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Arts & Culture

'The Colin McEnroe Show' Goes Country

Carlos Mejia
Connecticut Public Radio
Cowboy boots

Put on your cowboy boots! On Thursday, Colin and company took a deep dive into America’s music genre, country. When the idea originated weeks ago during a team meeting inside the Dankosky Building, there was an audible eye-roll from most inside the room. 

But in the name of journalism, the team got in the WNPR pickup truck, drove down that dirt road, and delivered a show about how regional the country's favorite music genre truly is. But creating 60 minutes of country music content didn’t really improve the staff’s relationship with the genre.

Here, the show’s producers discuss their love of -- or their issues with -- country music.

Betsy Kaplan, Senior Producer

The parents of my daughter's boyfriend once invited me to go to a concert at the private home of a former Manhattan software engineer who retired to write country music in Connecticut. He bought a lot of land, added a studio to the side of his house, and wrote dozens of songs for the five-piece band he started. I went because I liked my daughter's boyfriend and his parents. I stayed to be polite. I left annoyed.

The redundant twang of the guitar and the simple lyrics about outlaws, driving a truck, screwing up, and swooning over his baby grated on my feminist nerves. What was wrong with me? Our friends loved it. I admit I went with a closed mind but I've changed my mind before. Not this time. I suspect country music has a variety and depth I don't appreciate but I'm just not that into it.

Carlos Mejia, Digital Producer

Growing up in New York City, country music was quite simply never on the radio. It was certainly not on MTV in the heyday of the channel (the late 80s, early 90s), so I was just simply never exposed to it. So I considered it as a strange thing that no one I knew enjoyed. Then in college, I was somehow exposed to Johnny Cash and fell in love with his bass-baritone voice, and thematic lyrics. It took me a few years (and a high-speed internet connection) to learn Cash is a country music icon, thus making me a fan of the genre. But I never really dug deeper than Cash, because I never felt like I could relate to country music.

At its most cliché, country music is about pickup trucks, hanging by the river, good ol’ boys drinking, and dirt roads, but I have never experienced or lived anything close to any of those elements (except the drinking). That’s not to say that I need to experience something in a song in order to feel it. I’ll never know what it’s like to own a Picasso like Jay-Z, so I’ll let a country music earworm like “Girl Crush” or some wild concept album like Zac Brown Band’s Grohl Sessions into my playlist. But I’m not a pretender. I’m not a country music fan—until it finds me.

Jonathan McNicol, Producer

I have close to no relationship with country music. I know so little about it because I just don't like how it stereotypically sounds. I don't like the sound of a chicken-picked telecaster. I don't like the sound of a pedal steel. I don't like the sound of Johnny Cash's voice. The music I do like that's, let's say, somewhat country-adjacent (The Bros. Landreth, John Mayer and Keith Urban playing together) I like despite its sounding countryish, and then just barely.

Xandra Ellin, Connecticut Public Radio Intern

I was raised by parents who forbade country music, but they blasted Alison Krauss and Johnny Cash over the car radio. My brother and I were taught to believe that there was some meaningful and objective difference between “good” country and “bad” country. That is, there was country music that we—the elite suburban Baltimoreans—were allowed to appreciate, and country music that only they—the southern bigots—could possibly be naive enough to enjoy. And this isn’t meant to be a drag about my parents; for a time, I also felt genuine discomfort when I’d hear a traditional country chord progression.

Still, I would find country music that appealed to me and call it something else entirely—Folk, Americana—just to reaffirm my position as a person too intelligent or wealthy to engage with country music. It wasn’t until I went away to college that I allowed myself to enjoy country music-- by senior year, my housemates and I called ourselves “The Trio,” I, the Linda Ronstadt to Isabel and Amy’s Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. Though I occasionally experience that visceral revulsion to the familiar sounds of country, I have grown to understand this feeling and to use different language to discuss it.

Colin McEnroe, Host

It might surprise people who have a certain image of me to know that, at the end of a very long week, I like to play a song through my computer speakers here in the newsroom and it’s “I’ve Enjoyed As Much of This As I Can Stand” by Porter Wagoner, which – sonically – is the kind of song people mean when they say they hate country music. It’s twangy and full of musical clichés. But I need that song in my life. I might even need it played at my memorial service when the time comes. And the last time I cried at a concert, it was Lyle Lovett at the Cape Cod Music Tent, and I was all by myself and the woman who usually sits next to me at Lyle concerts was back home and I basically cried for two hours in a stew of delight, longing and spiritual uplift.

But I wouldn’t really call myself a country music fan. I mean, good music is just good music. “You Don’t Know Me” is a country song, but it's really just one of the great, infinitely durable songs in the American music canon. Am I supposed to not want to hear Alison Krauss sing “Lay My Burden Down?” Am I supposed to not want to hear Emmylou Harris do just about anything?

For a while, I got hooked on the primetime soap opera Nashville, partly because the songs were so damn good. They were culled from the work of Nashville’s best writers, including my old friend “Big Al” Anderson, who co-wrote “Every Time I Fall In Love,” achingly rendered by Clare Bowen who, at Al’s prompting, signed a photo of herself for me but that’s another story. And that’s part of country music. There’s always another story. A story about the time she put you out “like the burnin’ end of a midnight cigarette.”Or that lazy day when you said, “Darlin’, put down that flyswatter/ And pour me some ice water.” I’m not a real country music fan, but I want no part of a world that doesn’t have it.

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