Columns » Gene Lyons

Country songs



Driving along recently, I had a heretical thought: A person could get more sensible advice about men and women from the country oldies station than The New York Times. Or from The Washington Post, The New Republic, National Review or any publication devoted to nonstop analysis of metropolitan sexual angst written by twentysomething Women's Studies majors from expensive liberal arts colleges.

See, I'd been thinking about "Grace," the anonymous protagonist of a kiss-and-tell narrative on the website babe. Of course there was a lot more than kissing in Grace's graphic account of a one-night-stand gone wrong with a public figure — comedian Aziz Ansari.

So, anyway, on the car radio came Travis Tritt's classic country hit "Here's a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)."

"Call someone who'll listen and might give a damn/Maybe one of your sordid affairs/But don't you come 'round here handin' me none of your lines/Here's a quarter, call someone who cares."

There's scarcely a man alive who can't identify, if only on a vestigial level. Nor, for that matter, with Tritt's heartache song "Anymore." ("I can't hold the hurt inside, keep the pain out of my eyes anymore ... .").

I've been lucky in love all my life, but anybody who's never experienced rejection and heartbreak hasn't really lived. That's one of country music's enduring lessons.

According to her own account, "Grace" pursued a well-known celebrity until she caught him. She ended up half in the bag back at his place and helped him take her clothes off, at which point things evidently went bad, to hear her tell it.

There's a country song about that, too, Loretta Lynn's "Don't come home a drinkin' (With lovin' on your mind)," although it's about husbands and wives. Next morning, Grace sent Ansari an angry text saying he should have responded more tenderly to her "nonverbal" reluctance. He apologized.

Next came the pseudonymous screed in babe, pretty much a backstabbing career-assassination attempt. And still the hapless comic has continued to apologize to every feminist writer on the East Coast. Meanwhile what's amazed me — as an inveterate reader of novels and opinion columns written by women — has basically been two things: what naive readers supposedly educated people can be when their ideological passions are engaged; also that nobody's thought to turn the situation inside-out.

In literary terms, any halfway sophisticated reader would call "Grace" an unreliable narrator. Her version of events is highly subjective, prone to exaggeration, and her motives are suspect. Yet people prating about "unequal power dynamics" and "patriarchy" treat the fool thing as scripture.

So far, Ansari has been too much of a gentleman, to use an outdated concept, to respond in kind. But suppose he did? To wit, what if the genders were reversed, and "Grace" found herself lampooned by name in a comedy routine? Actually, it could happen. Most comics have a mean streak, you know.

Which brings us to the saga of the president and the porn star, also anticipated in a country song: "Fancy," by Reba McIntire.

She said, "Just be nice to the gentlemen, Fancy,/And they'll be nice to you."

There are a couple of unique things about porn stars, which our naive chief executive clearly neglected to take into consideration. First, "Stormy Daniels" is by definition an exhibitionist, so of course she's going to tell. Second, Trump's bagman/lawyer could buy her off, but the non-disclosure agreement ended the moment he was elected and she realized how to monetize her notoriety. What's he going to do, sue her for breach of contract?

Meanwhile, the only halfway appropriate country music accompaniment for the tale of Hillary Clinton and the misbehaving spiritual advisor would have to be Dolly Parton's "Nine to Five" — a perfectly dreadful song.

Anyway, I've got an aversion to preachers in politics. If I'd been running things, he'd have been shown the exits after the first naughty email — although none of us knows how naughty it was.

What we do know, however, is that Hillary's getting scolded for "protecting" a staffer charged with sexual harassment after merely docking his pay and mandating therapy.

Which happens to be, Joe Conason points out, exactly how The New York Times dealt with ace reporter Glenn Thrush, who blames heavy drinking.

There must be a million country songs about that.

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