Ever have those weeks where everything you see reminds you of one particular topic?

For me this week, that topic is drinking.

Or rather, not drinking.  Not one of my favourite topics.

Recently, after reading articles about people drinking less, discussions of getting healthy, etc., I saw that my friend posted that he was embarking on his annual “Juiceless January”, so I thought to myself, ‘ok, don’t make plans with him until February.’  I mean, it would be fine...we’ve seen each other like twice before and had non-alcoholic drinks, but our conversations are definitely more fun when they’re lubricated.

Then this week, because of recent health problems, I realized that I had to really, completely give up drinking for awhile.  Kind of heartbreaking, because there’s a half bottle of good wine still kicking around, but I absolutely can’t do it.  I know it’s temporary.  No big deal.  But the result of it is that now I am avoiding friends because we can’t do our usual form of socializing, and rather than explain why I’m not drinking with them, it’s easier to say I’m too busy and we’ll catch up soon.

Not drinking is a popular subject this week, as people detox from the holidays, make new year’s resolutions, and anyway, are sick of socializing and don’t feel the same social pressure to drink as they did last month.  I’m not a resolutions type (why would January be any different from the other months?  I’m on a constant quest-and-failure cycle of self-improvement...aaah ha ha), so I’m not on that bandwagon, but I do sympathize.  A couple times a year, I pull myself together and stop buying alcohol, and work out a little harder, and as a result sleep better, feel better, and fit into my pants better.  It never lasts long, and if one thing brings my habit back, it’s marking season.  I once collected a couple hundred essays, left work, and crossed the street to go into the liquor store.  In front of me in line were several boys from my class.  “Pssst...” said one, “Our prof is behind us!” and they all turned around in wonder.  I knew what they were thinking as they laughed nervously: “Miss!  You drink?!” 

Now, look, I don’t get drunk before I grade (though some students are probably happy to argue that I do), but I might face that enormous pile of grammatical infractions with one drink by my side, as a sort of reward as I work.  I’m not alone; a running joke in my office is how our lives run in cycles: the drinking season begins at week 6 in the term, when midterms come in.

I certainly don’t drink like I used to.  Age and early morning responsibility have made hangovers highly unappealing.  I used to bounce out of bed after 12 tequila shots the night before and head out to my job scanning losing lottery tickets, but I’m not physically capable of those things anymore.  Last month, I promised myself at a party that I would only have two glasses of wine; that turned into a bottle and me cornering my friend’s boyfriend in the bathroom line-up to talk about Metallica, and a really awful hangover the next day.  I’m too old.  And besides, that behaviour is just stupid, and can lead to dangerous – or at least undesirable – situations.  When my friends and I were at the height of partying in our 20s, we made some rules: never leave until we’ve found everyone to go home together; always take a cab; and never take boys home (no matter how cute they are).  In fact, the one time we half broke our rule by letting two visiting British Air Force guys share our cab on a snowy night in July (no, not a typo), we were ironically hit by a drunk driver (I don’t mean “hit in an ironic way”, btw), and pulled out of the car with the jaws of life, and we ended up spending the night with them anyway in the emergency room.

The problem is, in my line of work, you kind of have to drink.  I’m not making excuses, nor am I trying to be that “cool girl”, the one that protagonist Amy hilariously complains about in Gillian Flynn’s book Gone Girl.  It’s pretty hard to go out and see country shows, or meet musicians afterward for interviews, and not drink.  It just makes everyone more comfortable when you agree to do it, and you feel like you’re part of the community when you participate the same way everyone else does.  I’m just as bad as my friends in exerting the gentle social pressure of drinking on others, not wanting to be the only one in a group.

I’m not saying that when you go to a reggae show or a rock concert that you’re not going to be drinking, even if that “drinking” is carefully parcelling out sips of your $15 stadium beer over the course of three hours, but I do think that country music rewards the act of drinking more so than other genres. 

I don’t think anyone who has listened to a few country songs would disagree.  Other genres might reference other substances, instead of, or in addition to, drinking:

And country sometimes gets on board:

No question other genres, like early blues, have lyrics that centre around drinking and the “activities” that result from too much booze; I’m not saying that country is entirely special in this regard.  But drinking is a subject that is accepted – no, expected – in country, probably because much of its repertoire developed in bars or at community gatherings rather than in nice concert halls.  Probably also because drinking has generally escaped as a legal form of self-numbing; something that was socially acceptable even in conservative sites rich with country music like the South.  Or Alberta.  Honky tonk was a name for a kind of bar before it was a kind of music, as such, one would expect the lyrics focus on the reason the music became popular.  And with cheating, divorce, fighting, being at the centre of many country songs, it only stands to reason that those things usually don’t start happening when people are sober, so drinking operates as a silent foundation to countless other tunes not specifically about liquor.

