was being played, around people who grew up listening to black people tell them how life was. It didn’t change their hate.
Everything I like, everything I listen to, everything thing I talk about comes from some influence in my life. I’m not a bandwagon jumper or a follower. Instead, think of me as a guy who refuses to be put into a group. A person who won’t let his race, tax bracket, or social status dictate what he will love. I will go anywhere I want. Nothing will keep me from the ripe fruit of this world. Because to live life according to someone else’s rules, is to never really live life at all. Happy Independence Day…ya’ll.