Thursday, March 19, 2009

My John Deere Was Breaking Your Field, While Your Dear John Was Breaking My Heart, or, Why Northern Kentuckians Hate Country Music

Northern Kentuckians hate country music. They detest cowboy hats, hillbilly twangs, and forelorn love songs. Why, you ask, do these pseudo-southerners reject the most American of genres?

It turns out that the hatred of country music has deep roots in Northern Kentucky.

When I was young, country music wasn't an option. We didn't own any country records, listen to country radio stations, or associate with people who did. As I got older, I started hanging out with Ohioans---the uppitiest of midwesterners. When they think of Kentucky, they think two things: (1) cheap cigarettes; and (2) the Country Bear Jamobree (

Like many of my fellow Kentuckians, I suffered buckeyes' quips and, perhaps without realizing it, did all I could to dispel images of Appalachian squalor. I wore shoes, kept my teeth, spoke without an accent, and refrained from any mention of country.

I wasn't the first, however. My grandmothers, born and raised in Northern Kentucky, abhor country music. They deride it as "hillbilly music," a phrase always accompanied by an eyeroll. They favor big bands, crooners, anything but backwoods string bands. They, too, were afraid of a southern stigma. I'd hazard a guess that my parents were no different.

Then, sometime in the mid-90s, driving in my car early one Saturday morning, I heard the Stanley Brothers ( on 88.3 ( I didn't know bluegrass from country, but I knew I liked what was on the radio.

It wasn't until I moved to Chicago that I felt entirely comfortable with country. Here, nobody thinks of themselves as hillbillies, so there's no sting in listening to Hank Williams or Loretta Lynn. A lot of them think country music is cute and folksy. They romanticize moonshine-swillin', pig wranglin' southern living, but they never get close enough to that life for it to be an insult. Plus, Ohioans don't make fun of Chicagoans---on the contrary, here, Ohioans are kind of a joke---a sentiment I'm all too ready to embrace.
I now heartily embrace country, bluegrass, hillbilly, and mountain music. I play mandolin, my (yankee) wife plays banjo, and I'm not scared of being compared to a blue person (
One day, Northern Kentuckians will rise up, cast aside yankee slander and say, "I may like country music, but you're from Ohio."
P.S. Here are some amazing, yet real, country music titles. Maybe these add to the whole country stigma?

Do You Love As Good As You Look?
Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor On The Bedpost Overnight?
Drop Kick Me, Jesus, Through The Goalposts Of Life
Get Your Biscuits In The Oven And Your Buns In The Bed
Get Your Tongue Outta My Mouth 'Cause I'm Kissing You Goodbye
Her Teeth Were Stained, But Her Heart Was Pure
How Can I Miss You If You Won't Go Away?
How Can You Believe Me When I Say I Love You When You Know I've Been A Liar All My Life?
I Been Roped And Thrown By Jesus In The Holy Ghost Corral
I Changed Her Oil, She Changed My Life
I Don't Know Whether To Kill Myself Or Go Bowling
I Fell In A Pile Of You And Got Love All Over Me
I Flushed You From The Toilets Of My Heart.
I Keep Forgettin' I Forgot About You
I Wanna Whip Your Cow
I Would Have Wrote You A Letter, But I Couldn't Spell Yuck!
I Wouldn't Take Her To A Dawg Fight, Cause I'm Afraid She'd Win
I'd Rather Have A Bottle In Front Of Me Than A Frontal Lobotomy
I'm Just A Bug On The Windshield Of Life
I'm The Only Hell Mama Ever Raised
I've Been Flushed From The Bathroom Of Your Heart
I've Got The Hungries For Your Love And I'm Waiting In Your Welfare Line
If I Can't Be Number One In Your Life, Then Number Two On You
If Love Were Oil, I'd Be A Quart Low
If My Nose Were Full of Nickels, I'd Blow It All On You
If The Phone Don't Ring, Baby, You'll Know It's Me
If You Don't Leave Me Alone, I'll Go And Find Someone Else Who Will
If You Leave Me, Can I Come Too?
Mama Get The Hammer (There's A Fly On Papa's Head)
May The Bird Of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose
My Every Day Silver Is Plastic
My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink, And I Don't Love Jesus
My John Deere Was Breaking Your Field, While Your Dear John Was Breaking My Heart
My Wife Ran Off With My Best Friend, And I Sure Do Miss Him
Oh, I've Got Hair Oil On My Ears And My Glasses Are Slipping Down, But Baby I Can See Through You
Pardon Me, I've Got Someone To Kill
She Got The Gold Mine And I Got The Shaft
She Got The Ring And I Got The Finger
She Made Toothpicks Out Of The Timber Of My Heart
She's Got Freckles On Her, But She's Pretty
Thank God And Greyhound She's Gone
They May Put Me In Prison, But They Can't Stop My Face From Breakin' Out
Velcro Arms, Teflon Heart
When You Leave Walk Out Backwards, So I'll Think You're Walking In
You Can't Have Your Kate And Edith Too
You Can't Roller Skate In A Buffalo Herd
You Done Tore Out My Heart And Stomped That Sucker Flat
You Were Only A Splinter As I Slid Down The Bannister Of Life
You're The Reason Our Kids Are So Ugly

