Before I say anything, I would like you to read the lyrics to Toby Keith’s latest country-and-western hit “Beer for My Horses”:
Well a man come on the 6 o’clock news, said somebody’s been shot, somebody’s been abused, somebody blew up a building, somebody stole a car, somebody got away, somebody didn’t get too far, yeah, they didn’t get too far.
Grandpappy told my pappy back in my day, son, a man had to answer for the wicked that he’d done. Take all the rope in Texas, find a tall oak tree, round up all them bad boys, hang them high in the street for all the people to see. That justice is the one thing you should always find. You got to saddle up your boys, you got to draw a hard line. When the gun smoke settles we’ll sing a victory tune, and we’ll all meet back at the local saloon. And we’ll raise up our glasses against evil forces, singing whiskey for my men, beer for my horses. We got too many gangsters doing dirty deeds, too much corruption and crime in the streets. It’s time the long arm of the law put a few more in the ground. Send ’em all to their maker and he’ll settle ’em down. You can bet he’ll set ’em down.
If you’ve ever had a poetry class, you may wonder at the total lack of talent evident in this lame piece of doggerel. The rhythm limps and the rhymes are misplaced. But that’s not what offends me. It’s the racist, fascist and viciously un-American message that gets me riled me up, pardner.
Here’s what I have to tell Toby Keith: To conjure up images of the lynching that blackened “Grandpappy’s” days is intolerable. To promote vigilante justice in a country already on edge is irresponsible. To advocate ignoring the rule of law is ignorant.
But brutish, right-wing propaganda is becoming the norm for the so-called Country-and-Western culture.
This is personal to me because I used to like country-and-western music. When I was about 13, I lived in a remote part of Jamaica, where no local radio signals were available. Somebody gave me a little white plastic radio one Christmas, and if I could stay awake until the pre-dawn hours, I could get WWVA, Wheeling West Virginia; WCKY, Cincinnati One, Ohio; and some station in Del Rio Texas. All were country and western stations, and I developed a deep affection for Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Ernest Tubbs, George Jones, Patsy Cline and the other captivating artists who invaded my room.
Now, I cannot listen to a country-and-western radio or television program for long without wanting to throw up. The music is mostly tuneless, the lyrics are inane, the artists clueless. And that’s not the worst part – it seems as if the genre has been taken over by loutish, posturing Neanderthals intent on promoting neo-fascism under a cloak of jingoism, violence and mawkish sentimentality.
Johnnie Cash must be turning over in his grave.