Ever since the attacks on September 11th, country music -- an artform for which I have much love -- has prided itself on producing hideous, reactionary, neanderthal patriotic anthems that range from the willfully ignorant (Alan Jackson's "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?", in which he seems proud to not know the difference between Iran and Iraq) to the moronically belligerent (Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue", with its jingoist ass-kicking sentiment) to the nakedly racist (cro-Magnon fagbasher Charlie Daniels' subtly titled "This Ain't No Rag It's a Flag"). However, this new single heads to new height by taking a step backward -- to the 1960s. It recalls nothing so much as the anti-hippie anthems produced by bewildered patriots when those damn longhairs started making a lot of noice about Viet Nam.
Especially entertaining is the song's suggestion that those who oppose war with Iraq have forgotten the 9/11 attacks, rather than thinking that the two things are unrelated, and the odd line "Don't you tell me not to worry about bin-Laden", when in fact it's the government that seems to have forgotten about him.
I suppose it's naive to get all worked up about this song; that's exactly its writer's intention, no doubt. He cynically crafted song that was almost guaranteed to become a huge hit by its controversial nature. But I can't help thinking about the fact that Steve Earle's stunning, elegant "John Walker's Blues" made him into a pariah; about the war songs we remember from the past -- like "The White Cliffs of Dover" and "We'll Meet Again" -- that had a very different focus; about the tradition of country music that once reflected a love for the proletariat and a distrust of authority and government, before it became nothing more than a wholly owned subsidiary of the music industry. Have you forgotten?