Monday, March 16, 2009

Jockeying for a Better Seat

I grew up an hour and a half from Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, the world's most famous horse race. That's not much longer than it takes me to get to work nowadays. Yet, somehow, in my 20 years living in Kentucky, I never actually went to the Derby.

My parents often threw Derby parties replete with burgoo (see my post on burgoo), booze, big hats, and betting. I think I even won 5 bucks when I was 8 or 9. But I never made that short trek to Louisville for Derby Day.

That's all about to change, my friends! Beth, her cousin Ruthie, Ruthie's husband Steve, and I are taking a long weekend and heading down to the KY! I am unbelievably excited, and, as you can see from the photo above, I have the perfect digs for the job.

See, I believe that Derby-goers, especially native Kentuckians, should dress for the most exciting two minutes in sports. In my mind, I'd be a cross between Tom Wolfe, Colonel Sanders, and some fatalistic Tennessee Williams character. I'll be sipping a mint julep from a silver cup, the sprig sticking out on a slight angle. Beth will be by my side in a large hat, small planets orbiting about it.

After doing just a little bit of research, however, I learned that there are two places you can sit for the Derby: (1) the stands; and (2) the infield. In the stands, everyone seems to fit my utopian notion of the Kentucky Derby (see pictures above). Sadly, the stands cost a lot of money. Money that two government employees lack.

The infield, on the other hand, is relatively cheap: about $40 per person. That's the government employee price! However, the dress code isn't quite the same (see pictures below).

You may think that these are random pictures that I pulled off of the internet. Lollapalooza? Rodeo, perhaps? Outdoor adult entertainment convention? Nope. It is with great sadness that I report that I took these photos directly from the Kentucky Derby's website. These are their representative infield photos.

So, on the one hand, we have royalty, heads of state, movie stars, and the closest thing we have to American aristocracy. On the other, we have . . . well, I'll let the pictures do the talking here.

Can't a classy government employee find a good middle ground at the Derby?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cardio Death

Beth is in the best shape of her life. At 31, she's as skinny as she was at 14. None of the clothes she bought in her 20s even fit. In the meantime, while I'm not in the worst shape of my life, I'm only a hop, skip, and a jump . . . okay, a beer, some sitcoms, and a burrito . . . away from it.

How, pray tell, is my beautiful wife in such wicked awesome shape (to quote Liz Turillo), while I melt away?

On the one hand, Beth rides her bike everyday during the summer. During the winter she swims up to 4,000 yards 3 times a week. In fact, she's at a swimmeet right now. Throughout the rest of the year, she gets on either a treadmill or one of those scary elliptical things.

I, on the other hand, have worked somewhat crazy hours these past few years and . . . well, that's my only excuse. However, at my new job, I work only 40 hours a week. Awesome, you say? I guess it is. That is, of course, unless you're trying to avoid working out.
My excuse in the shitter, I bought a membership to Loyola's gym and jumped on a treadmill.

Pop culture has made treadmills look fun (, cute (, or just plain wacky ( Yet treadmils are, I assure you, none of these things. They are indoor deathtraps, waiting to swallow you whole.
I can't grumble too much. So far, I've just walked on one for 30 minutes at a time, never quite reaching a jog. But I see the dark, endless, mechanical road ahead. I know what sad cardio fate awaits yours truly. Good Lord, save my sorry lungs!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Commercial Success?

I was watching TV today, when I heard the Sea and Cake song, Jacking the Ball on a Citibank commercial:

Last month I heard the Hum song Stars in a Cadillac commercial:

Finally, I thought I heard the 13th Floor Elevator's You're Gonna Miss Me somewhere:

I'm in the wrong line of work.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Sunshine Bores the Daylights out of Me

I'm going to stick with the theme of eye-opening albums. This time: The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street.

I never hated the Stones like I did Bruce Springsteen, but, I never really liked them either. As a teenager listening to punk and indie rock, the Stones smacked of excess: over-zealous studio production, arena tours, and a river of heroin.

