About halfway through my second day at the fair, I texted a friend who’s a former music critic, “Is there such a thing as butt-country? Like butt-rock, but country?”*
I am not allergic to twang. Further, many of the live performers at the fair’s mainstage, on which my booth looked out, were energetic and expert, and the fairgoers seemed to be having a really good time. Three girlfriends in little shorts and curly cowboy hats did a strut-walk in unison. A woman with Down Syndrome and a woman without it did the kind of dance where you swing your partner. A little kid did a butt-dance (it’s the dance where you stick your butt out as far as you can)**, a good look on dancers of any age.
That said, there just isn’t any reason, for an energetic and expert songwriter to rhyme “hurt you” with “desert you.”***
By the end of the second day, I knew that the real challenge was going to come not from the live performers but from the recorded soundtrack to the fair that came over the PA system. I heard each of these songs, and several more that I couldn’t identify by searching but would have a severe systemic reaction if I ever heard again, at least 15 times in five days and some of them four or five times in a given day.
Alan Jackson, “Mercury Blues”
Rhonda Vincent, “Bluegrass Express“
Toby Keith, “As Good As I Once Was“
A woman covering the Osborne Brothers’ “Rocky Top“
At the beginning of Day 2, when passersby were sparse, I entertained myself by writing down lyrics that seemed relevant to the project, and here they are (they played a lot of Traveling Wilburys on Day 2 for some reason):
“I am a man of constant sorrow.”
“I’m so tired of being lonely / I still have some love to give / Won’t you show me that you really care“
“Congratulations / For bringing me down”
“And when the rain came down I was nearly drowned / I barely knew the shape I was in”
“We are stronger together / than we could ever be alone” (no idea what this one is)
*Results, thus far, are inconclusive.
**Marlys invented it. I tried to find an image of the strip in which she does it, but could not.
***I work with beginning writers. Though I try to wean them away from cliches and catchphrases, I’m not mean about it: we use the vocabulary that we know is available to us. Part of the reason I started this project was to increase people’s access, including my own, to vocabulary for talking about climate change and its present and projected effects, because we tend to reach for what’s closest, what we’ve heard before, until we know there’s something more precise, more moving, more pleasing to hear; until we’ve heard lots of those things and know what moves and pleases us, what lands, like a fly, right on the meat of the meaning we want. Especially with regard to grammar, I’m less of a prescriptivist than I’ve ever been: in teaching and in talking, I favor the clear, the evocative, the communicative and, where it’s possible, the inventive, the fun, and the surprising.
But if you write and perform songs for a living, you’ve probably heard lots of songs, and thought for more than one second about how to put words together, and you can probably come up with something that’s more inventive, fun and surprising than rhyming “hurt you” and “desert you,” and I’m still enough of a prescriptivist to say I think you should.