In case you hadn’t heard roots rocker and reluctant savior of country music Sturgill Simpson used the occasion of the 51st Country Music Association Awards to convey a message to the people mingling outside Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on lower Broadway and fans looking in from his live Facebook stream.
What was the message and who was it aimed at?
As is currently de rigour let’s start with the most overtly political and divisive.
When a fan asked about Trump, Sturgill responded : “He’s a fascist fucking pig and I’m not afraid to say that. Anybody who’s still supporting that guy can’t be anything in my mind but an ignorant fucking bigot. So there it is. Anybody that’s surprised to hear me say that is going to unfollow me or stop listening to my record was probably not listening that closely anyway.”
To say the election of Donald Trump a year ago was galvanizing is like saying tropical storm Harvey was merely a spring shower. The resulting split in the Country seems to roughly falls into three camps. Those that voted for Trump and still support him no matter what he does (or tweets,) Republicans that didn’t vote for Trump but disgruntledly supports him for the sake of the party, even as recent state elections suggest, he is single-handedly dismantling it. Then there are those that rally under the hashtag #NotMyPresident. Given the following quote, I’m willing to say Simpson falls into the third faction.
The ‘F’ word gets thrown around a lot by the 3rd faction (or it’s more heated shortcut Hitler,) which of course does little to set the groundwork for opposing views. But Sturgill is a smart man and he knows full well that Trump is not a fascist. A hallmark of traditional Mussolini strain of facism most people know violence against opposing views, not tweeting snarky things but actual rounding up and beatings or murder, is part of the ideology. As far as I can tell by the footage Simpson was allowed to speak at length with no harm inflicted.
When asked about the kind of acceptance speech he might give if handed an award at the proceedings happening behind him Simpson remarked “Nobody needs a machine gun, coming from a guy who owns quite a few guns.” He continued: “Gay people should have the right to be happy and live their life any way they want to and get married if they want to without fear of getting drug down the road behind a pickup truck. Black people are probably tired of getting shot in the streets and being enslaved by the industrial prison complex. And hegemony and fascism is alive and well in Nashville, Tenn. Thank you very much.”
A generally non-controversial view for tolerant, thinking people of the 21st century, if rambling and broad one. Of course, as a gun owner Simpson knows he can’t legally buy an automatic machine gun anywhere in the United States and the ‘hegemony and fascism’ is this time aimed at his adopted city. This might refer to the Music Row system in general or the CMA’s decision to formally hamstring the media on topics they deemed sensitive in the aftermath of last month’s mass shooting in Las Vegas.
As a free speech purist I get it. But it’s not surprising with other award shows and the NFL’s ratings plummeting as a response to overt political topics that the CMA would want to steer clear.
Winning the Best Country Album Grammy last year does afford Simpson a level of minor celebrity (and let’s be honest, if People magazine covers your actions, you’re a celebrity.) It also gives Simpson a certain level of professional cache. Many artists would be meticulously building their career on by growing mass appeal leading to earning potential. But if you’ve followed Simpson’s career over the years you know Simpson’s songs and his interviews show he speaks his mind no matter the professional risk.
This has allowed Simpson to evolve into a persona defined more by what he’s against rather than what he’s for. Much like our beloved genre Americana he bristles against, Simpson has nebulous borders. Is he a new-breed Outlaw come to save “real” Country music from the contemporary homogenized variety being engineered out of Music Row for, well, decades or something else?
Simpson makes it hard to pin him down and that’s what makes him an intriguing artist. It’s also what makes him. like most of us, a lousy authority on public policy.
Simpson set up on the street to voice his opinion as is his constitutional right to do. He knows, as a Navy veteran, what that right costs. His guitar case open with his Grammy inside (not sure what to take from that) he collected tips that he said he’d be donating to the ACLU, a fine organization that has fought for the rights of groups as diametrically opposed as the Black Panthers and the K.K.K. and , most recently defended an on-line magazine in suggesting that Taylor Swift is a covert White Supremacist.
Sturgill’s views declared map generally to other Americana and Americana-leaning artists willing to publicize their views in interviews, on stage and through social Media. ANd though I agree with many of the sentiments expressed (yes i did vote for Hillary) I’m always concerned about the echo chamber effect made so easy by social media. Though I’m on the record arguing against the accusations of bigotry against Americana, I am concerned about the lack of intellectual diversity within the comminity. the only kind of diversity that matters and moved us forward.