Let’s get off this and get on with it, If you wanna change the world, Shut your mouth and start to spin it, Get off this, get on with it, If you wanna change the world, Shut your mouth and start this minute. –Cracker, “Get Off This”, 1993
I am the enemy in the mirror.
I fight amongst myself like the letters on Robert Mitchum’s knuckles. Ol’ brother left hand HATE’s a-fightin’ and it looks like LOVE’s a goner. But wait a minute… wait a minute… Hot dog! LOVE’s a winnin’, yessiree. It’s LOVE that won and ol’ left hand HATE is down for the count.
I’ve sat on my front porch with a shotgun on my lap and screamed, “GET OFF MY LAWN!” and “NOT UNDER MY ROOF, YOU’RE NOT.” I’ve used pejorative terms like “you young whippersnappers” and “newfangled”. I’ve snarled and muttered under my breath like John McCain at a…well, like John McCain. I’ve whittled on hickory twigs, spit Beech-Nut into a Folgers’ can, and said things like, “That ain’t music. That there ain’t shit. Back in my day…”
I’ve been a sanctimonious moral scold and I am not proud of it.
I don’t want to be that guy. He’s an asshole.
But I’ve also allowed myself to be manipulated by The Man. I’ve been hypnotized by porcelain mannequins, hourglass figures, and the latest handful of magic growing beans. I’ve let the zeitgeist have its way with me. I’ve settled. I’ve rooted my way to the feeding trough and choked down the finest of gruel and railroad coal. That’s what the market fed me, so that’s what I ate. After all, 1,000,000 Luke Bryan Fans Can’t Be Wrong. Right? Taylor Swift takes herself seriously, so I guess I should too. Right? She’s hip, she’s now, she’s happening, she’s positively Dylanesque. She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist, she don’t look back. She’s off the chain, bae. Vanilla ice cream and strawberry Kool-Aid Mmmmmmmm. What’s not to like? Custard good. Jam good. Meat gooood.
And then I noticed my pants didn’t fit anymore. I couldn’t see my feet or my third leg unless I took my clothes off, fantasized about Kerry Washington in pigtails, and bent forward to do my best impression of a capital F. To paraphrase Redd Foxx, my West Point cadet started to resemble a disabled war veteran sitting on two duffel bags. The shrubbery began to outgrow the tree, if you dig what I’m saying. I started wearing a DD sports bra, for God’s sake.
How did this happen? Who did this? I have underboob sweat and smell like baby powder and cheese. Who’s responsible for—
It was me. I did this. I ate a truckload of Nutter Butters and now I have saddle bags.
They saw me coming, I bought what they were selling, and I am not proud of it.
I don’t want to be that guy, either. He’s a fat asshole.
I don’t want to work on Maggie’s Farm no more. I don’t want to work for Maggie’s father no more. I don’t want to work for Maggie’s mother no more. They say sing while I slave and I just get bored.
I don’t want to be the condescending genre purist or one of the cool kids. I don’t want to protect the precious delicate flower of tradition or sell the family farm. I don’t want to gaze disapprovingly over my eyeglasses to grunt my exasperation and I am done feeding the meat grinder. I don’t want to fight amongst myself like Robert Mitchum’s tattooed hands. Any. More.
I want to hear music, not notes. I want heart, not technique. I don’t care if you’re out of tune—I just want you to mean it. I want wheelhouses to burn. I want to believe.
So I’m going to listen more and talk less. Perhaps the Good Lord has been trying to tell me something by giving me one mouth and two ears. (I’m fully aware that both Vincent Van Gogh and that dude with a switchblade from Johnny Paycheck’s “Colorado Kool-Aid” attempted to improve on the equation only to achieve somewhat mixed results. Whether by Alfred Russel Wallace or The Unseen Hand Of An Almighty, the ratio of mouth to ears is indeed unimpeachable, but putting an entertainment center and roller coaster ride directly adjacent to a malfunctioning sewer system? Really? What kind of executive decision is that? I mean, come on. Somebody didn’t think that through.)
I’m going to cast my net wider and my line further. I’m going to dig deeper. No more either/or. No more safety blankets or team colors. No more comfort zone. No more bellyaching. That’s what made me miss rare gems like Seth Turner’s Nine Years And Several Miles Later. That’s how I overlooked Porter Wagoner. It’s how I underestimated Randy Travis and Vince Gill. (Note to self: calibrate Americana radar. Meter possibly broken.) I only recently latched onto Machine Head and Morbid Angel, but I should have been listening twenty years ago. I just discovered ZZ Top’s XXX and it came out in 1999. I’m ashamed to say I showed up late for the Jack White party. I dismissed Sir Elton John because he didn’t wear the right uniform. I didn’t really listen to Kurt Cobain or Tupac Shakur until the bodies were cold. They didn’t fit the narrative. I couldn’t hear because I was too busy talking.
War is over if you want it.
Good music is everywhere, but it may not give itself away. I might have to work for it. It isn’t necessarily going to beg me to like it and probably won’t beat my door down to comfort me in my time of dying. It might curl up in my lap and purr or it might run like a burglar with a free TV. Sometimes it’ll be on the Billboard Hot 100 and sometimes it’ll scatter with the light. My greatest discovery will be right at my fingertips and just out of reach. I just have to move my hands.
I have to want it and I have to try.
Because if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.
Thanks to Seth Turner for the reminder.
Michael Franklin is the Media & Reserves Specialist at Western Kentucky University’s Visual & Performing Arts Library (VPAL). Michael is also a professional musician and sound engineer. He is currently recording his 6th CD with his best friends Screenlast 6.0 and Audacity Sourceforge. He thinks Iggy Pop is the greatest singer in the history of music. If you disagree, you’re wrong. You better ask somebody.
Outlaw Magazine. Country, Rock and Roll, Blues, Folk, Americana, Punk. As long as it is real, it is OUTLAW. Overproduced mediocrity need not apply.