That might explain why Proper Records was able to release a four-CD set of mostly country songs about drinking, and that set doesn’t really include any recent material.

So in celebration of my unwanted but necessary Juiceless January, I intend to listen to songs about drinking in lieu of (sob) what I’d like to do.

There are the classics:

Then there are the new drinking songs, like this Justin Rutledge tune performed by Rutledge, NQ Arbuckle, and Carolyn Mark:

Finally, there are the new generation of classics, either in the form of covers, or new compositions in an old style:

Cheers, everybody.  Or...not.  :(

Views: 947

Comment by Jack on January 11, 2013 at 6:58pm

Here's a fun tune with a straightforward easy to remember sing-a-long refrain.

Comment by Easy Ed on January 14, 2013 at 6:08am

"It’s pretty hard to go out and see country shows, or meet musicians afterward for interviews, and not drink."

That line right there reminded me of me, or something I might have said and probably did, back in the days when I was drinker, a smoker, a midnight toker. Don't be fearful, I'm not "one of them"...my choice for sobriety is very personal and I'm not running around with the temperance league banner today. But this is an interesting topic. I once believed like you that whether it was because it enhanced my pleasure of listening to music or it was a much needed social lubricant that broke down doors socially and professionally, drinking was essential. But unlike most folks who are able to take it, enjoy it and then leave it, I have that chromosome that makes it hard for me to put it down once I've picked it up.

When I chose to kick that habit (s), I was still working in music and going to shows, hanging with musicians and living in the world of endless cocktail parties. I know I'm a fortunate soul who could travel in such circles without a strong temptation for relapse, and at the beginning of my journey I had the sense I would be missing out. I mean, how can you truly enjoy a good song about whiskey if you aren't holding up your glass at the chorus? And like you, I was pretty sure that I would be unable to communicate with the drinkin' folks because all I held in my hand was a glass of sparkling water. 

It is that fear of missing out on an experience, or being different and not one of the gang, that keeps many of us in a life of justification, rationalization and addiction. Yes...much of country music is about drinking. But just as a mortician doesn't have to personally experience death to be good at his or her job, you need not be a drunk or even a social drinker to enjoy notes and lyrics. While its true I will usually steer clear of the songs that glorify the lifestyle of dope and drink, I also tend not to listen to music that degrades women as hos and bitches. Somehow, my life doesn't seem to suffer from this lack of cultural exposure. In other words, I don't need to jump off the cliff to know it will hurt when I fall to the bottom. 

"The problem is, in my line of work, you kind of have to drink."

Unless you are a wine taster, this is a perfect example of how one will rationalize destructive choices. 

"But drinking is a subject that is accepted – no, expected – in country, probably because much of its repertoire developed in bars or at community gatherings rather than in nice concert halls."

This is the equivalent of saying "slavery is accepted-no, expected- in blues, probably because its repertoire was developed on the slave boats and plantations". Or being a murderer (or worse, a victim) is essential if one is to enjoy the experience of a good murder ballad. 

So I've taken the time to write a response to your post for really just one reason. There are people, lots actually, who unlike you are unable to have a "Juiceless January". Their need to imbibe is out of their control and they suffer from the disease of addiction. They worship at the porcelain altar and leave a trail of destruction and pain in their wake. Music to me, whatever the subject, is about discovery and the emotions that it stirs from within. Please don't confuse that experience with the need or permission to drink in order to enjoy. It distorts reality, trivializes the problem and perpetuates the justifications. 

Sorry to hear you're having some health issues. May you soon be well. 

Comment by Gillian Turnbull on January 14, 2013 at 7:17am

Hm, obviously my writing hasn’t improved enough for it to be apparent when I’m joking.  Most of this post is a joke, so don’t take it too seriously – ND is my only chance to write in a non-serious way.

One thing needs to be clear: I don’t believe, nor do I think I clearly say here, that one must drink in order to enjoy music.  If that were the case, I’d spend many more hours in the day drinking. 

BUT: in my line of work, yes, I have to drink.  We don’t do the same work, and I don’t think that much of what I do even aligns with music journalism.  I remember very well the conversation I had with my supervisor on the topic of drinking and doing drugs with the people you research, and in my field, it’s assumed that you will participate in the activities of your informants (as much as you are comfortable doing; nobody is forcing you) in order to make them comfortable opening up to you.

