Country music changes its tune
COUNTRY music's soul is red, white and blue. It is, so the cliché has it, music for regular all-American guys - and their gals - who wear cowboy boots, drive pick-up trucks, chew tobacco and consider being called a redneck a compliment.
It is, quite unapologetically, music for the American heartland. And for the last five years you could judge the mood in the US by listening to the country music charts. The 9/11 terrorist attacks produced an outpouring of pumped-up patriotism from Nashville as country singers such as Toby Keith saluted the might of the US military and promised that the atrocity would be avenged.
The strength of feeling was demonstrated by the reaction against Texas all-girl country trio the Dixie Chicks after singer Natalie Maines told an audience at a British concert, "We're ashamed that the President of the United States of America is from Texas", just days before America and Britain went to war in the Gulf in 2003.
When a report of her comment filtered back home, all hell broke loose. Their records were banned by thousands of radio stations across America. They were denounced as 'traitors' and dubbed 'the Dixie Sluts' and 'Saddam's Angels'. Copies of their CDs were publicly burnt across the nation, and, in Louisiana, a steamroller symbolically crushed piles of their records for TV news.
Five years on, however, the Nashville sound is once again providing a reading of America's soul. This time, the mood is less jingoistic as country music comes to terms with the realities of America's predicament in Iraq.
Where once the charts were topped by stirring patriotic anthems, now country artists are mirroring a much more subtle, reflective and melancholy attitude towards the war. Glory is out; wondering when the troops can come home is in.
Headlining country music's new, darker tone is superstar Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks' successor as the most popular commercial country music star in America. His recent hit single 'If You're Reading This,' takes the form of a dead GI's last letter home to his sweetheart in which he laments that it "looks like I only got a one-way ticket over here". McGraw, who has had 26 country number one hits and won three Grammy awards, croons that "War was just a game we played when we were kids/Well I'm laying down my gun/I'm hanging up my boots/I'm up here with God/And we're both watching over you."
Professor Robert Thompson, a popular culture expert at Syracuse University, says: "The narrative has shifted. The core of country music is the way it expresses what regular people are thinking. They are saying that these soldiers are trying to do a job they may not be able to do. In this way country music is saying things that support the troops but are against the war."
The music's rural and southern heartland is also the part of the country that is, proportionally speaking, massively over-represented in the US armed forces in general and the army and Marine Corps in particular. Nashville's once unqualified support for Bush's war is now, at best, more equivocal.
The unending drip drip of American casualties has filtered through to the country music scene. Nearly 4,000 American troops have died in Iraq since the war began and a further 27,000 have been wounded.
Country legend Merle Haggard, whose 1970 hit 'The Fightin' Side Of Me' was a defiantly pro-US anthem backing the Vietnam War, is another who has changed tack. Admitting that during Vietnam he was "dumb as a rock", Haggard released a single 'America First' in 2005 in which he recommended, "Let's get out of Iraq, and get back on track".
The mood swing in the nation is now bringing real change with it. Last week, General David Petraeus, the leader of US forces in Iraq, gave his progress report, arguing that the President's troop surge earlier this year was paying dividends.
That allowed the President to talk about bringing troops home. Around, 6,000 will leave Iraq by Christmas and a further 18,000 by the summer, leaving US forces with a strength of around 130,000, most of whom will remain in Iraq long after Bush has departed the White House.
The Democrats have made clear they are unconvinced by Petraeus's report and this week in Congress the party will try to force the President to decrease troop strength in Iraq faster.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 20 June 2013
Temperature: 11 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 11 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West