Log in

Top Stories        News         Sports


The heat was hot, and the ground was dry

1 Comment
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

With all the turmoil in the country and the world these days, it sometimes is tough to pick a topic to expand on with pithy comments and common-sense arguments.

The events recently though make it fairly easy.

Of course, I’m talking about the weather. I’m sure that just like me, it’s on everyone’s mind.

Not the climate change hokum that’s constantly being peddled, but the fact that here in East Texas it’s hot. Really hot. Dante Alighieri hot.

So I plan with this column to give you some relief. Yes, the written word, here to sooth your brow in the summer sun.

I call this playlist meditation, or how I watched an episode of “M*A*S*H” about a similar event and totally ripped it off.

So here are some “cool” songs that will hopefully give you some cool feelings. By the way, I’m purposely staying away from Christmas themes, mostly because I can’t bring myself to come to terms with August, much less the holiday. This year is going by way too fast.

•“Hazy Shade of Winter” by Simon and Garfunkel.

If you prefer, you can always defer to the cover version by The Bangles, whichever makes you cooler.

I’ve been asked about my favorite season, which always has been fall. I remember so many times wandering around the neighborhood, with gray skies, a slight chilly breeze, the smell of pinon smoke in the air, and that’s the memory I revisit when I want to be cooler.

•“Cold As Ice” by Foreigner.

It’s 1979, disco music wasn’t as dead as it should be, and I was a sophomore in high school. Foreigner’s first album came out and this gem was the first single. Later in life, I was in a rock band, and we started dabbling with this song for our setlist.

•“Frozen Love” by Buckingham Nicks.

Before joining Fleetwood Mac, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks had their own thing, and this song was one of the cuts that came from it. I was learning to play the guitar at the time, and then I heard the melody and amazing licks played by Buckingham, and almost took up the saxophone. It speaks directly to my acoustic rock-loving soul.

•“Cold Cold Heart” by Hank Williams and thousands of others.

He’s the man, there’s no doubt about it. While this song deals with heartbreak, I’ve always felt that if you’re cold on the inside, you’ll feel cold on the outside.

•“Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice.

No shame in this, really. Yes, it’s cheesy. Yes, it ripped off Queen. But aside from that, it also was the fastest selling rap album. Surprising, huh? And you know you had that running in your head. But I’m not judging.

•“December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night”) by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Being a product of 1963, this song resonates with me. Plus, it has a great beat and a rockin’ piano line. Who doesn’t like December weather?

•Honorable mentions: “Let it Go,” because Disney; “The Winter Song,” by Angel, because it speaks to the prog section of my heart; “Cool Change” by the Little River Band; and “In the Wintertime” by Steve Miller.

These work for me, but there may be others out there for you. Hey, something’s got to give, am I right?

  • Hits: 684

Try writing a decent song in a small town

1 Comment

User Rating: 5 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Active

Chris MetitationsBy Chris Edwards
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Last week, pop country brand-name Jason Aldean generated a good deal of mainstream news coverage, not to mention big sales/streams, of his latest single “Try That in a Small Town.”

The headlines mostly centered on the fact that Country Music Television (CMT) dropped the video from its playlist, and according to the network, and many other outlets, the song is allegedly racist and “pro-lynching.” As a sidenote, it was big news to me that CMT actually still played videos.

Anyhow, being the curious bee I am, I listened to the song and watched the video, in that order. Another sidenote: I’m not a big fan of music videos. Occasionally, one transcends the song and stands as its own piece of art, but I enjoy songs for the sake of the song, and don’t like having an image locked forever in mind not of my own choosing when I hear a certain song.

The song makes no mention of race at all, but the reason why that aspect of this “controversy” came into being centers on where the song’s accompanying video was filmed. The Maury County Courthouse, in Columbia, Tenn., figures prominently as the backdrop. It was the site of a lynching, in 1927, of Henry Choate, an 18-year-old Black man.

The video’s locale is likely of no concern to Aldean, the song’s mouthpiece. Film production companies tend to use certain locations time and time again, and, well, many areas are afforded tax breaks through certain designations that make them attractive to filmmakers.

Aldean really doesn’t seem that involved in the creative process of his records, either. A dive into the credits of Aldean’s discography reveals that throughout a span of 10 studio albums, since 2005, he has had a hand in writing exactly four songs.

