Mixing guitars with soaps
Posted: Monday, October 13, 2008 9:06 pm
By: By Larry McGehee
County music television has me hooked.
Country is the only music to which I can understand the words anymore. No one writes ballads nowadays, and the words to rock music are harder to decipher than classical opera, which at least has the excuse of being in Italian or some other non-English language. I was reared on country music; nobody in Tennessee in the 1940s and 1950s escaped the influence of Saturday night and “clear channel” radio station WSM; Hank Williams, Jimmy Dickens, Roy Acuff, Patsy Cline and the others were all members of our families.
Other than being so readily at hand, what made country music a family matter were the words to the songs. “Blue Roses,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” ‘The Great Speckled Bird,” “D I V O R C E,” and such, were about the longings and heartaches of living. In fact, I’m “almost persuaded” that country songs are soap opera for plain folks, set to music. That makes me wonder, why are all the enduring television afternoon soaps about well-off people tycoons, doctors, lawyers, Mafia figures? Why are there no soap operas about ordinary folks?
Is it because working people are out working in the afternoons and can’t watch “Days of Our Lives” or “The Young and the Restless?” Probably not. Most viewers have VCRs with timers now and can record the soaps if they are not at home. In fact, we understand that they do precisely that when it comes to afternoon soaps. One theory is that working people are drawn to the soap operas because the characters romanticize a lifestyle that can be consumed by viewers vicariously in the absence of affluence. Through soaps, we enjoy fancy restaurants and cocktail parties without having to put them on our credit cards; we are involved in illicit relationships and trysts without having to pay any emotional or legal price for them.
Country music provides us with many of the same entanglements and surprises that afternoon soap operas do. The difference between the two genres is in the characters, who, in country music, are more likely to be beauticians, truck drivers, cowhands, farmers and millhands. Why have the two media never merged? Why is there no country music soap opera on afternoon television? Surely there is as much viewer market for plain folk actors named Tammy and Roy and Porter as for high rollers like Michael or Sabrina or Roman.
Actually, there is a form of country soap seeping through the back door. Used to be that television merely showed singers doing their thing on stage, in front of an audience, at the Opry or elsewhere. Copying MTV, many of the songs are now presented in story line video vignettes, with pictures that follow the song’s lyrics. For example, Randy Travis a few years back had a good video about visiting his grandfather’s old farm and having flashbacks of happier days of youth and memories of the old man. There are steamier tapes, of course, depending upon the message in the words. As these short pieces show, country music has in it the makings of television drama every bit as sizzling or tearful- and as convoluted, plastic, and fantastic — as the uptown afternoon soap operas.
The primary argument against such a merger of entertainment forms is that it could disintegrate into a musical version of “The Beverley Hillbillies” or “The Dukes of Hazard,” canning only the corn of country life and not the cream. The fantasy for viewers of regular soap operas is in getting on television what they otherwise personally cannot afford financially or morally. Viewers won’t watch soap drama that is too much about people like themselves as they are; they want to see themselves as they want to be but are not.
Country soap opera is just a thought, born out a feeling that afternoon television probably needs something other than what it now has. Country music in soap opera packaging offers as much stilted staging as Worldwide Wrestling, as much innuendo and scandal as Fox News, and as much intrigue and drama as “As the World Turns.”
Pick up on this idea, Nash-ville.
Larry McGehee, professor-emeritus at Wofford College, may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com
Published in The Messenger 10.13.08