I hate doing this. I always hate turning the pen against another writer or periodical, and a good one at that. But even more, I hate to watch the truth get trampled.
For the second time in four months, a writer for the Dallas Observer has taken a completely ridiculous and incorrect premise, hindered by a perspective on country music that is very much from the outside looking in, and built it into an irresponsible think piece that shreds the truth and frames anyone who would have the audacity to care about country music as a feckless, misguided moron.
The first instance occurred in November when writer Kelly Dearmore implied that Merle Haggard didn’t think that country music needed to be saved in a story titled “Country Music Isn’t In Need of a Savior.” What was Dearmore’s evidence that Merle didn’t think country music needed to be saved? Absolutely positively nothing. It just looked real good in print. Instead, there is mounds of evidence and many quotes stating the contrary. But the Dallas Observer went forward anyway, and put words in Haggard’s mouth.
Now another Dallas Observer writer is going back to rewrite history to attempt to accomplish a similar aim.
On Wednesday (3-9), the alternative newsweekly published a piece by writer Amy McCarthy called “Sturgill Simpson Hasn’t Betrayed Country Music Because He Never Was a Country Artist.” That seemed like a bold and misguided opinion to take, especially as the title of an article. So curious, I took a gander, and what does the first sentence of the article state matter of factly?
“Sturgill Simpson never said he was a country artist.”
Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit.
How such irresponsible and short-sighted assertions actually made it into print for mass consumption is as dumbfounding as it is scary. Let’s go back and take a few simple, cursory glances at some of the things Sturgill Simpson has said over the years that slam dunk repudiate this insulting notion that Sturgill Simpson “never” considered himself a country artist.
“I am attempting to make what I believe to be the purest, most uncompromising Hard Country album anyone has heard in 30 years,” Sturgill Simpson told Saving Country Music in April of 2012, “And it will be an effort to revitalize the neo-traditional movement spearheaded by two of my idols and fellow Kentuckians (Skaggs & Whitley) back in the 80’s.”
Hmmm. Not only does it sound like Sturgill Simpson considered himself country, he called his music “Hard Country” (capitalized) and “uncompromising,” and was looking to “revitalize the neo-traditional movement.” I don’t know how much more matter of fact Sturgill could have been about where his mindset was at that time.
That above quote was made when Sturgill was transitioning from his band Sunday Valley to his solo career. And what was Sturgill’s mindset back in the Sunday Valley days?
“I think modern country especially, everything you hear on the radio, they spend three verses trying to tell you how country they are,” Sturgill said in the EPK for the Sunday Valley record. “Country music’s just about hope, redemption, and sorrow, and pain, and loss, and everything at the same time.”
So what of those quotes, or anything else that Sturgill has said ever gives you any indication he “never” considered himself country?
Even the article in GQ that the Dallas Observer links to that apparently proves Sturgill has “long insisted” he isn’t a country artist, Sturgill actually says, “Then, when I moved to Nashville, I put out a very traditional country record because that’s just what you do. I had a bunch of very traditional country songs. Next thing you know, you’re a country singer. I just don’t see myself as a songwriter or a country singer or any of those things anymore.”
So the next question is, why is Amy McCarthy and the Dallas Observer looking to rewrite history?
I’ll tell you why. Because they want everyone to know that Sturgill Simpson no longer belongs to us as country music fans, he now belongs to them. And their so arrogant and celebratory that Sturgill has apparently repudiated his country-ness, they’re even willing to go back and rewrite history to say he never really wanted anything to do with country music in the first place. He was one of them the whole damn time. Why can’t Sturgill Simpson be for all? I thought that was the whole aim of the non genre music world?
This is a case of hipsterism. These are Sturgill Simpson fans who don’t want to be troubled by the idea that Donald Trump voters in plaid shirts are in a Sturgill audience as they trip balls on their designer drugs under the misguided notion Sturgill Simpson is drug music due to one damn song. They’re laughing at you not just because you care about country music, but because you care about anything; because you care about something bigger than yourself. They think you’re an idiot because you’re unwilling to follow Sturgill on his “evolutionary” journey as a closed-minded country music jerk.
When Sturgill’s new song “Brace For Impact” was premiered last week, there was a palpable mood among some listeners that they needed to be out in front of the criticism that Sturgill’s new music wasn’t country. For every concerned fan saying they wished Simpson would make another country record, there were three complaining why people couldn’t just support Sturgill regardless of what genre he chose. It was clear that the response to the criticism of Sturgill leaving country was outpacing any actual criticism of Sturgill’s direction. This Dallas Observer piece is just the latest evidence of this. In truth, most Sturgill Simpson fans were open-minded to his new direction. It’s more assumption than reality that country music fans won’t get into his new music.
As the proprietor of a website called Saving Country Music, and someone who has followed Sturgill Simpson longer than most, and reported on his career more than anyone, I personally want Sturgill Simpson to make whatever music he feels in his heart, whatever the genre. Sturgill made his ultra country debut High Top Mountain for his grandfather, and he made A Sailor’s Guide To Earth for his son. And so how can you fault the man for where he has chosen to take his music? If you are a fan of Sturgill Simpson, you should be more than willing to follow him on his journey, and trust him on where he’s leading you, at least until you’ve given him ample leeway, and then you can make an informed, conscious decision to turn back if you choose. We still haven’t even heard his new album yet, so I’m not even sure why we’re having these discussions. It’s all so presumptive.
But with all that said, don’t let anyone, ANYONE, make you feel guilty for being sad or disappointed that Sturgill Simpson did not make another true blue country record. It is your right as a country music fan to want someone you poured your heart into as a fan to not let you down. I would love for Sturgill Simpson to make another country record, and that doesn’t make me either selfish, misguided, or closed-minded to the musical expressions outside of country. It just means I’m a fan of country music.
Screw us if at one point we believed that Sturgill Simpson might be one of the solutions to what has happened to country music. After all, he pretty much said himself he wanted to be. Opinions change, and that’s totally fine and understandable. But if you go back to attempt to re-write history, especially if the aim is to lampoon long-standing country-oriented Sturgill Simpson fans, then you’re walkin’ on the “fightin’ side of me.” And those are words that actually did come out of Merle Haggard’s mouth, Dallas Observer.