You can love the country and you can love the land but they ain't
necessarily the same thing. After all, the nuts who stake out their turf
here and there, mostly in the backwoods far-reaches of Montana and Texas
and Idaho do seem to have stronger feelings about one than the other. Truth
be told, I can't really see any of those guys wanting to deal with
civilization, even if it met whatever their definition of civilization
Their visions of hardscrabble Utopia don't include the arts. After all, the
artists are all dangerous and, i dunno, queer or something. They wanna
change things. But not the right things. They wanna be able to say dirty
words and show violent things and stuff like that. They think dangerous
thoughts, and i don't mean alternative methods of cleaning surplus Russian
armaments. Artists are not necessarily unpredictable, but they wanna do
things that make them, um, artists. They ain't out tilling the fields. They
ain't doing anything you could consider productive, especially. Just makin'
noise or marks on paper or somethin'.
In short, the attitude is more or less a throwback to caveman times, only
on this go-round they don't see the point in those arcane symbols and
scratchings. Not until they get to make flyers that get slid over your
doorknob while you're off at work. Or practice their soundbites for the TV
cameras. C'mon, man: David Koresh might have an album, but look how many
people had to die to get it out.
What got me thinking these thoughts was Freakwater's latest album, "Old
Paint". It's a small, charming treasure, it is. Lots of old-timey sounds
and steel guitars doing their steel-guitar things. The two main singers are
Janet Beveridge Bean and Catherine Irwin, harmonizing like they were in the
They're songs about existence. Not the glory of the simple life, or the
hard times of the trucker/farmer/factory worker/urban hero/rural
hero/outlaw or whatever. No proclaimations about the subtle glories of the
simple life and home-baked pie.
I've heard Janet sing before, since she's the drummer in Eleventh Dream
Day, a fine fine rawk'n'roll band that's been heard by far too few people.
She sounds different here; she's got a down-homey sounding voice. No
shouting, no screaming, no hoarse raggedness to offset the noise going on.
Here, things are stripped back and pure. If the voices are not angelic and
smooth, well, it's just that bittersweet touch.
Now, if you've got an aversion to country music in any form, even if it's
just Clint Black (who's doing rock music with a twang, when you get down to
it), you're gonna hate this. But if you like the usual old-timey music
benchmarks like the Carter Family, Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, you can
get into this with a fork and knife.
The music's straightforward and the arrangements are simple. They don't try
at trying to convince you that they're from the farm or that they've paid
their dues on the road. They're doing folk music in a different way than
the coffeehouse set; they're playing music like they were just plain folk
and weren't into dropping a lot of cash on hardware or spending a few years
in literature class to get a grasp on the voice of the common man. Or
something like that.
It's really clear that this band is playing for the love of country. That
music style, at least. There is nothing that would indicate that they're
trying to slavishly copy performances of yore, or trying to strike out for
something new to get attention. There's nothing stylish about this stuff.
It'd grate if you didn't like backwoods-sounding stuff like Freakwater to
begin with. But if you heard this band in your living room, you wouldn't be
afraid of scaring the neighbors, you'd settle down and enjoy the show.
And that kinda' gets back to what i was saying, about how those rock-stupid
gonna-save-the-world-for-me-only surivalists and seperatists are entirely
missing the point. Hell, squeezing out a minimal existence away from
government attention is easy. Fact is, the Feds are never going to notice
you, no matter how much you register signs of your existence with 'em.
You're probably doing it right now, even if you did mail in your taxes
promptly, update the registration on your car, and so forth.
Because, frankly, the Government doesn't care about you. It might be said
that God doesn't either, but I'm not going to be the one who says it. But
if you try too hard to avoid notice by either, you're going to get slapped
down. But although Freakwater probably doesn't care whether you exist,
they'll sing sweet songs to you of love and parting and waiting tables at
roadside diners. Dunno if they'll pick up the tab.