Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Pat Green – What I’m For

He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice…


Ian Mathers: Come away, children. It doesn’t matter what we think of this song – it’s not for us.

Richard Swales: Is anyone in this genre actually doing anything new? This could have been released ten years ago and it’d still have sounded this drab, cliched and entirely dated.

Anthony Easton: This is a good study in contrasts. Darius Rucker, carpetbagger, strung cliches todgether, and those cliches did not suggest any hardness, anything outside a v. middle class bubble of smugness, a bubble in which Rucker did not work to gain entrance. Pat Green’s inclusion of prison, of teachers perhaps not knowing the answer, of newness and hardness is different, less cliched and more prickly.

Chuck Eddy: Crossing Alabama’s “40 Hour Week” (“Hello Detroit auto workers, let me thank you for your time”) with Roxy Music’s “Manifesto” (“I am for the man who drives the hammer, to rock you ’til the grave”) might’ve made “What I’m For” my 25th favorite country (and 58th overall) single of 2009’s first half even if this longtime Texas cult artist turned country radio B-lister didn’t buck Nashville convention by actually mentioning inner cities in a positive light. As is, the song inches commercial country a pinch to the left, or at least the center, and its melody and singing are good enough to make Green seem more than just an opportunistic cornball cynically tapping into Obama-era zeitgeist. His album, of which this is the title track but not the best song, has an outside shot at my 2009 Top 10.

Edward Okulicz: The quiet verses express a calm, dignified mindset along with rapport with the world – its stray dogs, auto workers and the like. But when it rocks out, it seems tacked on, obligatory rather than necessary, the sincerity level goes down a bit and the effect is marred.

Martin Skidmore: A statement of philosophy, most of which no one would disagree with, but which has some of the ordinary-working-man feel of some Merle Haggard classics. I rather like his croaky Texan tones on the quieter parts, but the rocking out is too routine. I’d like it better if it didn’t sound like an attempt to write a big singalong anthem, I think, and there is always an unattractively normative element in these kinds of manifestos.

Anthony Miccio: I may tend to vote for saccharine Tom T. Hall universals over line-in-sand jingoism, but I’m also for picking up the pace a little. And I wouldn’t assume you know my stance on abortion because of it.

Matt Cibula: Like the general feel of this, and even many of his examples. But it’s kind of depressing that he’s for the inner city teacher who sees God everywhere instead of, oh, say, the inner city student. Also, he didn’t talk about how he’s a raging creationist; didn’t need to because he admitted it in a single from a few years ago. Other than that I’m liking it.

Alex Ostroff: “You don’t have to guess what I’m against if you know what I’m for.” I suppose not, but what you’re for is vague, unobjectionable, and kind of hackneyed. Nonetheless, it’s suitably schlocky for a motivational barn-burner, and it’s nice to hear the (inner) city get mentioned without contrasting its ‘depravity’ to the purity of rural living. That said, I know what I’m against: lazy country song-writing that simply consists of lists of things.

Jonathan Bradley: The most interesting moment on this comfortable — and comforting — Pat Green single is the not-so-relaxed affirmation that the singer is for “the Detroit factory workers.” It may be opportunistic as well as heartfelt, but then again, so are the lines about old guitars and paying attention when your pops wants to put his two cents in. But the uneasy reference to current economic troubles tempers the laundry list of Americana touchstones, giving the song a tension not immediately apparent in the midtempo country-rock arrangement. And then you start noticing a few more Blue State pitches, in Green’s tribute to poor urban schools and redeemed felons, and the song adopts a more complicated stance on the traditional icons the singer reps. And even if that doesn’t entirely erase the hucksterism, Green’s full-throated delivery dilutes much of the residual gaucheness.

Michaelangelo Matos: He forgot, among many other things, lists, mom, apple pie, clichés, and tuff-guy corn.

25 Responses to “Pat Green – What I’m For”

  1. Hey Matt, so you’ve mentioned Pat Green’s alleged raging creationist single before, but I’ve never heard the thing (and when I google “Pat Green” “creationist” this thread already comes up third!). So what was it, exaclty? I don’t really know his early small-label Texas stuff (though occasionally I’ll hear songs from that era on the radio down here), but I’ve been following him pretty closely since his sound went more Mellencamp/Petty on 2004’s Lucky Ones, and I’ve never noticed any track that even comes close to that description before. Doesn’t mean he doesn’t have one, of course, or that it wouldn’t make my blood boil if I heard it (especially with Texas now the new hotbed of teaching-alternatative-theories-to-evolution-in-public-school BS. Hey, I’ve got kids, and I’ve spent plenty of time in Bucks County, PA, too; this is an issue near and dear to my heart, trust me.)

