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The Link Between Country and Punk

  At first glance there might not be much that country music and punk rock have in common. Country's audience tends to be more rural while punk is a mostly urban art form. Country tends to more old fashioned sounds and sentiments, while punk likes to be edgy both in it's aural assault and in it's offensive content. Country music developed as a tradition over several generations, while punk is a relatively new upstart in the musical genre menagerie. And while country music fans might see punks as social degenerates and punk rock fans might see country music lovers as backward hillbillies, the two styles of music might have more in common than one might assume.

The main connection lies in a phrase that was used repeatedly in the Ken Burns documentary on country music. It is also the name of Duff McKagan's podcast. (While Duff is known for being a member of hard rock band Guns N Roses, his roots are in the Seattle punk scene.) This phrase is "Three chords and the truth". It signifies that the music isn't fancy. In fact it is stripped down and bare boned (something that's not always true of country and has become less ubiquitous with punk since Nirvana and Green Day mainstreamed it and started the trend of injecting pop elements). But the most important factor is the truth.

It can be the truth of the hard working blue collar man and woman who just can't catch a break. It can be the truth of disaffected youth roaming the streets in search of something "more" in their life. It can be the truth oh honky tonk angels or the truth of gutter glitter girls. As long as it is real and speaks to the listener's experience in some meaningful way. Most music talks about idealized romance, or non-stop glamor of parties and sex. They talk about emotions, sure. I'm not saying these 2 genres have a lock on truth that is exclusive. But no other genre makes it a central focus the way these 2 do.

The other similarity can, unfortunately, be much more toxic. It's a focus on purity. Fans tend to talk about how something isn't "real country/punk" if they deem it not pure enough. Too many elements from pop music creeping in? Only a matter of time before the gatekeepers proclaim it "not real". Someone from a demographic not normally associated with the genre? Stands a good chance of being dubbed "not real". The fans of these genres are more against evolution and growth in the music than others are. And while this helps to retain a reverence and historical  context for the music among the fandom, it can also lead to the music growing dull if held too rigidly. It also pushes away potential new fan bases, which the gatekeepers often don't see as a negative but it is.

The final similarity I will point out ties into the previous. It is a sense of identity that ties into the music. Pop music fans don't tend to center their identity around their music the way country and punk fans do. The music dictates to a certain extent how they dress, who they are friends with and other factors in their life. Of course there is a positive side to this, which is a combined sense of community and a raw determination to help each other get through things. But this very sense of community when combined with the gatekeeping and disdain of the "other" can quickly become the biggest fault as well. I will say, I am probably one of the few people who love both genres, so if I have come across as overly critical it was not meant to be that way. I see both genres as being more pure distillations of emotion into musical form. While neither form precludes technical prowess neither requires it. The main thing is that you feel it, and you make others fell it as well.


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