Thursday, October 23, 2014
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Home » Community Blogs » Bob Wire Blog » Let’s Get Jesus Out of Country Music
Please don’t mistake this as a discussion about religion or the existence of God or any of that. It’s about the Christian Right co-opting an entire genre of popular music, shutting out those of us who either don’t subscribe to the Christian doctrine, or do not care to hear it blended so thickly into our country music. Perhaps it was “Jesus Take the Wheel” that kicked down the chapel door. Maybe it was even Randy Travis’ “Three Crosses” back in 2002 or so. Who knows. But nowadays the rhythm of Top 40 country has become the thumping of a Bible. There’s always been a mostly-unspoken understanding in country music that it’s a God-fearing Christian at the mic, even when it’s some hell raiser like George Jones or Johnny Cash. Today, though, it’s right in your face. You won’t hear more than two or three songs go by without some mention of God or Jesus or praying or angels.

Let’s Get Jesus Out of Country Music

While in North Carolina a couple of weeks ago, I searched fruitlessly for a tolerable radio station on the rental car radio. The only station that came in clearly in our neck of the woods was a pop station from North Georgia that played the same handful of songs over and over. When I heard “So What” for the sixth time in one day (I am not exaggerating), I made a vow right then and there to somehow make life a living hell for Pink. That song (along with “Hot and Cold” and “Disturbia”) was so firmly lodged in my head, on the flight home I considered staging a one-man hijacking so I could seize the controls from the pilot and crash us into a mountain to silence the bubbly pop.

When we drove into town, more stations began to show up. Barb and I noticed a pattern, and she said, “It’s all either Christian stations or country.” I turned off the radio and stated the sad truth: they’ve become the same thing.

First off, let me make my own position clear. As a purveyor of alt-country, that backlash to the overall pussification of popular country music, I like to keep a close eye on the enemy. So I tune in to the two local country stations frequently just to see if there’s any hope that country radio has grown a pair. In the last couple of years or so, I’ve noticed a shift in the focus of these recycled Firefall singles—instead of aiming squarely for the soccer mom demographic, Pop Country is wearing its religion on its sleeve.

Don’t mistake this as a discussion about religion or the existence of God or any of that. It’s about the Christian Right co-opting an entire genre of popular music, shutting out those of us who either don’t subscribe to the Christian doctrine, or do not care to hear it blended so thickly into our country music.

Perhaps it was “Jesus Take the Wheel” that kicked down the chapel door. Maybe it was even Randy Travis’ “Three Crosses” back in 2002 or so. Who knows. But nowadays the rhythm of Top 40 country has become the thumping of a Bible. There’s always been a mostly-unspoken understanding in country music that it’s a God-fearing Christian at the mic, even when it’s some hell raiser like George Jones or Johnny Cash. Today, though, it’s right in your face. You won’t hear more than two or three songs go by without some mention of God or Jesus or praying or angels.

This sickening stream of treacle and pap makes the lightweight confections of mid-90’s stars like Garth Brooks and Sammy Kershaw look absolutely badass in comparison. In the world of modern country, everybody goes to church, everybody prays, and Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven (But Nobody Wants To Go Right Now).

Hey, I’ve got nothing against people singing about their spirituality. Whatever gets you through the night. But I believe in the separation of Church and Station. If I want to listen to Christian rock or hymnals or gospel, I’ll seek it out. I’m trying to get a handle on the zeitgeist of country music, and all this religious pandering is completely gumming up the works.

“Jesus Was a Country Boy,” “Jesus and Mama Always Loved Me,” “Jesus Take the Wheel,” “Jesus and Gravity,” “She Left Me For Jesus,” “800 Pound Jesus”—these aren’t church signs announcing this week’s sermon, they are just a few Christ-based songs that have blessed the country charts in the last couple of years. Just as hard rock stations feature songs about death, destruction and dominance, country stations feed their masses with non-secular nuggets of feel-good faith. It’s become so blatant that it’s hard not to imagine that the pendulum is nearing the end of its arc, and a backlash of more traditional country themes—cheating, drinking, lying, screwing, etc.—will begin to emerge.

I’m trying to do my part by writing my own songs about religious hypocrisy (“Jesus In My Heart”) and alternate spirituality (“As For Me”). But my feeble efforts cannot approach the brilliance of Ed Rush and George Cromarty, who wrote the best Jesus-themed country song of all time. You might remember hearing Paul Newman sing it in “Cool Hand Luke.” Bob sez check it out.

“Well, I don’t care if it rains or freezes,
Long as I have my plastic Jesus
Riding on the dashboard of my car
Through all trials and tribulations,
We will travel every nation,
With my plastic Jesus I’ll go far.”

[Who will come out on top, country music or Bob Wire? Follow the ongoing conflict by clicking over to NewWest.net/BobWire every day. It is Bob’s will.]