  2. As for the guy’s listmaking expertise, he’s’ not alone in his genre on that count (and, as Miccio suggests, it might all be traced back to Tom T Hall’s “I Love” anyway). Dealt with this in a roundup I did in the Voice a couple months ago:

    Country-Rock Hunk No. 1, Rodney Atkins, wants y’all ladies to know about a few of his favorite things: bird dogs, honkytonks, blackjack, pickup trucks, sparkplugs, beer pong, throwin’ darts, and extra innings. Hunk No. 2, Eric Church, digs smallmouth bass, Faulkner, NASCAR, Red Man (the tobacky, not the rapper), mustard on fries, sleeping in on Saturdays, not acting his age (32), and—hell, yes—his truck. Finally, Hunk No. 3, Pat Green, goes for pawn-shop guitars, crackers in his chili, trustworthy mechanics, inner-city teachers, laid-off Detroit factory workers, boxers past their prime, and giving ex-cons a second chance.

    And here’s what I went on to say about his album, if anybody unbigoted about current country music is interested:

    Pat Green ends What I’m For uncharacteristically gloomy and sober, too—”In the Middle of the Night” of a cold, lonely, overwrought Boston winter, contemplating “shooting my soul right through the ceiling.” The longtime DIY guy has been gravitating toward heartland rock since he sold his San Antonio soul to Music City earlier this decade; the only time the word “country” shows up on his current publicity one-sheet is in the title to his paradoxically Mellencampish current single “Country Star.” His previous hit, “Let Me,” swiped its guitar hook straight from Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze.” More Green lights: a gorgeously fugue-y ode to hard-luck siblings, a hangover number that chimes like “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding,” and some perfectly humid swamp-soul about how we are all prostitutes.

    Favorite song on his album is probably “In This World,” fwiw. And I actually think he comes off more thoughtful and less a tuff-guy than lots of his country competition these days, which I find refreshing. I also really have nothing against bar-band rock, but I get why some folks do.

  3. Chuck:
    Song: “Poetry”, album “Wave on Wave”:
    “Now, somebody made every natural thing
    From the soul, inside out to Saturn’s rings
    How my baby smiles and how Ray Charles sings
    Of course we were created

    The clouds make rain, the ocean makes sand
    The earth breathes fire, and lava makes land
    Now that took a mighty hand
    And a wild imagination”

    I’ll just add that I know this didn’t end up a single, and Pat Green is a much more interesting writer and sensitive soul than a lot of other people out there. I think a lot of his support stems from moderate- to liberal-leaning Texas Christians, and some more comes from people who just like his music. Just about all his fans seem to think PG is getting hosed by Nashville for his refusal to bend to current trends, but I don’t know if they’re right about that.

    Also I don’t know what Ian M is talking about up above. It’s a fairness issue; if I have to listen to total (sometimes great) Euro-cheese and happy hardcore house or whatever the newest (sometimes great) British trend is, he should have to listen to (sometimes great) country music too.

  4. Exactly. Lots of the music we write about here clearly isn’t “for me,” but that doesn’t mean I might not like it, or might not have something interesting to say about it if I don’t. And as for Swales’ question, I’m sure the same thing could be asked about any genre one doesn’t listen to much. (I mean, sure, if your definition of “new” is something as prescribed as say “edgy production innovations,” country might seem more resistant to change than, say, current r&b or hip-hop. And in fact, country does often define itself, aesthetically, by its commitment to tradition — just like, say, certain respected strands of r&b do. Jazmine Sullivan and Maxwell have scored pretty well here recently, if I’m not mistaken. But no, Nashville country does not sound the same as it did ten years ago. There are more metal-leaning guitars and more teenpop-leaning melodies, to name two things. Lots of what’s called “country” now sounds like what got called “rock” in the early ’80s. But that’s just the surface anyway. And obviously “new” doesn’t always mean “good.”)

