I don’t listen to country music. I don’t drive a pickup, cold beer at a tailgate is only mildly exciting and the sight of a waving flag doesn’t stir some deep patriotic passion in me. I love my family, my dogs, the troops and a warm fire, but songs about any of those classic American staples just have never cut it for me. When friends ask me why, I brush off their questions and blame my dislike for country music on the fact that I haven’t ever been able to relate to that vision of American culture they seem to be singing about. Unlike my friends from Texas or rural Jersey, Virginia or Minnesota, I’ve never been to a real tailgate or a real football game. I’ve never cruised down a highway with the windows down blasting a country hit.
All that said, I told myself that this year, my third and penultimate at Yale, I’d force myself to have a more open mind. So when a friend offered me her extra ticket to Toby Keith a few weeks ago, I gratefully took it and skeptically headed to Hartford.
It now seems ridiculous to assume that my friends accepted my explanation for not listening to country music. I wonder if they ever thought about the real reason I didn’t really like it, a reason that I hid in an attempt to not be a grouchy Yankee. When I stopped fretting about what my friends might say, I realized that I believed, as a northern Democrat, that country music was the sound of the South. It was the anthem of conservatism and of the GOP. Liberals can’t listen to songs about having a family, or troops, or the country, or pickup trucks, because those are things only conservatives can love. And I can’t love them as Democrat from New York.
But something about that night made me leave those prejudices behind. Maybe it was the beer, maybe it was the smell of a barbecue going and the big hugs from friends. But we got on the bus, and the country music came on, none of my typical associations and apprehensions came to mind. I saw everyone having a good time, singing, dancing, stomping their cowboy boots, and slowly the songs became less about those tenants of conservatism that I found so foreign — they just became songs. When we got off the bus and hiked up to the general admission lawn, I didn’t see just one kind of person there. I didn’t see the one stereotype that I had always expected of “the country music fan,” some redneck hick who drives a monster truck and watches NASCAR. We were all just people and the songs were just music and the divisions of politics didn’t exist.
It’s embarrassing, now, that I ever gave into that politicization. I hate that I let politics seep into every corner of my life and that I could have let my judgment be tainted by my petty presumptions about conservatism. I did it unknowingly, just by habit. It’s so easy nowadays to assign political beliefs to everything, even something as basic and as elemental as music. Beyond that, how has it come to be that all of the everyday things in our lives — our cars, sporting events, foods, breeds of dogs, even our names — all carry political messages and subtle suggestions about what we believe and how we vote?
I am, and in all likelihood will remain, a die-hard liberal. I will vote for a Democrat in 2016. But in the meantime, I will listen to “American Soldier.” I will learn all the words. And when it comes on my iPhone shuffle, on the radio or at my next country concert, I will sing along.
Tess McCann is a junior in Saybrook College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.