Country music is not gun-culture music. After Vegas, I hope we’ve learned that much. – USA TODAY
A lot of conversations I’ve had with reporters lately have revolved around the so-called “gun culture” of country music. In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, the country music genre has come under a new level of scrutiny.
To those unfamiliar with country music, it may be easy to label it as music for gun-toting, rednecks from “The South,” but settling for this stereotype demonstrates willful ignorance.
The country music community is not as monolithic as outsiders might think, a fact that’s been increasingly visible since the Las Vegas attack as musicians speak out and in some cases change their minds. “I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life … I cannot express how wrong I was,” wrote Caleb Keter of the Josh Abbott Band, which performed at the Route 91 Harvest Festival.
Johnny Cash’s eldest daughter, Roseanne, published a New York Times op-ed calling on her fellow country music artists to “stand up to the N.R.A.” Rolling Stone reports that multiple artists are re-evaluating their partnerships with the NRA’s lifestyle brand “NRA Country.”
There are in fact a lot of country songs about guns and huntin,’ just as there are fans of country music who embrace that culture. And there is nothing wrong with that. But nothing that happened in Las Vegas is the fault of law-abiding American citizens who like to hunt and fish.
It always perplexes me when someone from a completely different life experience judges or criticizes another simply because it’s different. No one upbringing is superior to another. In times like this, we would all be better served to reach outside of our comfort zone and try to walk in a stranger’s shoes.
I can tell you for every country music song about guns, there are 10 times more songs about topics all of us can relate to that embody lessons we should all take to heart.
A verse in Tim McGraw’s #1 hit “Humble and Kind” offers this advice, “Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you/when you get where you’re goin’ don’t forget turn back around/Help the next one in line, always stay humble and kind.”
Speaking to the toxic political environment, Kenny Chesney’s #1 hit “Noise” highlights the “24-hour television, get so loud that no one listens/Sex and money and politicians talk, talk, talk/But there really ain’t no conversation/Ain’t nothing left to the imagination/Trapped in our phones and we can’t make it stop, stop.”
Songs like Eric Church’s “Kill A Word” demonstrate a powerful use of metaphor while promoting love: “Cause you can’t unhear, you can’t unsay/But if were up to me to change/I’d turn lies and hate to love and truth/If I could only kill a word.”
Maren Morris with Vince Gill just released a song that reads like a letter to hate: “Dear Hate/You were smiling from that Selma bridge/In Dallas, when that bullet hit and Jackie Cried/You pulled those towers from the sky. But even on our darkest nights. The world keeps spinning ’round.”
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Justin Moore has one of the most poignant songs that speaks to how losing a loved one “wouldn’t be so hard to take, if heaven wasn’t so far away.” One of my favorite live concert moments is when he performs that song and thousands of fans put their cell phones in the air and the entire amphitheater lights up. Together, in that moment, all of us are connected through country music.
And that’s what country music is all about. Bringing people from all walks of life together to share moments that bridge the gaps of our differences and underscore what we have in common — our humanity.
Whether you’re from a big city or a one-stop-light town, work on a farm or in a high-rise office building, we all share in common the experiences of life, love, loss, family and friendship.
To those being exposed to country music for the first time, I hope you embrace Brad Paisley’s outlook: “Turn it up/Turn it on and sing along/This is real/this is your life/In a song/This is country music.”