Of course, Jason Aldean just happens to be the brand name to deliver the lunkheaded lyrics of the song. It was written by a committee of four: Kelley Lovelace, Kurt Allison, Neil Thrasher and Tully Kennedy. For those who are unfamiliar with the process, most of the songs you’ll hear on pop country radio playlists are seldom written by the recording artist, and usually co-written between several people.

Now what follows might make me sound like the “dinosaur” that Hank Williams Jr. famously sang about many moons ago, but be that as it may, I’ll ask this question: whatever happened to solid, great songs that don’t insult the intelligence of the audience, withstand the test of time and don’t rely on controversy?

The Def Leppard-lite sounding guitars on Aldean’s song and the elementary melody would not be recognizable as “country music” to a time traveler who visited from, say, Hank Williams’s heyday. Now I’m not one to dwell on shoving music into the filing system that is genres. I prefer to think of it all in terms of songs: good songs vs. bad songs, however, what used to be marketed as country music and played on country stations was art. It was an artform that expressed the commonalities of working-class people, told stories and made statements that stuck with the listener.

Country music was about uniting through those shared experiences of the human condition. “Try That in a Small Town” does nothing of the sort. If anything, lines like “Around here, we take care of our own…

For you to find out, I recommend you don't” drive home an “us versus them” narrative that does nothing but push an angry chip-on-shoulder posture that is anathema to how most of us small town folks really are.

In 2016, in an interview with the Guardian, Aldean admitted that the songs he chooses to record as not “too songwriterly or too clever,” and he also eschewed anything that a potential audience might have to give multiple listens to in order to “really get it.”

When I came upon those comments, I almost spit coffee at my monitor. Whatever happened to challenging your audience and creating something that holds up to multiple listens?

Some of the greatest songwriters in American music history are part of that country music tradition, folks like Guy Clark; Kris Kristofferson; Tom T. Hall; Townes Van Zandt and Roger Miller. None of them went out of their way to be complicated, but they were able to weld amazing lyrics to catchy melodies to create songs that, mostly all, spoke from a rural perspective, and stood out as high art, which could be enjoyed by people of all ages.

Guy Clark, especially, was a true master of elegant simplicity. His song “Texas, 1947,” depicts an incident in the small West Texas town where he grew up, when most everyone in the whole town showed up to see a streamline train coming through for the first time.

Although the actual “train time” in the song lasts but a few seconds, Clark describes the fanfare with which the townspeople show up to greet the train with such a vivid sense of detail, and told through his own eyes as a six-year-old at the time,  that the listener feels present and captivated by the train that, in its passing through town, has changed things forever, with the future speeding through everyone’s lives.

More recently, artists like Josh Grider mined small-town living for a great song, “The Smallest Town on Earth,” and the late, great Hal Ketchum hit paydirt in the ‘90s with “Small Town Saturday Night.”

Both of those songs are among hundreds of incredible country songs that depict rural living in ways that unite and provide some positivity, and humor, as well.

Aldean, too, can make music that withstands the test of time. Instead of focusing on the “us versus them” construct and aiming for the junior high demographic, he could put his time and effort into writing and finding great songs that actually say something; songs that do not need controversy to reach the public’s ear.

In the meantime, there is a wealth of great artists and bands out there deserving of a larger audience and writing and singing songs from a true rural perspective. From the pure small-town poetry of Michael O’Neal, who primarily writes songs about work, family, friends and of his upbringing, to the honey-sweet vocals and magic presence of Jamie Lin Wilson, whose songwriting brilliance is matched by her amazing voice, there’s great music waiting beyond the controversy-driven viral streams.

The brilliant Walt Wilkins; Charley Crockett; Gabe Wootton; James Steinle; Flatland Cavalry; Mike Ethan Messick; Country Willie Edwards and Cody Widner also spring to mind, and those are just a few off the top of my dome. In the world of the more mainstream side of music, there is hope. Not all of the current big-name, big-selling country music scene is full of dumbed-down dreck. There’s the brilliant Chris Stapleton, who keeps the bar high for quality, as well as Tyler Childers and the mighty Turnpike Troubadours, led by a true rural poet genius, Evan Felker, has a long-awaited new album out next month.

