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Music would play, and Felina would peddle refried beans

Country Musings by Robert Loy, March 2002

Every time some self-appointed guardian of public morality tries to censor some work of literature he deems dangerous to our nation and its youth, I always buy each of my three kids a copy of that book.

Sadly, they're building up quite a library.

Recently a local county councilman thought Holden Caulfield was immoral and a poor role model. So what did this paragon of virtue do to save us from being corrupted by J. D. Salinger? He checked a copy of "The Catcher in the Rye" out of each public school library - and refused to return them.

(Geez, Holden may have had his problems, but at least he wasn't a lowlife thief.)

I do this with music too. When CMT and a lot of radio stations pulled Billy Ray Cyrus's "Burn Down the Trailer Park" out of rotation, I made sure each of my children listened to this song. So far none of them have gone insane and burned down trailer parks. This is because they have a sense of humor and respect the first amendment. (Of course, that means they'll never be able to be county councilpersons, but I'm bearing up under the disappointment.)

You might surmise that I am a hardcore free speech advocate, and you'd be right. But I do believe there is one thing worse that people can do to a work of art than censor it. They can desecrate it to sell products. Wouldn't we be up in arms if Shakespeare's works were rewritten so that Lady Macbeth said "Out, out damn spot - now that I've got Wisk detergent!" or Romeo "He jests at scars that never felt a wound thanks to Band-Aid Brand Adhesive Strips."

Yet, we do nothing when the Philistines of Madison Avenue pervert our music. Recently the Old El Paso company (which will never get another nickel of my money, and I eat a lot of salsa) took "El Paso" - Marty Robbins's classic tale of love, betrayal, jealousy, murder, loss and redemption - and turned it into a shill for some crappy burrito boxed dinner.

My mission was clear. I dug out my copy of Robbins's "Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs" and played "El Paso" for the kids. I have to admit that even I had forgotten how great this song is. When people talk about country music telling a story, this is what they mean; there's more depth here than in many novels. And the kids fell in love with it. Now every time they get in my car, they say "Play that song 'I Fell in Love With a Mexican Girl.'" And I'm always happy to oblige.

Maybe we should thank the censors and the pitchmen too lazy and blasphemous to write their own jingles. They certainly have turned us on to some great music and art.

Or maybe we should hang them.