It Just Comes Natural

My goal is to never talk on the phone. It’s the biggest time-waster in my life. Usually spent with people trying to convince me they can do what’s never been done, can win what’s never been won, meanwhile, the minute hand is racing around the clock (if you don’t get the reference, fire up Dylan’s "It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)", you’re excused from reading any further, nothing I’m going to say here competes with his forty year old words.) But when I do have to have a conversation, I talk in the car…I’m already wasting time driving. The problem is, listening on the phone, and I always seem to be listening, I can’t experience one of my favorite pastimes, listening to the radio.

The radio gets a bad rap these days. Everyone talks about the iPod. But I like the element of surprise, not knowing what’s going to come up next. As long as there are no commercials. Which is one of the reasons I listen to satellite, the absence of ads. Also, the dedication to the music itself, the deejay is beholden to the listener.

But with so many choices, with such a vast array of music to play, I’m stunned at the tune-outs on the rock stations, the pop stations. They always seem to play something that’s intolerable. But not on country.

Oh, so many of the country records are paint by numbers. There’s nothing innovative musically, and it’s like the writers read "Cosmo" and "People" and thought of their latest heartbreak and created a concoction that serves the corporation, but not the audience. I mean how dumb do they think we are. Pretty dumb, I guess. These tracks are listenable, you just don’t need to hear them at home. But certain cuts rivet you. You find yourself staring at the readout, wondering WHAT IS THIS?

Which is not exactly what I felt hearing George Strait’s "It Just Comes Natural" on the radio this week. I believed it was his new hit, but instead that’s some ditty about God. That’s George, you don’t quite know where he’s coming from, other than picking a track radio can run up the chart. But I don’t remember them running "It Just Comes Natural" up the chart… It’s new to me. I heard most country albums are not, they’re endless filler. So although I loved "Give It Away" from George’s previous LP, I didn’t scour the Internet looking for the rest of the record. So, "It Just Comes Natural" is brand-spanking new in my world. And I’m digging it.

Back before everybody had a/c, you drove around town with the window down. You had your elbow on the sill, your hand on the edge of the roof. And if you heard something that rocked you, that floated your boat, your arm started to move, you started pounding the roof of your automobile, you created little circles in the air with your hand… Meanwhile, your head was nodding along.

Tracks like "It Just Comes Natural" may not hook you the first time through. But, suddenly, during the third or fourth spin you get a smile when the music comes out of the speakers, as the days wear on, as repetition continues, you start to sing along. They call this an anthem.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, an anthem is: a rousing or uplifting song identified with a particular group, body, or cause : the song became the anthem for hippie activists.

Well, maybe Jefferson Airplane’s "Volunteers" was an anthem for hippie activists. Who is "It Just Comes Natural" an anthem for? Let me see… The oppressed masses, tired of their boss, their bills, looking for a little escape. The music brings them in, bonds them with the artist, makes them feel like they’re powerful, that they can have an impact, that they get to steer a little bit in this life of theirs.

Maybe this is the power of country music. While the urban stars on Top Forty radio are urging the audience to pay attention to them, to realize how fucking great they are, better than the listener, the country acts are saying I’m just like you. Come on, that’s part of Kenny Chesney’s appeal…he’s just a good ole’ boy. Just like you.

"It Just Comes Natural" is not far removed from a Lynyrd Skynyrd track. Monster riff and memorable chorus. I may be oppressed, but I’m not impotent. Sure, all the Skynyrd hits showed more innovation than this George Strait number, but where they’re coming from is the same.

We want to be invited in. We want to belong.

Ever notice how the stars appealing on TMZ and PerezHilton are the butt of the joke? We’re making fun of them. The country audience doesn’t make fun of its stars. They’re all in it together. Other than the "retired" Garth Brooks, they don’t care if the mainstream is paying attention. It’s like the glory days of rock gone by. A world complete unto itself.

Imagine yourself out on the deck on Saturday afternoon, beer of choice in hand. When "It Just Comes Natural" flows out of the speakers, your cowboys boots, your Nikes, are going to start tapping out the time, you’re going to look towards the sky and start singing along.

We’ve lost this experience in the pop world. That’s one of the reasons it’s in shit shape.

This is a read-only blog. E-mail comments directly to Bob.