About Bob Wire

Comments

  1. Drover says:

    Bobwar – I don’t think “She Left Me For Jesus” is really a family-values-country song. Doesn’t it include the lyric “when I find Jesus, I’m gonna kick His ass”?? Overall, though, I totally agree with you. Mainstream country is just pop music sung by hicks.

  2. Dave Skinner says:

    Jeeze, Bob,
    You sound like a metalhead during the 1980s. It’s a PHASE. I thought you were a geezer and could remember stuff like that. Some day there will be another swing of the pendulum and the country equivalent of Nirvana or Metallica or G and R will hit Nashville.

  3. Bob Wire says:

    @Drover:
    I stand corrected on that one. It’s actually a funny song.

  4. Vern says:

    Amen to that!

  5. Rebecca says:

    Hey, man, what’s wrong with Firefall? They had a few good songs…okay, one, one good song.

  6. Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers! says:

    What REALLY pisses me off is that back in the early seventies, I used to be able to buy great country albums outta the bargin bin at Safeway! For next to NUTHIN’! Maybe a buck thirty-nine or so. I mean, Waylon and Wille and all the boys! Right outta Safeway’s big bargin bin! Then, the next thing you know, THEY’RE FAMOUS! And trendy. And the damn price went outta sight. I haven’t listened to country now for years, except for maybe the Dixie Chicks. Basically, there is no more country music. Sorry, that music has died.

    p.s. but I gotta relate one little story. Couple’a years ago, I was visiting my sister in Portland. She got tickets to a concert at the zoo. Doc Watson was playing, so I was very excited to go. We found some nice seats way back up on the grass at the open air theatre. Doc started playing, and he was wonderful! Well, by and by, I had to take a leak. As it turns out, the restrooms are located down by the stage, so I wandered down. As I came out restroom, I saw that there was room by the stage to wiggle in the standing crowd in front of the stage, so I crunched in. Bout that time, Doc decided to play Deep River Blues. I couldn’t believe it. Here I was, about twenty feet or so, from Doc Watson playing Deep River Blues. Yes, it was an incredible experience.

  7. JetMech says:

    Yes, lets find something else to censor. You must be running out of crap to complain about. How about the future of our Country…as in the U.S. Petty B.S. like this is just a way to say “Yeah, look over here. There’s nothing to see in the collapse of the country” What a pissant you are Bob. If you don’t like the music, I have a simple fix that doesn’t involve stepping on people’s rights….DON’T LISTEN TO IT.

  8. jedediah Redman says:

    You gonna give us your economic messages over here now, eh, abner..?

  9. Mickey Garcia says:

    Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition country, Christian soldiers!!

  10. Clarence Worly says:

    Bob,
    I just penned a little ditty titled “Havin Butt Sex with Jesus Cain’t be a Sin” loosely based on that time back in Pocatello when I woke up in Bannock County lock up with my head stuck in the shitter and a rubber hanging out of my ass.
    I don’t have much hope of getting air play though, now that the Christian Right has been soundly thrown out of Washington on their self-righteous asses, they will be wandering the streets of morality (much like the zombies in Shawn of the Dead) looking for their Winchester to gather and feed. You know pop country radio will be one of those havens and will be pushed so far to the right it will become an unbroken circle…bye and bye.
    BTW-
    What about “Are you Drinking with Me Jesus”? Surely THAT song can’t be on the Wire shit list.

  11. christophster says:

    This country is waaaaay too religious. It is suppressing us as a species and as a society. SCIENCE…USE IT!

  12. mbartley says:

    Wow, Bob got everyone tooted up here. Good to see everyone as classy as ever.
    Anyway, I’m a big fan of Alt-country as well. Mainstream country drowns the soul. Give me guts and blood any old day.
    As for religion, funny how it all depends on the messenger. Johnny Cash can sing about Jesus all day long and not lose me for a second. Why is that? Authentic soulfullness maybe?
    Finally, one of the first songs I ever heard Lyle Lovett play was “God Will.” Now that’s a great song. “I won’t but God will and that’s the difference between God and me” is a lyric for the ages. By the way, hope I got the lyric right, off the top of my head. Especially cause I was rhapsodizing and all.
    Okay, thanks Bob, and the rest of you watch your mouths.

  13. Vern says:

    Whoa Bob, I guess if you mention Jesus, Toby Keith, or American Idol you get a fair bit of comments on your blog. Ching, ching!!

  14. lariat says:

    Whoa Bob,
    I used to think you were a kinda cool funny weirdo from some big city in Montana who had an interesting blog. I didn’t realize how much hatred you had in you. Now I realize I was wrong.
    You are an idiot who doesn’t even respect the roots of the country music you sometimes sing. Anybody can have a blog as it turns out. I now choose to quit reading yours. You need to get a real job, help your wife and kids out with some sort of direction, and assimilate into society. Even there in Missoula I’ll bet folks do that. You ought to try it and see how it fits.
    My take is you are just some mostly unemployed fat guy with a computer, and nothing else to do. Perhaps you have money in your family that keeps you going on the negative path you travel.
    As for me, I work hard and respect the roots of country music. You are the paradigm of the modern western, moved here from somewhere else, fool.
    I’m fed up with your crap and am now done reading it. Merry Christmas!

