Last weekend, former Drive By Trucker turned solo artist Jason Isbell let fire a tweet that read in part, “I just don’t see how any genre of music needs “saving” or “reclaiming.”
I don’t know if this tweet was meant for Saving Country Music or of it was just coincidental, but it raises a point that comes up often on a site named Saving Country Music, will country music ever be saved?
The short answer is…of course not. And even if country music came to some point where everyone agreed yes, country music has now been saved, it would immediately begin to backslide once more from the infallible frailty and cyclical nature of human activity. And of course, there would never be that universally-recognized moment when country music is “saved” because Saving Country Music’s version of country being saved would mean something completely different to executives on Music Row, or Brantley Gilbert fans for example.
But actually “saving” country music isn’t the point, and it never was. It is the pursuit, the attempt that matters. It is about standing up and caring about something that is in decline, registering dissent, and offering support. Like Gandhi once said:
It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.
Or there’s another Gandhi quote that may be even more pertinent:
Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.
What is country music? It is a living artifact of culture. Why is it important? Because we see what can happen to people when their culture is taken from them. They can lose their identity, their feeling of self-worth, their sense of community. And many times to fill the void left where their culture has been taken from them, they partake in consumption, materialism, drug abuse, and cling to whatever popular culture is presented to them through corporate media even if it is devaluing or self-destructive.
Complicating the situation is how corrupted the term “country” has become. Many folks theorized that when Taylor Swift won the CMA for Entertainer of the Year in 2009, this is the moment that country music truly died. “Death” is so absolute though, that prognosis can be argued back and forth, but you can build a greater consensus around the idea that Taylor’s 2009 win was when the “country” term lost control of its true identity and began to mean something wholly different to the general population than it did before. This is the reason some people see no value in trying to save country, or why artists like Jason Isbell feel the need to distance from it, and understandably so.
People might argue if country music truly needs to be saved, but would anyone argue against the saving of let’s say, the Ryman Auditorium? If the Ryman was about to be bulldozed, I would hope that people would rise up to protect that element of our culture, even people who are not particular fans of country music just because they can see the historic significance of the building itself. So why should the living artifact of country music be any different? If country music was destroyed, what worth would that leave for The Ryman with its living cultural counterpart now gone?
Saving Country Music is alchemy. It’s fighting for something that needs to be fought for, and learning and growing through that process. A similar fight could be taken to preserving historical architecture or relics, or dance, or theater, or food. It’s not the specific problem always, but the process one goes through to solve it.
I understand just how wide-eyed and innocent the name “Saving Country Music” may come across, and that it can come across as arrogant as well. Numerous times over the years people have come to me, empathetical, worried what they say will crush my little soul as they iterate, “Man, I’m sorry to tell you, but country music will never be saved,” or “country music is dead.” But in the end, it’s just a name; the actions are what are important. Still, every day, every article I write, I look at that name and ask if whatever I am doing, whatever I’m writing, does that name justice. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. But I try. I ask for your help.