Thursday, August 27, 2020

Starting Over | Lefsetz Letter



It sounds authentic. Up front and honest. Sans all the crap people put on their records to homogenize them and leak out their essence as they play to the gatekeepers as opposed to the ultimate listeners.

Chris Stapleton is the most revered man in Nashville/country music, how come what competes with him is such watered-down dreck? I’m a big fan of Luke Bryan, but even Pez has more substance, more soul-fulfillment than the tracks on his new album. As for “Build Me A Daddy,” it doesn’t sound like it came from the heart, but a computer, AI could write faux heartstring pullers like this no problem.

On the other hand there’s Americana. It’s just that that scene hasn’t delivered its superstar. Stapleton has one foot in each camp, but he’s not shying away from commerciality, and he knows first and foremost if the music is not appealing, your track is dead in the water.

Now back in the real country days, before KISS-influenced Garth Brooks dominated and subsequently was superseded by the church and babies crowd, country music sounded more like “Starting Over.” Made on a porch, in a bar to express the feelings of those playing it, less about the audience than the thrill of capturing the zeitgeist.

And once Gram Parsons opened the door to the melding of country and rock, and the Eagles blew a hole so big in the landscape that they ended up with the best-selling album of all time, stuff like “Starting Over” fit right in. But there’s no place for this track on Active Rock, and although introspective it’s not quite like what’s played on AAA, which is dominated more by shoegazers and those who can’t quite appeal to everybody, like Chris Stapleton.

Well the road rolls out like a welcome mat
To a better place than the one we’re at

Actually, it doesn’t. This is fantasy. People are packing up and moving less than they ever have in decades, they just can’t afford it.

And I’ve got friends out on the coast
We can jump in the water and see what floats

I’m glad you do, have friends, that is, otherwise you’d better be rich if you want to move to the coast, at least the one on the left side of the country, the one that borders the Pacific. And the truth is it ain’t cheap on the Atlantic either.

We’ve been saving for a rainy day
Let’s beat the storm and be on our way

Then he and she are unique. No one’s been saving. It’s not that they’ve been blowing all that cash on electronics and whiskey, it’s just that they’re barely making enough to make ends meet. Savings? What a concept!

And honey for once in our life
Let’s take our chances and roll the dice
I can be your lucky penny, you can be my four leaf clover
Starting over

Only you can’t. Certainly not if you don’t have a college degree, which you even need to get a gig as a secretary/assistant.

And if you’ve got said degree, you’ve been on a career path since before you graduated. You’ve done internships. This is not the seventies, where you graduate and go in search of yourself, certainly not the sixties. No middle class person, assuming there are any left, would get on that Greyhound in Pittsburgh Simon & Garfunkel sang about, it’d be too dangerous, you’d be scared to get on board.

This might not be an easy time

No b.s. Sherlock.

There’s rivers to cross and hills to climb

Life in these United States is harder than ever, “Reader’s Digest” had to sell its bucolic campus, it only comes out ten times a year these days.

And some nights might feel cold and dark

Especially if you’ve got no heat, if you live in California and there’s a blackout.

But nobody wins afraid of losing
And the hard roads are the ones worth choosing

That’s true. Wisdom. Inspiration. That’s what “Starting Over” is all about, putting you in the mood where you think of the possibilities, in a country where opportunities seem to be drying up.

Some days we’ll look back and smile
And know it was worth every mile

Hopefully. Lower class people split up at a higher rate than the wealthy, assuming they got married to begin with. And monetary woes, hard times, break up relationships, it takes special people to endure together, to not place blame on each other, I know from experience.

Still, what option do you have other than to put one foot in front of the other? Then again, suicide rates amongst white males are sky high, people are too depressed, by the lack of opportunity and the plethora of bills.

In other words, “Starting Over” is aspirational.

But isn’t this like some of the best music? You play it to squeeze out all the bad stuff, you play it to inspire you, to get ready, to tackle the world.

And if “Starting Over” is a hit, radio playlists have changed significantly since I listened to terrestrial radio. It’s a shrinking world. TikTok means more to the younger generation, but the music business was never forward-looking. And the truth is country is bigger on streaming services than rock, the country fans got the message, but just make sure you don’t touch the third rail, politics. No one wants to be Dixie Chicked.

So, “Starting Over” is a minor track, an album track, not a one listen smash you need to immediately tell all your friends about. But you don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of music to understand it, which today’s metal music tends to require. You can just drop the needle…er, click, and immediately go along for the ride. That’s where we do our traveling these days, in our minds, even before Covid-19.

And the funny thing about “Starting Over” is it sounds just as good on YouTube as it does on Amazon Music HD. It wasn’t compressed, it wasn’t EQ’ed to jump out of the dashboard, but to slowly infect your ears, not only remind you of where you’ve been, but where you’re going.

Now what we’ve learned today is no song is ubiquitous, no song reaches everybody. But if one could, I think it would sound something like “Starting Over,” which is as American as you get. Which begs the question why Stapleton doesn’t address the bigger issues, what’s going on in America today.

Stapleton’s no idiot, he went to Vanderbilt, albeit for only a year. If this music thing hadn’t worked out, he’d be screwed. But my point is this is a thinking man, someone who can cogitate, who can analyze the issues, who could lay some truth on us. Is he afraid of the audience, afraid of alienating someone, especially in the Nashville firmament, in the country music audience? Or has he been beaten into submission by the NashVegas ethos that you can sing about your personal life, but we want no opinions, we don’t want anybody stirring things up, unless it’s to party.

The best songs are written on sheer inspiration. Like Neil Young’s “Ohio.” You feel something and you say it. And that inspiration can strike when you’re doing the dishes, in the shower, usually when you’re not paying attention, when you’re not trying. Which means sometime in the next two months Chris Stapleton will probably be inspired. Nobody is apolitical, we’ve all got feelings. And if he were lay his down, people would listen, because he’s the king of Nashville, anointed even by all those soulless bros singing about drinking and partying. People anticipate Stapleton’s work. They don’t play six seconds and skip, they do their best to get into it. And so far, the music Chris has made has rewarded them. So, unlike the words of almost anybody else, Stapleton has the best chance of being heard, and despite all the naysayers, never underestimate the power of a song to infiltrate and change the culture, we shall overcome.

It is truly blowin’ in the wind. This feeling. We’re just waiting for someone to pull the thread down from the sky and weave a new tune. You can write, perform and distribute a song in 24 hours. We’re waiting.


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