  5. Though I dunno, maybe Taylor Swift doesn’t sound more teenpop than Shania Twain did. Not even sure what I think about that myself. Though there’s certainly still a sense in which her confessional suburban-teen singer-songwriter powerpop is something new for Nashville, I would think.

  6. I would point out this song contains a reference to the Internet. Whether you think that’s a superficial instance of newness or not, it demonstrates a willingness to incorporate the contemporary into its narrative that many other genres are resistant to. As much as I love indie rock, for instance, I couldn’t imagine Death Cab or the Hold Steady incorporating elements of modernity into their lyrics so effortlessly.

  7. From the Hold Steady’s “Sequestered in Memphis”: “I think she drove a new Mustang/I guess it might be a rental/I remember she had satellite radio.”

  8. Alan Jackson’s “WWW.Memory” and Brad Paisley’s “Online” (among others I’m sure) would be precedents for that, fwiw. (I’ve never paid attention to Death Cab’s lyrics; not sure whether I can imagine Craig Finn talk-singing about the Internet or not. Though I’d actually say the kind of place-name and situational specifics he puts in his songwriting — not to mention some of the Hold Steady’s rock-bar-band influences — might share more with current Nasvhille country than with most current indie rock I’ve heard.)

  9. Chuck

    Speaking of Paisley, how do you feel about the new album

  10. Haven’t heard it. (Never heard his previous one either! I’m clearly neglectful where keeping up with Brad is concerned, maybe ’cause I’ve always had major reservations about the guy, even when he’s good as he was on 5th Gear.)

  11. Matos: OK, Hold Steady was a bad example. Like Chuck says, Craig Finn has a specificity to his lyrics more suited to accomodating changing culture (other indie rock artists who accommodate some country ideas have a similar facility with the contemporary — see Isaac Brock a decade ago talking about making Internet cash). I should have gone with Grizzly Bear or Iron and Wine or whatever, but I wanted to choose a band I actually like.

    Nonetheless, poor example aside, I think my point remains. Country, like hip-hop, is more adept at encompassing the contemporary because it has a core traditional cultural base. The musical elements of country are very concerned with talking to and about that base, and the base is such that those musical elements tend to be consistent (though not static). That does not mean, however, that the genre does not develop, just that it develops in ways different to rock or dance music does.

  12. It’s not modernity you’re talking about so much as specificity. It’s not like indie bands would rather sing about old-timey bicycles and Chester A. Arthur or country artist don’t love nostalgia and conservatism, it’s the acts you’re comparing country artists to tend not to have concrete imagery outside of poetic perennials like The Sun or The Moon.

  13. And while there are certainly indie bands that do fetishize the past (decemberists and the like), it’s hardly the norm in underground rock. Meanwhile in country, everyone‘s wearing cowboy hats.

  14. Call it specificity if you want. It nonetheless enables country artists to talk in a certain way about contemporary life that other genres are not so conversant with. And re: cowboy hats, are we talking fashion trends specifically or are you Using Metaphor?

    (Ben Gibbard, for the record, likes singing about dresses, cars, cigarettes, wine, and apartments.)

  15. Not anymore. In fact, Pat Green wears a backwards baseball cap on the back of Lucky Ones, and on the back of Cannonball I swear to the Intelligent Designer that he looks like like he has green hair! Definitely fewer hats in general in Nashville than there were in the Garth era. (But I do agree with Anthony’s point about specificity in the lyrics.)

  16. The cowboy hat crack was just to head off anyone defending the “modernity” argument by saying indie rockers dress like amish people or whatever.

  17. Pat might also wear “boxers past their prime,” if he likes them so darn much, though hopefully his wife makes him go buy new ones if they get too many tears in them.

    Anyway, what the heck, a couple more notes on above blurbs:

    depressing that he’s for the inner city teacher who sees God everywhere instead of, oh, say, the inner city student.

    This strikes me as incredibly nitpicky, Matt. If Pat is in favor of the teachers, I have to assume he’s on the students’ side as well, especially when what he actually says is “I’m for the inner city teacher/With her heart stuck in her throat/Can still see God in every child/And never gives up hope.” I mean, maybe your point is that the teacher is just an interloper from the suburbs or somewhere? Unless she’s Jon Voight in Conrack, I still suspect she’s worth standing up for. (And as far as I remember, Voight wasn’t the right-wing lunatic in that movie that he eventually became in real life.)

    interesting moment… is the not-so-relaxed affirmation that the singer is for “the Detroit factory workers.”

    Speaking of right-wing lunatics, I assume you’ve heard John Rich’s “Shuttin’ Detroit Down,” Jonathan? Just making sure. One of the best country (or otherwise) singles of 2009, even if the dimwit singing it deserves to be shut down himself.

    Gotta say I liked Anthony calling Darius Rucker a carpet-bagger too, though I’m not sure how many carpetbaggers of his color there were during the actual Reconstruction. (Especially ones who were born in South Carolina.) Now I wonder who country music’s freedman and scallawags are.

  18. And actually, Conrack wasn’t even set in the inner city at all, come to think of it. Says Wiki: “The story follows a young teacher (Jon Voight) in 1969 assigned to an isolated Yamacraw Island off the coast of South Carolina populated mostly by poor black families. He finds out that the children as well as the adults have been isolated from the rest of the world and speak a dialect called Gullah.”

  19. Nitpicky or no, it leaped out at me — and I was one of those teachers for three years in NYC! I’ll just say I wasn’t surprised that a country singer, no matter his good intentions, is more concerned with the poor God-fearing teacher. Who by the way is obviously from the ‘burbs because otherwise she wouldn’t sit around looking for God in her students, she would just be TEACHING them already.

  20. Pat’s telling us that if we’re not with him then he’s potentially against us (at least that’s one way to read it), so Ian’s reaction makes sense. Whereas a lot of the scads of other stuff that we review that isn’t specifically for me nonetheless isn’t specifically disinviting me to its party.

    That said, the list is openhearted enough, even if totally safe (I can’t think of any evangelical Christian, for instance, who would be averse to seeing God in an inner city student, or wouldn’t want the con to get a second chance or whose heart won’t go out to the laid-off worker, even if that Christian’s voting behavior doesn’t help those sentiments), and oddly enough I can’t get a good sense of what Green’s against (what he might think about gay marriage, for instance, or a public option for health insurance).

    Also, I much much much prefer Eric Church’s “How ‘Bout You” which is much more obnoxious and potentially hostile towards people like me but also rocks the bejeesus out of itself.

    (Brits, if that link won’t play for you, try this one.)

  21. Except if Pat’s choices are as safe as you claim, Frank — if nobody could possibly disagree with them — then who the heck is he disinviting? People who prefer chili without crackers, and enjoy taking their cars to crooked mechanics?

  22. Do agree, though, that the song says nothing about whether Pat’s for or against bailing out the auto industry, or making certain its workers can afford health care once their laid off, or increasing funding to inner city schools where all those Godlike students go. (Though then again, neither does any other single we’ve rated on this forum lately, I don’t think.)

  23. Ha ha, new Toby Keith single “American Ride,” now there’s a song that picks some fights and draws a line in the sand — anti-immigration horseshit (tidal wave comin’ in from the Mexican border not to mention thugs arrested by Customs with aerosol cans though maybe that’s just anti-graffiti-art I’m not sure), Christianist horseshit (people getting arrested for singing Christmas carols), sexist horseshit (mom getting her rocks off watching Desperate Housewives and spoiled kids watching youtube learning how to be mean girls ’cause that’s what it takes to get along in the world while Dad works his ass off for the good life), rockist horeshit (beauty queens with plastic surgery becoming pop stars without being able to sing a note), you name it. But also a chorus that seems to accept global warming (or the ozone layer burning up as summers get warmer anyway), at least as a metaphor for the country turning to shit (or “fit,” as in “fit’s gonna hit the shan.”) But Toby’s digging the ride anyway — “look ma, no hands!” And he kicks it as hard as anything he’s done (dude’s been covering “Stranglehold” in concert lately — guess he’s getting a little bored by his mellow period these past few years), and he turns the world going to hell into a biker rally. Won’t say if I love it or not.

  24. Oh god that song. So happy not to have to listen to it a lot for any reason.

  25. so according to Toby, it is okay for people to go down to Mexico in order to fuck, but it is not okay for people to come u p from Mexico in order to get their part of the American dream (insert caveat about the impossibility of the American dream here)