  15. bearbait says:

    Hey, Bob. What were the other verses to the “Jesus on the dashboard of my car”? I seem to remember one that eluded to “people used to think I was a fairy, ’till I had my virgin Mary, mounted on the fender of my car”…another I my feeble alzheimering mind conjures is “It can snow and it can flurry, Jesus saves from my worry, mounted on the dashboard of my car..”.and a chorus that was along the lines of “Oh, plastic Jesus, Oh plastic Jesus, made in Japan, by an oriental man, using the cheapest stuff he can…” Hey, college was a long, long time ago, and thankfully we have changed. It used to be white power bigots burning churches and schools, and now it is zealot liberals burning stuff (log trucks, science labs, mink farms, conservative churches). Ya gotta love change. I bought two donuts this morning, put two dollars on the counter and got two cents back—-that is change. And not much.

  16. Bob Wire says:

    Nice little fantasy there, “lariat.” The only thing you got right is that I’m a weirdo. Happy trails.

  17. Ed S says:

    Bob;
    I keep telling ya, you gotta make the switch to jazz, man :)

    By the way, I’m noticing the same thing about Christmas music these days – more and more it’s all about Jesus and Angels! What’s up with that?

  18. luvncountry says:

    I’m with Dave @12-10, I’d much rather hear Jesus in country than rap crap and what IT promotes. Jesus belongs in country. Don’t like it, don’t listen, just like I don’t turn the radio dial to rap/hip hop.

  19. Bob Wire says:

    Do I have to choose between rap and country? I’ll take neither.

    If I were a Christian, I would be insulted by the obvious pandering to my faith at the expense of sincere, quality music. Modern country is formulated in board rooms using demographic data and carefully crafted imagery designed to work like a McDonald’s commercial. But I’m not lovin’ it. Here’s a suggestion: listen to “Why Me Lord” by Kris Kristofferson. Better yet, listen to Johnny Cash sing it. That one song will show you exactly how you can put Jesus into country music and not come off like a phony candy-ass who’s trying to sell records to the after-church Walmart crowd.

    Obviously, I’m free to change the station. I don’t follow trends, but I like to keep in touch with what’s current. And what’s current is to country music what Coors Light is to beer.

    The good news is that real country music DOES exist. It’s just being made by folks who don’t appear on the cover of People magazine and don’t have their own cologne or clothing line.

  20. bearbait says:

    I think my new favorite radio song might be the Rush Limbaugh spoof of Mass. Rep. Barney Frank, to the tune of “Dancing Queens.” And here I thought Queens was in NYC, not a suburb of Boston or New Bedford, where they worship Cod. I have never heard a country song about Cod. But I still have distinct dislike for Cod liver oil, a hang up from my youth.

  21. gayle says:

    If you don’t like it change the channel…that’s what free speech is all about. They are free to sing what they want and any idiot that doesn’t like the song has the freedom to not listen.

  22. Erin says:

    Even as a Christian I understand you not wanting to hear every Country music song have a Jesus or a religious undertone. But, I don’t get that sense out of country music at all. I appreciate the fact that country music allows Jesus to be in their mix of songs b/c most of the world is shutting him out. Why are you so against Jesus?? You might as well complain about love… that in a country song more often then Jesus is… are you against that too? That subject can be more annoying and redundant than JEsus in Country music. I don’t hear you complaining about that.

  23. Bob Wire says:

    @Erin:
    From Jesus to love…that’s quite a leap. I’m not necessarily “against Jesus.” I just notice how overtly religious so much country music is now, and it turns me off.

    @gayle:
    I’ll bet you’re a big fan of Toby Keith. You’re all for free speech, but anyone who doesn’t like religion in their country music is an idiot.

    I love this country.

  24. Jesse says:

    Excellent article.

    I’m a born-again, Pentecostal Christian – and I agree with you 100%.

    These zombies of the “conservative christian” movement ruin everything they touch – including Country music.

  25. dave says:

    come on people,,,, how about a little tolerance, a little acceptance.
    the reason country ticks you all off so much is because its so popular. use the volume button, even the mute button, or better yet the on/off button if it doesnt suit you. but with all the whine here i cant hear any music. barb wire you definitely struck a nerve or a chord here.

  26. steve ussery says:

    You should be glad you have the right to voice your opinion,a lot of people died so you can run your mouth about religion.When we get shut down on religion/speech,the next of our rights will be attacked,so keep up your bad mouthing,and see where it takes you.