Lucero Live: Why Country Music Needs Some Punk Blood

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I love discussing music with our new Music Editor, Martin. More often than not we basically agree on most things. But I could not disagree more with his review of the Lucero show last night at the Rhythm Room.

The first of my complaints is when talking about how the crowd was reacting (or the fact that they were reacting) Martin seems to suggest that the crowed should not get as crazy as they did last night to anything with a peddle steel in it because "Those are the rules."  First, I highly doubt Lucero is the first "country band" to play to a rowdy crowed in a bar, can we even count the number of bar room brawls in movies while country bands play? Second the idea that country music is something where you have to follow "The Rules" or that they are set down by someone is just silly.

The second complaint is "you've really gotta stop co-opting country music." I would say mainstream country music co-opted itself already. Nashville elite have let it be watered down and radio-tested to death. Country acts now have car ads in their CDs. Country acts now can't even make ONE political statement on stage against "the establishment" without having their CDs burned in the streets and "country" radio taking their songs off of rotation and banning them from stations. There has not been one controversial, political, thought provoking or ground breaking song on country radio in years. "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" does not count as controversial.

A finally the idea that most Lucero fans are not Drive-By Truckers fans does not give enough credit where it is due. I know most people in that room last night were fans of Drive-By Truckers or the Old 97s. Lucero is friends with and has played many shows with Drive-By Truckers.

The reason I think people are reacting to this punk rock turn country trend is just because it breaks rules and challenges people. Both punk rock and country have been so co-opted by corporate America in resent years that the only way to bring any interesting life into either is to re-integrate them. Both were built on a strong tradition of challenging conventions, musically, socially, and politically. Both seem to no longer do that in any meaningful or new way. I for one don't want to watch any act that follows that many rules. What country music desperately needs is new life and new blood and what anti-mainstream punks need desperately is a new media to express themselves, media not found in Hot Topic. The two need each other.

Repeat after me: Johny Cash may not have been punk rock, but he shook up the establishment. Like Elvis shaking his hips, or John Lennon screaming on a record, Cash was a rebellious in spirit and that is what most defined him. He broke rules and pissed off old people, he played faster, harder and wrote songs many in Nashville thought were inappropriate and wore all black when it was controversial to do so. He may have married into Country Royalty, but that family never liked his take on country music at the time. The major record labels may have released his music because it sold records but the powers at be did not like it. Even at the end he remained unorthodox with song chooses like his cover of the Nine Inch Nails song "Hurt." Part of his rebellious legend may have been made up to sell records, but it is that legend that people identified with and why his legacy is still so strong today.

Repeat after me: Against Me! rocks. I agree. That is all.

Repeat after me: Gram Parsons did not start this musical tradition, Woody Guthrie did long before Parsons. His masterpiece "This Land Is Your Land," the greatest protest song ever, was written before Parsons was even born. The core was rebellion and protest songs, it was counterculture before the term counterculture was coined. He paled around with Communists and Anarchists during the peak of McCarthyism and gave a voice to those questioning the establishment. (But Gram Parsons is bad ass and a must for any musical historian.)

Repeat after me: Alan Jackson and Toby Keith might write some good songs, but it is safe music written for soccer moms. Their is nothing anti-establishment about Jackson. His CD's exist to sell Ford ads. He is the polished, radio-tested darling every 60 year old in a suit can feel safe liking. He makes no bones about corporate sponsorships and has never written a controversial song in his life. People may like his songs but their is no message there.  

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Lucero at Rhythm Room on May 12, 2009.

Better Than: Anything and everything at Country Thunder.

Personal Bias: I have seen Lucero more times than I can count (4 times this year alone).

Random Detail: Lucero's touring keyboard player has spent years on tour with Hank Williams Jr.

Further Listening: Ben Nichols reads from a classic Cormac McCarthy novel "Blood Meridian's" for Daytrotter.

One More Thing: The Andrew Jackson Jihad song "Survival Song" has one of my favorit lines:

"And we totally ripped off a man named Woody Guthrie

And I bought a restaurant for his son named Alice

And I fed false information to the audience

And that's how I learned how to survive"

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