Northern Country Music May 5, 2010
Anyone who judged American history by its popular vocal music would get the impression that the South had won the Civil War [perhaps freeing the slaves in the process, but] if you count both blacks and whites dominating the scene. Someone might be a native of Seattle, Toronto, Glasgow, or even Sydney, but when they open their mouth to sing [not to talk] the vowel of ‘my mind’ moves toward being a monophthong, the vowel of ‘raw dog’ to being a diphthong, and the ‘y’ of ‘tiny baby’ from the short ‘ee’ sound to something like ‘eh.’ This is of course in tribute to the Southern origins of jazz, rock, and country. Country music is generally distinguished by pronouncing final r’s fairly clearly, whereas in rock they are given a rather British treatment. Bob Dylan, a native of Minnesota who misses being Canadian by less than a hundred miles, imitates Okie Woody Guthrie when he begins to sing.
The New England blogger Ezra Dyer has suggested that at least in country music, it’s time for New England, Canada, and the North in general to get equal time. Where are the songs about moose, lumberjacks, snowmobiles, lobster traps, and canoes?
It’s interesting to me that the one definitively northern pop culture figure in our culture is Garrison Keillor and his Lake Wobegon. He has done much to put at least one northern culture back on our southern-dominated mental maps. Unfortunately he doesn’t sing. Actually I think he does, occasionally, but not enough to be famous for his music. I’d like to see him spread Mr. Dyer’s challenge!