Small Town Populism in Song


Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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21 Responses

  1. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I can pretty much identify with none of these songs that Small Town by John Mellancamp feels a bit of an odd man out considering Mellancamp’s generally left politics.

    The title “These are my people” is indicative of a what I think might be a problem of tribal identity. Universally, including for myself. Everyone has a tribal identity of one sort or another or multiple tribal identities. Different tribes value different virtues, life goals, success markers, etc. I could probably make a post about tribal identity and “these are my people” for urban, liberal Jews. Or urban, professional liberals. Those are my people.

    But the cultural markers would be completely opposite of what is fond in the songs you posted and it is when we can’t identify and goals seem at polarized ends that culture wars happen. Every tribe needs a thought-of outside/enemy.Report

    • Avatar Johanna says:

      I’m a Mellencamp fan and Small Town is really part of the soundtrack of my life; a song that’s deeply meaningful to me (in fact I really did marry an LA doll and bring her to the small town). My 11year old daughter loves the song, too, which makes is all the more special.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z aitch says:

        Gah, I’m going to quit commentimg, just to avoid all my accidental commenting under the LA doll’s moniker.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        She’s definitely much more attractive than you old dog.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z aitch says:

        Well, yes, but to clarify, her gravatar is my 15 year old daughter (an ahem and a stern look are being directed your way), and mine is my much mourned hound dog, who was pretty good looking himself (probably also better looking than me).Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        My two dogs, one of which is 12 years old, and both are better looking than me.

        And I feel like an ass about commenting on Johanna’s gravatar. Sorry about that.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z aitch says:

        Eh, they’re both good looking girls, and the pic’s been manipulated a bit, so I don’t think her age is obvious. I was just funnin’ you, not really trying to make you feel bad. But the 1200 miles or so between CO and MI is a good distance between her and older guys…Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Ooooo… can I give her BlaiseP’s speech about mate seeking???Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        But the 1200 miles or so between CO and MI is a good distance between her and older guys…

        Dude, you’re safe. I don’t even have the money to travel that far. Plus, I’m actually very happy in my Traditional Marriage. Well … marriage anyway.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        There is something amusing about posting this under Johanna’s name. It made me laught.Report

  2. Avatar NewDealer says:

    To be more direct, this is what I hear when listening to This Is My People:

    “These are people who would have beaten me up for shits and giggles in high school for being bookish, artsy, and college-bound”

    Not the greatest way towards cross-cultural understanding…Report

  3. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Country has lost its mind but not before it lost its heart. I am heartily sick of Ersatz Country. Small town America isn’t anything like what country portrays. It’s what Nashville (no small town, that burg) thinks small town America is like — or more precisely, what the cartoon version of small town America is like.

    Day was when country was just music made by regular people, that is to say people who weren’t from New York or Los Angeles. Rodney Atkins’ handlers have put that poor boy in — let’s see — under a cowboy hat, that didn’t work out — a blow-dry haircut, that was kind of a mess, too — then a baseball cap. That sold records, so I guess he’s a baseball cap with a guitar.

    Country music today is false to its core.Report

    • Avatar morat20 says:

      People long for ‘small town America’ the way some long for the 50s. A weird blend of nostalgia and wish-fufillment.

      The 50s weren’t so hot, especially if you had two XX chromosomes or skin that wasn’t lily white.

      Small town America? Same.

      So much time and effort spent by people to “return America” to a time and place it never was.Report

  4. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    I think it was Dave Marsh who pointed out that people from big cities loved that Mellencamp song too. The small town they were from happened to be, say, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, but they felt the same way about it.Report

  5. Avatar Shazbot3 says:

    Yeah, I can agree with some of this. I have the same background: small town and rural. The country music of the past had some real greatness (along with some real turds):

    Waylon and Willy. Johnny Cash. Patsy Cline Hank Williams Sr. Kris Kristofferson. George Jones. Dolly Parton. So much pathos and suffering: alcohol and marital problems. Failed romance and loss. And some fun mixed in too. That to me, is small town life.

    New country sucks. It is obviously and painfully commercial, meant to sell to everyone and move no one deeply, and without soul or much of musical value.

    The new small town pride that you are talking about, exemplified in these songs, is false. It is people trying to listen to something to psych themsleves up to have a pride that they don’t really have. (Sort of like a narcisstic defense in psychology.)

    • Avatar Andrew says:

      “New country sucks. It is obviously and painfully commercial, meant to sell to everyone and move no one deeply, and without soul or much of musical value.”

      Yeah, amend that to something like “New commercial country sucks” and I might agree with it… But there is plenty of great “country” music being made in a variety of venues that aren’t being played on Pop Country radio stations and aren’t being consumed by large numbers of people…Report

  6. Avatar North says:

    The East coast of Canada, especially Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, have their own regional music. It’s a delicious blend of Irish, English and other European songs especially heavily flavored by Celtic music. The divine Stan Rogers (ironically from Ontario) captured much of the true essence of the songs though there’s also much that was done by the Rankin Family as well in presenting the music well. The East Coast’s more recent history has long been a melancholy one of blasted fisheries, dwindling industry and young people leaving dwindling coastal towns in search of work. That makes the music both beautiful but also somewhat mournful.

    So I know exactly the kind of stuff you’re talking about. When I hear Gillis Mountain, Orangedale Whistle, Northwest Passage or other such songs I am immediately home.Report

    • Avatar Gingerbugjones says:

      Absolutely. Going to uni in Halifax, you couldn’t get through a night of drinking without hearing Barrett’s Privateers and doing some stomping. “Sociable!” Few places/night in Toronto have ever been as fun as those pub nights in Halifax.Report