I am but one listener, but I am putting forth a challenge to Jason Aldean: write a song, or find one to record, that celebrates the good things we rural Americans enjoy, and don’t make me feel like I’ve just wasted three minutes of my life.

Call me old-fashioned, but I believe the sounds of fiddles, steel guitar, harmonica and acoustic guitars framing sturdy songs that actually say something would do the general public a world of good to become reacquainted with.


  • Hits: 938

The coming battle that really isn’t


User Rating: 4 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Inactive

FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

I’ve never really been a fan of country music.

Don’t get me wrong; there are quite a lot of songs I really like, and having been in a band, anyone who gets up in front of an audience, even if they’re not top quality, deserves respect, because that ain’t an easy gig.

Along those lines, I don’t like hip hop, rap, screamo, death metal or yodeling, and there’s probably a lot more, but you get the point. Since I don’t like it, I do the unimaginable and not listen to it.

I read a lot of information out there that the Jason Aldean song “Try That in a Small Town” is evil and must be destroyed by the caring, warm-hearted and loving individuals who feel it necessary to protect the people and the planet from whatever currently is considered evil.

The complaints cover the spectrum you’d expect: it inspires fear in people, particularly residents of large cities; inspires violence against said city dwellers; exhorts small-town residents to resort to gun violence; and seeks to get the small towners to rise up and practice vigilantism and mistrust against outsiders.

Having read the lyrics, I can come to a simple conclusion: the Karens and pearl-clutchers who condemn the song are continuing the apparently accepted trend of disparaging anything that makes people feel proud or even safe. As an added bonus, there is the belief that the song comes from a genre of music that is predominantly made by white people for white people, and it is so OK to hate on white people these days.

My takeaway is a bit different, but not because I have a greater understanding of the intention of the song or because I use words as a means of communication. The events mentioned specifically in the song, such as spitting on police officers, robbery, and even governmental overreach, are anathema to the morals and beliefs of the small-town people, and that they wouldn’t stand for it as it seems has been done in the big cities.

See, folks like those in East Texas believe in law and order, believe in the Bible and caring for our neighbors, respect others and their beliefs, are patriotic and generally behave with manners. We’ll even welcome newcomers with a smile.

The naysayers and whiners, though, seem to think that people protecting and taking care of themselves is the bad thing here, and not one has made mention of the criminal activity, cruelty, selfishness and disrespect that fictitious perpetrators exhibited.

That is probably the most egregious miss, which is the kind of thinking that leads to arguments about gun control, no bail legislation and the refusal to prosecute minor crimes that are prevalent in the societies of big cities. Every criminal is a victim, and every victim is either a criminal or deserving of their fate.

Since dealing with crime and criminals has waned, society has become either violent or fearful. Schools are now armed camps, new subdivisions have become gated communities, neighbors sometimes never even meet, doorbells and lightbulbs are cameras capturing whatever shenanigans are in the area, and there’s a growing market for dashboard cameras for vehicles.

Many if not most of you growing up remember being outside all day or running down to the store by yourself to get a soda, or helping your neighbors move in or haul in groceries and leaving the doors to your car and house unlocked at night. These are the things that are emblematic of small towns, yet for some reason, they’re bad, and singing about them is inciting violence.

Plus, country music and songs by Aldean, or Toby Keith or Lee Greenwood are treated as anti-American or something, yet rap lyrics that are misogynistic or glorify street violence or books that teach first-graders about sex should not only be required listening and reading, but are lauded as culturally and socially significant.

Excuse us down here, but we would rather follow a moral code than be subject to the whims of people who are angry but don’t know why. But we can help you, if you come over and set a spell with some of our homemade sweet tea.

  • Hits: 935

From the ridiculous to the sublime

Write a comment
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

I’ve been a patron of the internet since its virtual infancy as a means of information transfer medium. I’ve even been a computer nerd since the days of the Commodore Pet.

I’ve done Fortran and Basic coding on TRS-80s, messed with Windows and its attendant apps from version 3 on up, and even built my own computers starting with 486 machines through modern-day Pentiums.

When the Internet became a big thing, particularly as a purveyor of news articles, I became my newspaper’s first webmaster, and learned the ins and outs of the medium, even how to program in HTML.

All of this is to say that I’ve seen the trends in the computer age, from personal computers being little more than large solitaire machines to the world at your fingertips with smartphones.

