"When they're runnin' down my country [music], man, they're walkin' on the fightin' side of me."
Merle Haggard's most famous lyric could well be adapted to express the reaction country music fans may have upon reading Joe Heim's latest review in the June 30 Washington Post.
Heim's lead paragraph begins with a drive-by attack on the genre as a whole:
Country music has always had something of an image problem, particularly among people who fancy themselves as progressives. Immigrant-trashing, gay-bashing, race-baiting, women-hating songs aren't hard to find in the country catalogue. Heck, sometimes you can find them all on a single album.
Heim set forward this straw man in order to more effusively praise country artist Brad Paisley as a "forward-thinking" artist in the vein of say the Bush-bashing "Dixie Chicks" for his latest album, "American Saturday Night" which "celebrates cultural diversity, lionizes women, stirringly welcomes a black president and, for good measure, whoops it up about drinkin' and fishin.'"
Heim is pleased with his perception of Paisley's politics, heralding how the track "Welcome to the Future" has an allusion to "the momentousness of Barack Obama's election." While the music reviewer did laud Paisley on the artistic merits of his music, the Post reviewer doe have a habit of letting politics color his perception of country artists.
As I noted in a June 2007 NewsBusters item, Heim offered readers a take of Toby Keith that was decidedly kinder and gentler than earlier, rougher treatments the Post had given the artist, in part because the musician was critical of the prosecution of the Iraq War:
The reviewer jumps in with two feet celebrating how Keith has moved from the "bellicose" "Courtesy..." to fare "that considerably ratchets down the confrontational rhetoric."
Heim goes on to celebrate Keith as a vocalist with "the finest voice among his country music contemporaries," a consummate music producer who "knows a good hook when he hears one," and a dazzling artist who "peppered" his latest album's songs "with clever choruses, devilish double-entendres and heavy doses of twang."
So why the sacchariney view of Keith now? Could it be Keith has mellowed a bit, and even has expressed some displeasure with how Iraq was handled? Heim seems to think so:
Those looking for writing that reveals Keith's ornery streak, though, will have to look elsewhere -- his Web site, for instance. There he makes it clear that he's annoyed with how he's been portrayed by other celebrities and how he feels his political views have been misrepresented. He even calls out actor Sean Penn for suggesting that Keith bears some responsibility (along with Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly) for the war in Iraq.
"Now the difference between me and Sean Penn is that I've talked to 50 generals," Keith writes. "I doubt he's even talked to one. I didn't support the war in Iraq and still don't, but I'm sure I know more about it than he does."