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Oldham as Vital Repository/C&W Treatise 2

Big up to all the tender-hearted on this one, which finds me giggling and lost amongst righteous guitars.

When I wrote on All Jacked Up the other day, I realized that it was something of a betrayal. I've had grander, less conclusive things on my mind (it helped to be visited by some form of soul-hallucination at the MoMA this weekend). Since childhood I've thought of becoming a judge. Neurotically even-handed and generally dissatisfied with anything that seems smaller than the proverbial big picture, I was compelled by the grave worldliness that judgeship implied to me. Still, I'm plagued by the fact that I do have a tastes and tendencies. We're creatures of many moods, but in my perceived self I do still prefer scotch to vodka & soda, I still prefer yellow and gray to red and black, and I think part of me still prefers Will Oldham to Gretchen Wilson.

One day after hearing All Jacked Up, the coffeeshop guys were being their eBay-drunk selves, furiously auctioning a box of rare Oldham discs to princely figures in the Netherlands or spoiled Japanese adolescents. I realized then, as I had realized so many times in the past, that there's something about Will Oldham that just does skirt the country thing for me. Now I'm sure someone like Chuck Eddy (with all due respect and then some, seriously) would call Oldham an unconvincing halfbreed, but for me, 18 and frequently drinking, Palace was a sort of revelation to me. Sure, I was coming from liking similarly spare stuff (in this case, both Low and Silver Jews seem relevant), but it was when Oldham began to smooth out the edges and touch his bleakness with some warmth that I realized "hey, country music." George Jones came next, and heavy. His songs were funny, like Oldham's (which didn't have country punch lines, but did have a kind of naughty, pansexual undercurrent that tickled me); they were both on the heartfelt side, they both went well with bourbon, and they were both essentially sad musicians. At the time, Oldham seemed like the slacker apex of Jones's glow as a barstool catatonic and hopeless romantic.

So when I heard All Jacked Up I realized that yeah, I totally relish in forehead-slapping lyrical hooks like "I'm one Bud wiser than I was a minute ago;" that there's a David Hume in me that can respect the hell out of Gretchen Wilson and praise her for making another well written and well-performed album (beat that, Most Music Made in 2005), but that if you knocked on my coffin, you'd still probably find Lost Blues sticking out of my jacket.

The judge in me bangs hard up against this last point. When I listen to contemporary hip-hop, I have to shelve the moralist in me for the style-hound (often enough to take note); when I listen to country, I can revere the formalism of it and try not to bristle too hard at some of the politics. Still, in what some might call pandering (and what many commenters on Stylus basically have) I've managed to open up some of my tastes and the notion of craft as robust expression of spirit. These issues plague me a little and it's hard to know how much this straw can bend, but it's a refreshing type of self-searching, most of the time. At any rate, I'm sure this will be revised and continue for quite a while, but consider this a second installment.


Blogger Josh said...

you don't have to apologize for preferring Oldham if he simply resonates more forcefully with your own experience - growing up in the South and being surrounded by the stuff all the time, I suppose I'm kind of split, part of me being Gretchen and wanting to explore/represent that regionality to the rest of the country, part of me being the Oldham who's still an outcast (politically, morally, to some extent culturally) within that tradition.

6:36 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

Mike, I'm totally into this line of thinking you're going through right now, and am looking forward to more posts and (possibly?) an article on your explorations.

12:07 PM  

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