Do you remember the song written by Marty Cooper, I’m a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll made cheesily famous back in the day by brother and sister duo, Donny and Marie Osmond. I fell distinctly in the “I will always be rock and roll, and jazz, and blues, and classical, but never country” category. Dolly Parton singing Jolene, and of course Johnny Cash were inescapable and remember Jimmy Nail singing Crocodile Shoes, well they were my sole listening experiences with regard country and western music. I found the ‘my wife has left me, my kids hate me, the dog has died and I’m going to slit my throat’ sentiments all a bit much. It is fair to say I was not a fan.
In the late nineties Texas became home, for the first time, where gun racks, cowboy boots and Stetsons went with pick-up trucks flying along freeways and beside bayous. Heartbreak oozed out of rolled down windows and the nasally twang of some lovelorn singer, male or female, made me want to reach for the bourbon and drown their sorrows, not to mention mine. It was all really rather depressing.
And then something happened. Maybe it was the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo where I went to watch belligerent bulls and broncos being ridden by men with crooked noses and wearing tasselled chaps, but I was not terribly interested in the entertainment provided by Tanya Tucker, of Delta Dawn fame. Another year, continuing the same theme of bucks and bulls, I heard Reba McEntire. Ready to turn my nose up, I found myself swaying to the music. I realised I was becoming an unwilling C&W afficianado when I elected to see Keith Urban. I of course blamed my Australian heritage on that, you know, the wanting to show support sort of thing.
Back in Houston, Texas, for the second time, country and western again courses along the freeways, and as I join the stream of cars I find myself twiddling the radio to find a station offering guitars, twangs and tears. Something I certainly would rather hear than the violence laden, racially divisive rap that spews out some windows, the boom so loud it rocks adjacent cars.
Now as I listen to a little bit of country the lyrics don’t sound quite so like a guillotined cat as they used to, though I can see how Pistol Annie’s (Miranda Lambert, Ashley Moore and Angaleena Presely) Dear Sobriety could easily have a strong following. There is still a tendency to need a stiff drink after listening to a full CD.
But I know now that I have crossed that Rubicon because every Wednesday I clear my social calendar and settle down with Jim Beam to watch Nashville. I am hooked. Telling the tangled stories of country and western singers, some at the top of their game, some scratching up the pole, and others falling off it, the complicated loves and lives are interspersed with some wonderful music.
I do have a valid excuse however. I believe I can claim a nebulous kinship to two of the actors. Clare Bowen, an Australian and a TCK to boot, having spent some of her childhood in Zimbabwe, plays Scarlett O’Conner, and the other, Sam Palladio, a Brit from Pembury in Kent, who plays Gunnah. Their southern accents are excellent, and the music they make is hauntingly beautiful, particularly in their duet If I Didn’t Know Better.
And so I am faced with the realisation that perhaps I have lived too long in Texas. I am learning the C&W argot, something I never thought would happen. I wouldn’t say I was a fanatic but please, don’t call on a Wednesday evening because dear old Marty got it right – I’m a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll!