I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on it, but there’s something about Country and Western music that has always rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it’s the fact every song seems to conjure up images of disconsolate men, mourning the loss of a relationship, while tossing back copious amounts of well-aged whiskey and presumably wearing ten-gallon hats. Or could it be the continuous wailing of Tammy Wynette, imploring women to stand by their men regardless of all transgressions. After all, he’s just a man.
The irony is that this genre might be the most popular on island. There is not a weekend that goes by without a dance being held in even the most obscure dives. Holding a fundraiser? Do not underestimate the pull of Charley Pride and friends. There is no doubt about the impact of country music on St Lucian culture. What I don’t get is why. After all, the music originated in the rural areas of the southern United States, a locale not exactly known for tolerance and racial harmony. In fact, to find a popular country artist of colour, you may have to go back to Pride, who is only the second African-American to be enshrined in the renowned Grand Ole Opry. So, how did we come to embrace it as our own?
To gain some insight, I took my aunt up on an offer to accompany her on one of her jaunts. She is as loyal as they come, with a bonafied dance partner and permanent moratorium on her Saturday nights. So this past weekend found me at a noted spot in Castries, ready to dip my toe in the western waters. I should have brought a life jacket!
From the first strains of music, I tentatively attempted to keep time with the waltz-like dance style. I settled in and had a couple of drinks, thinking, this isn’t so bad. Realizing that I suddenly felt sleepy, I glanced at a clock, assuming it must have been time to go home.
Only one hour had gone by. Oh boy.
So I continued to dance, occasionally seeking solace on a terrace, wondering if the music would ever pick up to something more up-tempo. Along the way, I received several critiques from dance partners on the proper way to execute the moves. I remained lost. At midnight, a competition was held with what I thought was a dazzling display of dancing at its finest. Well, judging by the scathing criticism I overheard from the other spectators, my untrained eyes were dead wrong. And so it continued until at a little past two a.m. Relief flooded my system when I heard the MC bellow “one for the road”. I soon found out that I was the only one who welcomed this news.
“How you mean that’s the last song? Not 3 o’clock here closing?” my aunt asked indignantly.
Several others echoed her sentiment. Upon receiving confirmation that the night was indeed over, more outrage. Confused as to what the actual issue was my sister asked as much.
“I don’t know eh, I feel like I still had a good ten, fifteen minutes left in me,” my aunt retorted. This from a woman who had danced for four hours straight!
As we trickled out and the group threw out suggestions for other venues to explore, I realized the passion that country and western evokes. To them, it’s not just something to do, it’s a lifestyle. In hindsight, the women were immaculately dressed, the men smelled amazing and were perfect gentlemen. Everyone seemed acquainted and respectful of each other. I never truly felt uncomfortable or ogled like I would at a club with overzealous males. It was a strange kind of Utopia.
Plus there are many lessons to be learnt from Country and Western. In the event that someone else actually wants your honey, let her know you’re onto her with the timeless classic ‘You ain’t woman enough to take my man’, a tune that is often played in St Lucia. And guys, you better think twice about stepping out on your lady. From what I understand, your cheating heart will tell on you. But just in case, you lovebirds can’t seem to make it work, have no fear. Ms Wynette also devised a way to talk about your D.I.V.O.R.C.E without traumatizing the kids. Let’s just say that no matter what life throws at you, in the world of country music there’s probably a song for that!