On freedom of speech, misplaced legacies and double standards
Back in 1982, one of the most popular country singers of his era delivered the following lines: “Blew my last twenty dollars on an Oilers football game/I only lost by half a point, nothing ever goes my way/Reaganomics and plastic people makin’ good luck hard to find/All this stuff that’s goin’ down, really got me down this time.” It’s worth noting that he didn’t write those particular lines himself, but the point still stands.
Tonight I’m conflicted. Part of me is angry that freedom of expression seems to be totally dead in this nation, while another part of me is frustrated that this latest newsworthy incident just epitomizes the now decades-long downfall of one of the best singer-songwriters in the business, and yet another part is happy that one of the things that made the misinformed public and so-called music journalists see him as a caricature instead of an artist seems to be gone from his career.
That Hank Jr. is a conservative should come as little surprise to anybody. Many of us probably remember his self-parody on the McCain/Palin campaign trail back in 2008. But, like Merle Haggard, he’s always been one of those songwriters who you could respect for speaking from his heart and standing up for what he believed in, even if you didn’t agree. Ironically while Haggard has went from bashing the Vietnam War protesters to joining the opposition against the Iraq War, Hank Jr. has taken to making statements such as “[Obama playing golf with John Boehner] would be like Hitler playing golf with Benjamin Netanyahu.”
Well, I stand with Hank Jr. Comparing Obama or any American politician to Adolf Hitler is ridiculous to say the least, but with my personal thoughts aside, how can I say I’m open-minded if I support Phil Ochs calling Richard Nixon a “fascist,” but not Hank Jr. expressing his honest, heartfelt political views? The fact that he was fired from Monday Night Football for it is proof of the double standard in this country. And the only way to make it right is to boycott ESPN in the same way country radio boycotted the Dixie Chicks.
But those are just part of my feelings. On another level I wonder why the hell Hank Jr. was on Fox & Friends. Was he performing on the show? Why did the interview descend into political talk? And while we’re asking questions, why did he do that stupid “F Word” song with Kid Rock a few years back? And why did he tour with Eric Church? Where is the dude who absolutely poured his heart out and left it lying there for the audience to see on songs like “The Living Proof,” “The Blues Man,” or “All in Alabama”? Where is the guy who influenced several generations of copycats with Whiskey-Bent and Hell-Bound, easily one of the top 10 country albums ever made? Where is the songwriter who once had his tunes covered by Merle Haggard? And, last but not least, why is Rick Rubin producing Kid Rock records instead of helping Hank get back to the roots of what made his music so great?
When you look at Hank Jr., some of you probably see the ultimate redneck. After all this is the guy who sang “A Country Boy Can Survive” (great song, by the way) and said “Send me to hell or New York City/It would be about the same to me.” His best-known songs have to do with drinking and partying and the Monday Night Football gig seemed to really cement that reputation. What you probably don’t see unless you dig in deeper is the string of classic albums, the deeply personal ballads and the upbeat numbers that stand out among the best Southern rock has to offer, the pain in his voice and his love for the music. While he openly criticized Donna Summer in song, he also included Van Halen and Suicidal Tendencies in his music videos.
I guess all I want is one more classic album where he proves everybody wrong about him. I want to see him emerge from this ESPN debacle not disgraced, but with the sort of pass Merle gets where he can say whatever the hell he wants about any subject and know that the fans still love him. I want him to see that, as he said himself in one of his songs, that he doesn’t have to prove to us that he’s “some kind of macho man” by living up to the ESPN sports guy reputation or teaming up with self-proclaimed badasses like Kid Rock or Eric Church. In the end, this firing, unfair though it may be, could be the best thing to happen to his career in decades.
And, lastly, I just saw this point on Twitter from Fifth on the Floor and had to include it, but part of the Williams family legacy is getting kicked out of clubs that don’t deserve them, like the Opry for instance.