I started researching country music when I was 21.  It’s pretty hard to be a 21-year old girl, or 25, or 28, going to bars alone, talking to mostly male musicians, and trying to convince them that I wasn't a groupie.  At the same time, I didn’t want to be sitting there like an innocent student who is divorced from their daily reality; I wanted them to feel comfortable talking to me, so I drank with them.  As it is, I just got an email from someone I had worked with saying “I remember your ‘school project’” – a dissertation that took me ten years to research – so I’m still figuring out that line between being taken seriously and being “one of them”.

Luckily, I am someone who is able to choose how much I drink and I do not feel the effects of not drinking for a period of time, so in my case it wasn’t destructive (or the beginning of destructive) behaviour that I needed to justify, it was simply one part of my experience.  I’m sorry if this post is offensive to those not in my position.

“This is the equivalent of saying "slavery is accepted-no, expected- in blues, probably because its repertoire was developed on the slave boats and plantations".”

My first inclination was to say, no, that’s not the equivalent at all, but on second thought, there would be no blues without slavery, so yes, it’s an accepted, and expected, foundation for the genre.  Whether or not that makes us comfortable is a whole other topic.

Comment by Easy Ed on January 14, 2013 at 7:36am

No offense was taken at all. I just wanted to share a different point of view from my own perspective.

Comment by Cary Allen Fields on January 14, 2013 at 9:05am

Oh, we all know when you were funnin'! And just a 'heads up,' the new Dale Watson album has several of the best straight-up (no chaser) drinking numbers I've ever heard. It's called "El Rancho Azul" and was just released on the Red House label. Webb Pierce's "There Stands The Glass" and Ernest Tubb's "Driving Nails" are as good as any out there, as well. 
Jimmy Martin produced some of my favorite bluegrass songs on the subject. "Drink Up And Go Home," and "(I've Got My) Future On Ice" are the first two that spring to mind. 

Comment by TenLayers on January 14, 2013 at 9:11am

So far the earliest evidence of humans drinking the A is 9000 years ago.  Obviously we like to drink.  Some can, some can't. All cool.

Comment by Gillian Turnbull on January 14, 2013 at 1:49pm


Thanks for the tunes, everyone. That's what I was hoping for.

Comment by Jeffrey M Fields on January 14, 2013 at 2:59pm

Oops. Deleted my post from earlier by mistake. Anyway, here are a few of my own drinking tunes. Glad to be carrying on a proud tradition. Enjoy!

Drinking Blues, No. 1 (I've Been Drinking)

Drinking Blues, No. 2 (Drinking in Heaven with George Jones)

Drinking Blues, No. 4 (Pills & Pabst Blue Ribbon)

Drinking Blues, No. 5 (Drinking Every Day)

Comment by Easy Ed on January 14, 2013 at 5:25pm

Here's one from Steve Earle with Emmylou Harris that he calls "step 9 in the key of G":

Comment by KW on January 15, 2013 at 5:31am

Though the tongue-in-cheek tone did come across, I want to express my appreciation for Mr. Ed's first response. Certainly there are plenty of people who can drink socially without wrecking their lives, but I've known so many people who have either ruined or ended their lives with booze as THE major contributing factor, and I'd wager that many of them used, at least at some point along the line, one of the rationalizations you propose or a variation thereof ("hey, all journalists etc. drink , don't you ever watch old movies??").

I have played a lot of music, seen a lot of live music, and drunk plenty of booze while doing so. I'd like to add an encouraging note to fellow musical travelers who think it may be time to quit: unless just being in a bar is an irresistible temptation, you can still play and see music. I'll state as a matter of fact that I really enjoy playing and seeing shows sober, the best part being that you remember everything the next day, and you don't lurch awake the next day wondering where your wallet is. It can be done, and any necessary sacrifices are worth it (e.g. you may lose some friends or "friends," some permanently, some temporarily, and you may have to give up listening to the Pogues).

Also, it might be worth noting how many classic country songs explicitly associate heavy drinking with further misery (prison,death,losing your family, etc.); these were generally written by folks who knew of what they spoke.

Lastly, I want to recommend a book, which is a good and sometimes harrowing read, and it's good whether or not a person is struggling with booze: Parched, by Heather King. I think it's out of print, but used or remaindered copies are easy to find.


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.