Drinking Country Politics

Legislative Forum in Coralville

Legislative Forum in Coralville

CORALVILLE— The League of Women Voters forum last night was a bust for the candidates in my house district. The league puts on a good show at the table, but only a limited number of constituents were present, and the television feed went to only one of six county precincts in the district. Major outlets published limited accounts of the action, but mostly the evening passed and little news came out of the forum. It’s been that kind of year in the most local of local politics.

The forum enabled me to get away from writing and household chores for a while to socialize. I’ve never been part of the drinking culture that plagued more famous writers, and might have come into play if there hadn’t been the forum. I have been hearing a lot about drinking on the radio while driving across the lakes to work.

“I belong to the drinking class,” sings Lee Brice in his country hit “Drinking Class,” released in August. Country music today is full of stories about using alcoholic drinks to celebrate or escape unpleasantness in life. I hear enough of them during my 20 minute commutes to the warehouse to see the pattern.

“Monday through Fridays we bust our back,” the song goes. I don’t know who, except a small minority of people, works that kind of job, so the song seems more aspirational of lifestyle— a form of hope to define culture around externals that seem ersatz and manufactured.

“What I’m really needing now is a double shot of crown,” sings the protagonist in the Lady Antebellum song “Bartender.” On Friday night she seeks relief from a relationship gone bad. “There’s only one thing left for me to to do. Put on my favorite dress and sky-high leather boots, check the mirror one last time and kiss the past goodbye.”

The signs and symbols are archetypal. Shots of Jack Daniels and Patron, jeans that are painted on— stereotypical images of guys who get rowdy and women locked into frames we had hoped were long gone from the culture.

From “Aw Naw” by Chris Young:

Aw naw, somebody just bought a shot of that Patron.
Hang on, we’ve been here all night long.
Aw naw, it would be so wrong
If we didn’t dance one more song,
Show off those jeans you painted on…

“On” doesn’t rhyme with “song,” but we can accept it in the vernacular of bar culture. What impresses about this music is the way it draws from people’s everyday experiences to paint a picture of longing and possible fulfillment or caesura.

James Joyce’s “Araby” in Dubliners, is a variation on this theme, albeit a bit obscure for the drinking class. It’s more about me that this story came to mind.

What innumerable follies laid waste my waking and sleeping thoughts after that evening! I wished to annihilate the tedious intervening days. I chafed against the work of school. At night in my bedroom and by day in the classroom her image came between me and the page I strove to read. The syllables of the word Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment over me. I asked for leave to go to the bazaar on Saturday night.

Much different and yet similar. I’d rather listen to the song about lighting watermelon candles upstairs, “Doin’ What She Likes” by Blake Shelton. “Fixin’ up a pitcher of margaritas,” and then calling the fire department when the watermelon candles ignited the bathroom, is a different and more interesting kind of disappointment than in the Joyce story. To weave a story with that imagery requires talent, and it resonates with people.

I’ll continue to listen to country music in the car, but am not ready to join the drinking class. For now, the occasional political event will have to serve as release in a life of work.

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