Country Music and the Pursuit of Happiness

I just spent an hour working on a beautiful post on country music, positive psychology, and New Yorkers, and alas, Blogger just ate it without a trace. So I’m afraid you’re going to have to connect the dots yourself.

The Economist on country music.
Once they pass a certain age, most Americans stop worrying about being cool. This is often when they start (or go back to) listening to country music. “It’s not about sexual innuendo or bling, but the problems and experiences of ordinary people: love, loss, family life, having a good time and a sense of humour,” says Joe Galante, head of Sony BMG’s country-music division.

Some say country music itself is a better balm for broken hearts. Whereas anguished Manhattanites pay hundreds of dollars an hour to lie on a couch and talk about themselves, country fans put on a Wynonna Judd CD and hear someone sing about problems that sound awfully like theirs. Say you have endured a family break-up or think you might be addicted to food: Wynonna has been there, feels your pain and articulates it far more tunefully than you ever could. As another country singer, Dierks Bentley, once put it: “Country music has always been the best shrink that 15 bucks can buy.”

Danielle Peck’s “Isn’t That Everything” and lyrics. An anthem to positive psychology.

I might not have a million dollars in the bank
But I’ve got food on my table and gas in my tank
I might not have designer sheets on a king size bed
But I lay down at night with a roof over my head

Yeah, I’ve got friends that love me
A big blue sky above me
And your two arms around me baby every night

Isn’t that everything
I don’t need anything
It’s only the simple things I believe
That matter most in life
I’m more than satisfied
All that I have is all I need
Isn’t that everything

A New Yorker muses on positive psychology and why New Yorkers aren’t happy.

Like most New Yorkers I know, I can’t imagine living in most other places in the world. My troubles would surely be aggravated, rather than solved, by relocating to Branson. But reading the literature of happiness studies, I can’t help but wonder whether we aren’t all in the grip of some strange false consciousness. From the point of view of the happiness literature, New Yorkers seem to have been mysteriously seduced into a way of life that conspires, in almost every way, against the most basic level of contentment.

Darrin McMahon, the author of Happiness: A History, shrewdly points out that the Big Apple is a perfect moniker for the city: “The apple is the cause of the fall of human happiness,” he says. “It’s the symbol of that desire for something more. Even though paradise was paradise, they were still restless.”

Which is where the subtle thesis of Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice comes in. He argues, with terrible persuasiveness, that a superabundance of options is not a blessing but a certain recipe for madness. Nowhere do people have more choices than in New York. “New Yorkers should probably be the most unhappy people on the planet,” says Schwartz, a psychology professor at Swarthmore. “On every block, there’s a lifetime’s worth of opportunities. And if I’m right, either they won’t be able to choose or they will choose, and they’ll be convinced they chose badly.”

Chris’s Song Picks
Whiskey Lullaby: Brad Paisley/Allison Krauss
Hauntingly beautiful. And yes, that is Ricky Schroeder in the video.

Travelin’ Soldier: The Dixie Chicks
Come Home Soon: SheDaisy
More effective commentary on war than any number of protests.

Three Wooden Crosses: Randy Travis
Faith, redemption, and fate.

8 thoughts on “Country Music and the Pursuit of Happiness

  1. Dude, being out of the US means I am TOTALLY out of the loop on current country (and country from the last ten years or so, for that matter). I’d really appreciate a post of what songs you have on your mp3 player, to give me some new stuff to download.

  2. Owning probably one of the most popular weblogs to cover country music in Nashville, I find that the country of today is a sick cousin to the country of old. In the old days, country was about the things you mentioned: love, loss, hurt, anger, pain, etc. Today’s country has more in common with 80’s power ballad rock than actual country music. Evolved? If evolved means ‘gone backwards’ then certainly.

    Country needs a good, true kick in the nuts.

    good suggestions btw.

  3. Paul,

    Totally agree with the state of modern country. Some point to Shania’s second album (when husband Mutt Lange brought power-pop production and hooks to country, and created a mega-selling monster). Others point to Garth or Billy Ray Cyrus as the proximate cause.

    Either way, when Bon Jovi is recording a country album, Alan Jackson’s “Gone Country” is looking more and more prescient.

  4. Jackie,

    I don’t actually have an MP3 player (if you can imagine that!), but here is a list (in no particular order) of country songs that I’ve really enjoyed. These are mostly mainstream country pop–you’ll have to ask Paul about some of the more indie/alt country.

    Red Dirt Road: Brooks & Dunn

    Maybe their best song, and they’ve had a lot of hits.

    Independence Day: Martina McBride

    Her voice is incredible.

    Bonus Track: Carrie Underwood performing Independence Day on American Idol

    Heads Carolina, Tails California: Jo Dee Messina
    I can’t tell you how much this resonated with me when I was stuck in Boston, before I met my wife.

    Remember When: Alan Jackson

    Sentimental, but realistic and heartfelt. The lyrics aren’t your typical nostalgia.

    Alan Jackson bonus: Livin’ On Love

    Dust on the Bottle: David Lee Murphy
    This is essentially his only hit, but what a hit.

    Trashy Women: Confederate Railroad

    What an awesome party song. Great video to boot.

    I Loved Her First: Heartland

    As a dad, I can just picture this playing at Marissa’s wedding. Every dad’s favorite.

    There Goes My Life: Kenny Chesney

    Or is it this one, which despite what may be a subtle pro-life message, is also beautiful.

    She’s Every Woman: Garth Brooks
    Sentimental, but still a favorite. I sang this to my wife at our wedding.

    Outbound Plane: Suzy Bogguss
    I think I bought the album just for this track…back in the days we still bought albums

    I Hope You Dance: Lee Ann Womack

    A monster crossover hit, but still a great song. Trivia note: Womack sings the Berenstain Bears theme song.

    Strawberry Wine: Deanna Carter
    A bittersweet tribute to young love and the loss of innocence.

    She’s In Love With The Boy: Tricia Yearwood

    Ms. Yearwood’s best, in my opinion.

    When You Say Nothing At All: Keith Whitley or Alison Krauss

    Alas, due to Whitley’s untimely death, few people have heard the original. But Alison Krauss’ version is also amazing.

    Forever And Ever, Amen: Randy Travis

    Four Walls: Randy Travis

    It’s interesting to see how Travis’ work has changed over time. Four Walls is the work of an older man, but both are great songs.

  5. One more:

    Heart Half Empty: Ty Herndon
    Great song about looking back on a failed relationship.

  6. One more:

    It’s A Great Day To Be Alive: Travis Tritt

    Another great meditation on the happiness of ordinary life.

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