Cancel Culture and Country Music: The Rise and Fall of a Real New Age Outlaw
By Thomas Marlowe, Contributor
The story I'm about to relate here will show my age, but I don't care.
Apparently, over the last several months to a year, a young man by the name of Morgan Wallen has been taking the country music scene by storm, breaking records in streaming and downloading with new music. Launching a career that has, according to the entertainment media outlets I ran across this morning, taken off like a rocket. Unfortunately for him, however, the operative word is "was."
It seems that Mr. Wallen has a penchant for rowdy behavior, the likes of which we haven't seen since ol' Hank Senior and Jr., and about 2/3 of the rest of the country music artists on radio four decades ago. Whether overtly or covertly, true outlaws like Cash, Waylon, Merle, Paycheck, Hank Jr., etc., engaged in sins and crazy antics consistently while living the life of a country artist.
That life was so outlandish, in fact, that Mike Judge (Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill) created an animated series called Tales from the Tour Bus, where ex-band members, business associates, and friends of renowned country music artists verbally recount their stories that are synced up with Judge's hilarious animated depictions of the insanity that surrounded these iconic figures of country music history. From Jerry Lee Lewis (aka "Killer") shooting his own bass player to Johnny Paycheck shooting his bus driver's ear off. In other words, from what I've read about Mr. Wallen, he's been fairly tame leading up to his effective cancellation from the country music scene.
Oddly, back in the day, those in radio, at the labels, in management, and every single other substructure of the music industry didn't give two nickels about country music outlaws' private shenanigans. In fact, in many ways, bad-boy behavior often worked in their favor—the way it still does in the rap and hip hop industry today.
So what has changed? Is the John and Jane Q. Public audience member so flawless and righteous that they have become appalled at such behavior to the point of not wanting to hear music from a true outlaw like Morgan Wallen? Perhaps. Though, I happen to think that people, in general, are still people—flawed, sinful, and falling away from perfection every day. Maybe it's that the upper echelon of the music industry itself—the CEOs at Sony, EMI, the CMA and ACM board members, the consultants and PDs at radio—are saints nowadays who have made it through seminary and seen the proverbial light. Ergo, they've made a unilateral decision, like the clergy of the Catholic Church against Martin Luther, to castigate this artist forever because he has become so unclean. Well, coming from someone in the music industry for two decades, I can tell you those folks are more unscrupulous and downright dirty than they ever were.
So, whence comes all this sanctimony? The viral video that seems to have broken the camel's back, in context, can't be altogether excused, but it bears out nothing more offensive than I have seen in commercially produced videos on YouTube of artists who are making millions off of music that is publicly demeaning to themselves, to their own ethnic groups, to other ethnic groups, to those in uniform, to authority in general, to women, and the list goes on.
I don't really have to explain to a thoughtful, intelligent reader what has changed that has created this "death squad" environment full of merciless, hateful corporate tyrants. So I won't. But I will remind the audience that forgiveness is a virtue, that hypocrisy is real, and that real country music that strikes a chord with real people sometimes comes from very dark, lonely, and even desperate places. It's a kind of music that resonates with those in pain, and helps to make them feel a little less alone in the world.
Perhaps Mr. Wallen does need a little time out for his behavior from the shiny elite over at CMA, but I, for one, am not going to be the Judge and jury on that. I can tell you without naming names that today's popular country music "outlaws" seem to be more in line with group think than ever before, and, therefore, completely out of touch with the human disposition, and many country music listeners.
Maybe that's why I stopped listening to mainstream country a long time ago, and the rise and fall of Morgan Wallen went completely unnoticed by me. To Mr. Wallen, I would say, I hope you find peace and gain some strength in the hard lessons you're having to learn right now. To those who canceled him for his foolish behavior, I hope your sanctimony and hypocrisy won't come back to haunt you.
It just may…
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