Why It Matters (Beyoncé and the CMAs)
Bap Kennedy died the night before the CMAs. I can already hear most of you saying “Who the fuck is Bap Kennedy” and that is the point. You never got a chance to know who he was. I can already hear most of you saying “Well, I’d rather hear Beyonce than some old ass white dude.” I’d rather hear Bap Kennedy, but like most fans of country music I’m used to seeing real country music, and the poor, working class and marginalized people it represents shunted aside for another group of pretty, good haired, party people. And this crosses races. You aren’t going to hear about Jason Isbell’s dying cab driver and his slave kinfolk or Radney Foster’s Buffalo Solider turned Coleman Porter either. It’s also why you hear more about Kendrick Lamar’s music than you ever hear his music. He doesn’t fit the mold of good haired, pretty party people either. He certainly doesn’t sing about problems that can be fixed with a drink and a little booty shaking. Its not just about pop or country, or rap or black people or white people. As another band you never heard of (The Drive By Truckers) sang on another song you never heard (The Southern Thing) “to the fucking rich man all poor people look the same.” And to the suits who decide what you hear on the radio, we all look like good haired party people—or at least we all aspire to. Its true that we all have Spotify and Pandora now, but what you get offered is largely decided by these same guys in suits, and here is the kicker: the same old white dude you decides you’d rather hear Flo Rida than Kendrick Lamar is also the one who decides you would rather hear Jason Aldean than Jason Isbell. Unless you know where to look it can be very difficult to find music outside of the bubble of who you know because without knowing who else is out there you don’t know who to look for. Once upon a time radio station playlists featured dozens or artist and if you got tired of country, you could turn over to the Rock station or the R&B station and hear dozens of different artists. This meant you could have Rosanne Cash, Ricky Skaggs, Waylon Jennings and Lacy J Dalton all played on the same country station. You could walk into a music store, be fascinated by an album cover and discover a new artist. (That’s how I discovered Amy Farris, another singer who died before most of you ever got a chance to know who she was.) To give you some idea of the weight of this, I spent nearly a day trying to find one other person who knew who Guy Clark was without success. He died—and most of you never got a chance to know who he was—and for me that was a bigger deal than Bowie. I never found that other person.
If you still don’t understand why it matters, I will invite you to read Tift Merritt’s excellent field testimony (yes, yes, I know “Who the fuck is Tift Merritt) and I will leave you with the closing lines:
“But what is most important is that these people’s music will be silenced by a management playlist. I will leave you with an appeal to my local NC politicians, to remind you of just a few musicians from NC – John Coltrane, Roberta Flack, Thelonius Monk, Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Max Roach. NC musicians have helped to shape this nation’s musical heritage, and helped make this state unique, cherished and treasured by millions of people around the world. If you give young musicians no possibility of making a living, if you give the radio waves to people with no regard for music, if you stifle musical outlets with the unfettered interest in the bottom line by a few, you will scatter the next generation of NC talent. They will rightly pick up something more feasible than an instrument to voice their heartache and their joy.