Monday, July 30, 2007

An Open Letter to Johnny D. Boggs

Dear Johnny:

I just love that photo and I'm looking for an excuse to run it, so rest assured, it's nothing personal. You are still mi amigo grande. I've been thinking about country music this morning and I'm writing because I respect your knowledge on these matters. Also, you're a handy foil for my morning rant. I'm writing about the Star-Telegram’s Top 100 country songs, compiled by Shirley Jinkins and Malcolm Mayhew. Now Shirley and Malcolm are both fine folks, let’s just get that out of the way right now. Nothing I say has anything to do with them. This is just business. But now that the niceties are out of the way, let’s slash and burn.

Putting together a list like this is bound to provoke people -- you and I both know that. You can't win at it. In fact, you and I have been down this road before when you invited me to participate in the History of Country Music issue in 2001 for Old West Journal, a choice I’m sure you regret daily. Looking back on that list, there’s plenty I disagree with. But of course those are everyone else’s choices. Mine were perfect, I’m sure.

But that’s part of the problem, I don’t remember what I even voted on, and it doesn’t have anything to do with all the booze. It’s just that what I like depends on the day. Ask me next week and you’ll get a different answer.

That said, there are some absolutes.

  • First, some people don’t belong on the list. I don’t care how many albums she sold, Lee Ann-fucking Womack doesn’t belong on this list ever -- especially not at No. 28. Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, the Judds, Clint Black, Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn – I have no place for you either. You are the vile spew launched from the mouth of Nashville focus groups. You have no place in the history of C&W. Randy Travis, Vince Gill, George Strait -- you do nothing for me but I will grudgingly allow your presence. Garth Brooks? I haven’t forgotten about Chris Gaines yet. You are the Tom Cruise of country music. For that you will pay. You’re out.

  • Second, you can’t ignore alt-country: Or Redneck Rock. Or Americana. Whatever you want to call it. It all belongs. You might as well ignore bluegrass. Sez the story: “We kept this list, in the words of Strait, pure country: No Wilco. No Flying Burrito Brothers. No Old 97's. No alt-country -- there's a time and place for honoring those heroes, and this ain't it.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. Wilco’s AM was a better country album than most of the people on the list ever produced. And you know what else? I’d put up Neko Case’s “Running Out of Fools" over LeAnn Rimes’ “Blue” any day of the week. There’s more Patsy Cline in Neko’s song that in Rimes has been able to muster in her entire career. And if you don’t want to get into the purple hair crowd, at least answer me this: Robert Earl Keen, Lyle Lovett, Joe Ely? How can you ignore these guys?

  • Third, too much kitsch. Oh, my God, where to begin? “Elvira”? “Flowers on the Wall”? “Love in the First Degree”? If you played any of these songs to a detainee at Gitmo, it would be against the Geneva Convention – not that we Americans worry about that kind of thing, mind you. “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” at No. 11? And you’re telling me alt-country doesn’t have a place? One Steve Earle song has more musical nutritional value than the entire oeuvre of the Oak Ridge Boys.

  • OK, so as not to be too negative, I’m offering up a Top 10 for others to trash as well. I mean, why be a part of the problem if you won’t be part of the solution? So here it is:

  • 1. “Mama Tried,” Merle Haggard. If listening to this doesn’t make you want to get drunk and start a bar fight, well, you’re not me.

  • 2. “Crazy,” Patsy Cline. Patsy’s best vocal with Willie Nelson’s best song. Perfect combo.

  • 3. “Folsom Prison Blues,” Johnny Cash. Because he shot a man in Reno just to watch him die!

  • 4. “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” George Jones. You can’t fight the Possum. Because he’ll get drunk and run you over with his golf cart.

  • 5. “London Homesick Blues,” Jerry Jeff Walker and Gary P. Nunn. Blame ACL, but this song just sez Texas.

  • 6. “Cold Cold Heart,” Hank Williams. I don’t say Senior because Bocephus is irrelevant to me. And this is probably Hank’s most enduring song.

  • 7. “Faded Love,” Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. This or “San Antonio Rose.” Flip a coin.

  • 8. “El Paso,” Marty Robbins. Did you ever see the music video to this that Steve Martin did with chimpanzees dressed as cowboys? Well, it’s pretty cool.

  • 9. “The Road Goes On Forever,” Robert Earl Keen. You cannot ignore the magnitude of this song.

  • 10. “Wabash Cannonball,” Roy Acuff. The first rock and roll song.

  • Thanks for reading. You’re thoughts are appreciated. Just remember, it goes straight on the blog, so write accordingly.

    All my best,


    Bernie said...

    Ack! I can't believe Toby Keith made this list!

    Roy Acuff was certainly a big omission. And where's Jim Reeves? Were they concerned everybody would think they were talking about the S-T writer?

    Anonymous said...

    Of course, few publications can repeat the perfection of the list you and I helped create for Old West Journal, which might explain the death of Old West Journal. Your list is perfect, natch, which is why I hired you. Lists are published to incite riot, and you riot pretty good. But ... you know ... Flowers on the Wall is a neat cynic-laced song even if it didn't make the OWJ list. -- JDB

    Steve-O said...

    Thanks, JDB. I am not worthy.