Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bruce Hornsby “In The Low Country”

In my mid-20s, through a series of life twists and turns, I found myself working at a radio station in the most western part of the state of Virginia, right on the Tennessee border. I’d been a lifelong New Englander, and had my ideas about the American South.

My 7 years living there both confirmed my ideas, and completely challenged those ideas.

I worked for a bright, educated, well-read, thoughtful, liberal family. And at every opportunity, they caused me to consider the stereotype of a Southerner, and to reject it.

Does the stereotype exist? Yes it does. Yes, in the South there are pick-up driving, country music loving, under-educated, super-religious, right wing folks, who are pretty much exactly like the people TV might lead you to believe were in the South.

And truthfully, there are a lot of Southerners who embrace that image, and try to own it, whether they live up to it or not. Bright, educated, well-read, thoughtful, liberal folks who would still readily identify themselves as Rednecks.

My friends were quick to reject that kind of simplified categorization of themselves, or the part of the world they live in. And in a town full of doctors and lawyers and college professors, it became pretty evident to me that my preconceived notions about Southerners were pretty limiting. I, myself, learned to be vigilant about stereotypes, assumptions and pigeonholing.

I’ve especially kept an ear out for it in Country Music, where some artists will sing songs that are intentionally crafted to fit an anti-intellectual, jingoistic, good ol’ boy/girl image. Songs and artists like this serve to reinforce a stereotype that, like all stereotypes, at best over-simplifies who people are and at worst limits who they can be.

So what to do about this new Bruce Hornsby song, “In The Low Country”?

Hornsby is from Virginia, too, albeit from the other side of the state, in the eastern, Tidewater area. And in this new song, he sings in the first person, as a Southern stereotype. A gun-toting, squirrel-skinning, booze drinking, wrasslin’-watching, NASCAR conservative.

Certainly, this is a tongue-in-cheek performance from Bruce, that recalls, in a more subtle way, Randy Newman’s “Rednecks.”

And that’s the problem. The subtlety. I think Hornsby is singing this tongue-in-cheek, but that’s only after listening to the song a number of times, and closely reading the lyrics.

That’s not how most people listen to a song on the radio. They’re driving or working or cooking with the radio on. They’re not listening with a critical ear.

And in that case, does a song like this serve to support the stereotype, rather than skewer it?

Does hearing the hook, “Having a ball in the Low Country” and picking up on lyrics like “Hunt ′em, kill ′em, put ′em on a mat” reinforce an unfair cliché?

I’m struggling with the idea about adding this song to rotation. What do you think?

See this previous post, for details on how a song gets into rotation on mvyradio, then let me know what you think.


  1. I think you definitely should add this song to the rotation. Here's why:

    1. Lyrics - they're noticeable; unusually noticeable and attention-grabbing; this is just not one of those songs you'll find yourself tapping your toes to for the umpteenth time and then start listening to the words
    2. Simplistic - the lyrics are just too simplistic to stand on their own; something else must be going on here; what is it, exactly?
    3. Sounds good - whatever the pleasure center in the brain is that responds to good music, this song touches it
    4. Not typecast - the setting here is the South, but it could just as easily be about deer hunters in PA or NY, or fishermen on the Cape, or the life-long locals from most areas of the world outside of large population centers
    5. MVY - I'm a long-time listener; the thing that makes your station great is that it's progressive and unpredictable; and that it plays music that sounds good, like this song


  2. There used to be tons of songs (60s - 80s) with this kind of subtlety and impersonating other characters. You are considering not playing this song, just because today's audience might not be able to "get" it? Pretty sad.

  3. I struggle with it too. But fuck it. If it sounds good go for it.

    I'm a Bobby Labonte fan. Love NASCAR. Love the South. I'm not a hunter or some of those other things, but certainly understand and sympathize with them.

    If he meant this to offend. Fuck him.

    Should use it at the RNC! haha