Sign up for newsletter
 

Are we eskimos or witch doctors?

Country Musings by Robert Loy, December 2003

Ancient Eskimos were said to have placed elderly tribe members on ice floes and sent them out to sea to slowly freeze to death.

Whereas the voodoo practitioners in Dahomey, West Africa worshipped their ancestors, and that included the living as well as the dead.

It used to be that rock and roll was more of an Eskimo culture - this was the people who coined the phrase "Don't trust anyone over 30," remember? - while C&W was more voodoo, in that those who had come before were not just tolerated, but venerated.

However, things seem to have shifted in the last few years. Who are the most successful rock touring acts of the last several seasons? The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith and Kiss. What prince of darkness has become a cuddly TV dad? Ozzy Osbourne. (And let's face it, if any these guys were ancient Eskimos they would have long since been polar bear hors d'oeuvres.)

Meanwhile on the country side, we've been shipping our elder statesmen off on ice floes for Branson, Mo., and looking askance at anyone with a laugh line or a receding hairline. And it was only a few years ago that radio stations were actually bragging about not playing the classics of the genre, but only "hot new country." They have become a tad more witch doctorish of late, with most stations now at least giving a nod to some of the pioneers of our music.

So I should be happy that they're playing Ronnie Milsap and Mel Tillis and others of that ilk now, right?

Well, I'm not. Not really.

And it's because they're only playing old Mel and Ronnie. Which is great, don't get me wrong, but what about the music these legendary artists are currently creating? Why don't we hear that? Most of these guys are either recording new stuff (that doesn't get played on the radio), or they would be if somebody would give them a record contract.

Take Don Williams, for example. The Gentle Giant recorded some of the sweetest, most intelligent, most soulful country music of the past quarter century. He's released 52 top 40 country songs including 17 that went all the way to number 1. He has a closetful of awards for singing and songwriting. He also has a new album out, but I bet you haven't heard any of the tracks or seen the CD at your local record store.

And why is that? Does it really seem likely to you that Williams has forgotten how to make great music? Or are we just youth-worshipping, blubber-eating, igloo-dwellers? Maybe there's a reason the Eskimos never became a powerhouse on the world stage. Who knows how much they missed out on by not learning from the wisdom of their ancients.

I'm not suggesting that we should actually start worshipping our ancestors. That's probably taking a good thing a little too far. But maybe we could listen to what they have to say today and not just what they had to say yesterday. In other words, we have to decide whether we want to be Eskimos or witch doctors.

The views expressed in this column are Robert Loy's and do not necessarily reflect those of CST.