From Where I Sit – Rated XXX

I created this blog partly because of my perception of musical classification rigidity and the gatekeepers and sterilized mediocrity of the musical landscape. The country music I had grown up with was no longer represented and the legends, as Johnny Cash proved late in his career, couldn’t get anyone to take his phone calls. The rock stations were no better.

In the summer of 2004 I was a displaced redneck in New York City seeking identity in a city of fiercely individual natives or tides of transplant trying to forget where they came from to portray some idea of New York they carried with them from Cincinnati, Des Moines or wherever they were trying to forget. I was trying to remember…

I would go to a Dwight Yoakam show just off Central Park and then a Pixies a few night later downtown. I was steeped in the proverbial American melting pot, but somehow I felt I was grease ready to be skimmed off the top.

Around this time I uncovered sources of inspiration that would give me hope and change my life. I discovered No Depression magazine and Uncle Tupelo’s last studio effort, the superb Anodyne. I know this was many years after the both of these has been introduced but I traveled many musical roads before heading over the the wrong side over the tracks.  Before finding the promised land.

I couldn’t get enough. Everything on Bloodshot Records, The Drive By Truckers, Th, Legendary Shack Shakers, Scott H. Biram, Lucinda Williams, Gram Parsons. This music had the sentimental beauty of the country music I loved and the raw heat I loved in great rock. Music that was Southern without being stupid or condescending. I was a convert, a disciple. I started a blog.

If not for the halo effect if No Depression and Uncle Tupelo I would not have picked up the thread that led me to everything else. I didn’t love it all but I could see how it tied together. Categories can be as harmful as they are helpful. Humans like to define things in order to group as well as exclude. This thing is like these other things but not like those. I get that musicians chafe at edges of genre, that they don’t like to be “fenced in.”

But there is a sound and a spirit I continue to celebrate on this blog. I’m not paid by anyone to do it and that freedom allows me reflect my taste and ignore what falls outside the periphery. I enjoy a wide variety of music but the theme I set when I launched this site is one that I loosely adhere to. Of course it’s only my ears that i have to appease when reflecting that theme. But I believe my handful of loyal readers are along for the ride.

Recently a writer I truly admire, Adam Sheets, and a musician I have admired but am currently dubious of, Shooter Jennings, launched an effort to create a “XXX” genre of music that to give musicians that don’t fit neatly into the generally accepted genres, especially those artists with country or rural leanings, a wider range of exposure and recognition.

alt.country has mutated into the larger umbrella of Americana and though I have not always agreed with Executive Director Of The Americana Music Association Jed Hilly, but I have nothing but respect for the organization and great people working with him in Nashville. We don’t always see eye-to-eye with what is the best of Americana music when they present their awards at the Ryman Auditorium in the fall, but we celebrate the same genre for different proposes. Hilly’s job is to broaden the appeal for the genre and has done a great job not only organizing a Herculean convention/festival awards show each Fall, but he’s help formalized a radio play list and a Grammy category (which I will be covering for the ceremonies in L.A. next month.)

The XXX movement (it doesn’t really fit the criteria of genre) is a noble effort and I applaud the spirit of it. My concern is that the only unifying factor is the founder’s perception of  who is wrongly marginalized.

Most of the bands listed on tier site are on the margin. But Dallas thrash-metal band Pantera is listed along with Justin Townes Earle. Being from Dallas I am a huge Pantera fan, but there they have no overt “Southern” sound, and their 1992 album Vulgar Display of Power went double-platinum. I think most bands would accept that level of obscurity. Justin Townes Earle is the current celebrated poster boy of Americana and recently performed on the Late Show with David Letterman. Agian, that’s some glitzy margin. I understand the frustration and applaud the conversation, but for now I’m willing to hitch my wagon to the Americana mule and rabble-rouse within the family.

In the end it all seems like people who already think about music more than is probably healthy taking the conversation from the fun part, the music, to a navel-gazing level just to have some influence on what is correctly observed as a rigid, antiquated system. But after participating in several cycles of the “what is Americana/alt.country/country/whatever”, which ultimately leads to the same “who’s-in-and-who’s-out” mistakes the current system makes. I’m always but for a good fight, but I’m no longer interested to tilt at these particular meta-windmills.

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