Country by Andy Shenk
June 23, 2012, 3:51 pm
Filed under: Reflections | Tags: ,

A few weeks ago, I began tuning to the country music station on the radio more often while driving the bus. I did it because several of my clients enjoy country music. When my station, Cities 97, went to a commercial break I flipped over to BUZN 102.9. Most of the songs blended together, but eventually one track caught my attention: Jason Aldean’s “Fly Over States.” The lyrics spoke of life in the states where I grew up, the American heartland. While I’d detested country music for most of my life because of its formulaic sound, this song captured everything I secretly admire of “country” culture. Tough guys who love to build, shoot, and fix things, football and baseball, farms and ranches, trucks and railroads, small towns and local bars. These are the elements of American masculinity I’ve never quite grasped.

I love to read about the history of the railroads, but when I bike by the train yard in Northfield on my way to work each morning, red bike helmet firmly strapped to my head, I recognize the distance between that world and mine. I’m sure that some railroad employees bicycle to work: My differences with blue-collar, middle American men go further than that. I can’t grasp construction concepts, mechanical problems, or even basic assembly work. I cried in sixth grade because I couldn’t sew a button on to a piece of fabric, and I swear like a sailor when trying to change bicycle tires. Many of my most ego-damaging moments have come when confronted with jobs that I assume any “country” boy would handle with ease: painting a house, fitting a window frame, operating factory machinery.

To make matters worse, I don’t own a truck, or any vehicle for that matter. Rain, snow, or shine, I trek four miles to work on my Schwinn mountain bike. Though I love sports, I’m best at sissy ones like running and frisbee. While a sports-watching fanatic, I detest football (another hatred for another day) and two of my favorite leagues are the NBA and English soccer. Even when I drink beer, I stay as far from American staples as I can, preferring Newcastle or obscure, hippy breweries. Perhaps worst of all, I grew up pacifist, the son of Anabaptist parents who taught me that in time of war I’d do better working on a reservation in Montana as a conscientious objector than learning how to handle a gun and protect our country.

Perhaps the best I’ll be able to do is sit in a bar, force down Miller Lite, and talk about a sport I do love, baseball. While I still find the sound trite, I’m also going to indulge in country music, even if I never get to play it on the radio, rolling down the road in a beat-up Chevy truck. The words open up a mysterious world beyond my own, one which I’ll only ever know from across the divide. It’s a rich, exotic, admirable land.