When I was 22, I went back to Kentucky for a long weekend. There, Vann Genodeff and I went to Florence Y'all, a popular mall in Kentucky. Vann mentioned that he'd been listening to the Rolling Stones lately. Good friend that I am, I made fun of him. Then, he bought me a copy Exile on Main Street.

I was wrong. Vann was right.

Exile on Main Street's production is understated (some would call it outright crappy), and most of the songs would sound ridiculous in an arena. The Stones recorded over a 4-year period---largely in the basement of Nellcote, a French mansion occupied by the Gestapo during World War II. Throughout the sessions, Nelcotte's old ventilation system made funny noises, which affected the recordings and supposedly inspired the song Ventilator Blues (

Upon its release, Exile on Main Street was a critical flop, largely because of its ragged production quality. Yet, in recent years, it's regularly listed among the top 20 albums of all time. Why the critical sea change? I believe Exile on Main Street is similar to punk rock. They both started in the 70s when arena rock and slick production were just hitting their stride. Enormous crowds flocked to see mega-bands playing meticulous songs. But punk rock and Exile on Main Street didn't quite fit. While much of punk can be traced to a conscious reaction to Bay City Rollers, Chicago, and the like, Exile was more the result of Mick Jagger's failed attempt to move away from rock 'n roll and Keith Richard's ongoing heroin addiction. Today, critics have a few decades of not-so-slick production under their belts and appreciate both punk and Exile on Main Street much better.

The album wasn't just a happy accident, though. The Stones, like nearly all British rock bands at the time, had worshipped early blues and folk music and bent those genres to reshape rock 'n roll. Now Jagger was trying to navigate the murky waters beyond rock 'n roll. Although he didn't find quite what he was looking for, the end result was rock-infused blues rather than blues-infused rock.

Exile on Main Street is still one of Jagger's least favorite albums---perhaps because he never reached his destination. However, the place he stumbled upon may be better than what he was seeking.

If you're interested in checking out Exile on Main Street, I recommend the following:

Loving Cup

Shake Your Hips

Sweet Virginia

Better yet, just buy the album, get in your car, and drive south.

Friday, March 6, 2009


This is Burgoo King, the colt who won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness in nineteen hundred and thirty two. Poor Burgoo would have been the third Triple Crown champion in history, but for his owners' alleged failure to file his paperwork. This may seem like just another odd racehorse name to the uninitiated yankee (other Derby winners include Jet Pilot, Iron Liege, Bubbling Over, and Hindoo). However, to Kentuckians, this horse reminds us of large vats of gamey meat.

Burgoo is a type of Kentucky stew with contraversial origins and debatable content. Traditionally, it contained opossum, squirrel, venison, and various birds. They're thrown into garbage-can-sized pots, along with vegetables and spices, and cooked for upwards of 2 days. The result is . . . well it's hard to say. There's no specific recipe for burgoo, and the taste can vary tremendously. Thankfully, most modern recipes have ditched the opossum and squirrel in favor of lamb, beef, and chicken.

Don't let the similarity to barf throw you off. Most are pretty tasty. More importantly, it's one of the traditional foods of the Kentucky Derby, which leads me back to Burgoo King. That poor horse died on a farm in Ohio . . . OHIO! Eight Belles may have been euthanized, but at least she died on Kentucky soil. Poor Burgoo King was put out to pasture in a foreign land. This May, I will salute the late Burgoo King by eating my weight in Kentucky stew, filled with untold meats. When I return to Chicago, I will look like that guy stirring the pot. Here's to you, Burgoo King!

Thursday, March 5, 2009


During the first 23 years of my life, I hated Bruce Springsteen. He made me think of Ronald Reagan and dancing with Courtney Cox.
Then, in 2003, an epiphany! Nebraska made me forget the dead presidents and mediocre actresses! The album is basically a demo tape Springsteen recorded at home. The E-Street band then tried their hand at the songs, but their versions fell flat. Eventually, Springsteen just released the demos instead.
Nebraska paints an eerie picture of hard-hit towns, brotherhood, and serial killers. It's also one of those rare albums that doesn't seem to have a flaw: each song works by itself and within the context of the album; his voice is perfectly understated; the guitar parts are beautiful; and the stories are frightening. It's tempting to post the entire album here, but I think the first 2 songs are fairly representative:
Since coming to terms with Bruce Springsteen (I still itch a little bit when someone calls him The Boss), I can now listen to Born in the USA, Born to Run, and even Dancing in the Dark---Courtney Cox be damned! I might even like his version of War ( as much as the Edwin Starr version (
I'll admit that I've become a Bruce Springsteen pusher. If you've read this far, you're my latest victim.