Thursday, May 11, 2023

The Hidden Garth Brooks


Sorry for this lengthy quote -- without my commentary -- on the historical significance of a huge country music star. Move on, if you're not interested:


…the quality that made [Garth] Brooks most relatable was a kind of unforced, benevolent populism. His signature song, the 1990 single "Friends in Low Places," was about a blue-collar jackass who shows up at his ex-girlfriend's black-tie wedding and makes a drunken toast about the failure of their relationship. 

It's absolutely a song about class. 


But what's unusual is the way it does not frame the affluent characters as fake or immoral, nor does it paint the narrator as sympathetic or extra-real. It's possible to impose those meanings onto the lyrics, but only if the listener wants those sentiments to be true. 


The literal message of "Friends in Low Places" is an acceptance of class difference, fortified by the suggestion that living in an "ivory tower" is not necessarily better than living in a dive bar. The payoff phrase is repeated in the chorus: "I'll be okay." 


Garth's version of populism did not pit the poor against the elite. Instead, it implied that the difference was immaterial, and that all people ultimately want the same ordinary things …. To his base, Brooks was an apolitical figure. There was no secondary meaning to loving an album like No Fences or The Chase


It didn't seem to matter that Brooks was more openly political than almost any major country artist of the period, or that his views did not represent the assumed conservatism of country listeners: His lyrics addressed domestic violence and gay rights, and the song "We Shall Be Free" was inspired by (and sympathetic to) the 1992 Los Angeles riots. He received no criticism for these opinions, nor did he receive credit.

         --Chuck Klosterman, The Nineties


Anonymous said...

Drayton Aldridge said...

This is great stuff Jerry. You recommend the book?

J.W. Williamson said...

Drayton, The book is okay. Not entirely great. But probably best on the pop culture of the 90s.