There is a trend the industry is galloping madly toward that as someone who values truth and trust should be very afraid of, and that is artificial intelligence.

Current estimates show that about half, or 50 percent, of the content generated on the internet is AI, and in the not-too-distant future, it’s expected to go over 90 percent.

In the beginning, as an editor, it became apparent that the information being found on the web was suspect; we quickly came up with rules and expectations that the internet could not be the source of stories, and any story that would, say, cite anything from Wikipedia was immediately tossed back at the writer, since Wikipedia is user-edited and is extremely questionable.

As the AI grows and matures, there could be possibilities that AI could take information, such as news stories from a media outlet, rewrite them and post them on a competing site, effectively creating competition that is managed by software. News outlets would not be the only segment of the internet that would be affected by this, either, since developments may begin affecting photographs, sales pitches, even website and software creation (a la Mr. Smith in “The Matrix”).

If there’s additional and wrong facts introduced into an article, who bears the blame? The original creator? The owner of the new AI-driven site? Who can you sue for libel if a piece of software prints a fabrication?

There’s the idea that AI can be used in teaching and homework applications. How do you grade a book report written by ChatGTP, even if it could be spotted? If teachers use it to share resources, as some people suggest, who’s to say that the AI doesn’t introduce erroneous values into the search?

(As an aside, an article in the New York Times claims that the benefits of AI-assisted homework outweighs the risks.}

Moreover, the AI could have military applications, being the driving force behind security like ballistic missiles, and anyone has seen cautionary tales from “Colossus: The Forbin Project” or “The Terminator” will feel that little chill of fear running up their spine.

Knowledge is available from many sources, but it requires effort in order gain wisdom. To take away the search in favor of convenience will cheapen any advances that can be made, and failure will be met with shrugs.

  • Hits: 774

You have something the world needs

Write a comment

User Rating: 5 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Active

Jim Opionin By Jim Powers
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

My wife and I both love music, but we come to music from a very different place. I will sit down and stream an entire album while doing nothing but listening to the album. She listens to music as a background to whatever else she is doing. The different approaches derive from the way each of us came to music. It’s not so much the style of music that highlights that difference as it is a fundamental distinction in the source of that love for the art.

I’ve noted before that I started learning to play guitar when I was 10. It was the dawn of the 1960s. Blues and Rock were quickly replacing other genres of music, so all the cool kids wanted to play guitar. I decided that if I just learned guitar, I could play all that soulful Blues that I loved to listen to. So, I spent way too many hours each day listening to records (yeah, when vinyl was all we had, not the $30 cult object vinyl albums of today), figuring out the best I could what chords the artists were playing, and producing some semblance of the same sound. Played in a couple of teenage garage bands, the usual thing at the time.

Over 60 years later, I still play guitar. Technically I would be considered an intermediate level player, which is a pretty low bar in the guitar player pantheon. It means that the average person could hear me playing and would comment that I was a pretty good player, but a more sophisticated listener would be kind and not point out that I suck at guitar.

My wife came at music from a different perspective of simply a love of singing. She studied voice and ultimately performed as a soprano with a choral group that toured Europe for a month when she was in college. She sang from the time she was a small child and ultimately could have pursued it professionally had she chosen to.

So, what’s the difference that finds me sitting and listening exclusively to music and it being the background of her life? It’s simple, really. I love music. She is music.

I studied guitar because I believed if I did so, I could internalize the music I loved. She studied singing to let the out music already inside her.

So many of us spend our lives chasing what our society tells us is most important. It is, after all, the pervasive myth of the American dream promoted by giant corporations that we should spend our lives working to acquire progressively more expensive stuff, only to grow old, die and leave it to family members who don’t want it.

You may be surprised (or not) to learn that this country is littered with abandoned homes, full of furniture and a lifetime of personal memories, that the families cared so little about that they never returned and simply didn’t want the hassle of selling and stopped paying taxes on them.

Now, I’m a realist. Because capitalism is the religion of the U.S., we all must make a living. If a robot or AI hasn’t taken your job yet, then by all means keep the electricity on as long as possible. We are all part of the money game.

But as we face a very uncertain future, every one of us has something unique to offer the rest of us. My thing is writing. My wife ultimately pursued her dream of educating deaf children. We are incredibly fortunate that we could keep a roof over our heads doing things we wanted most to do.

But even if you are just marking time to retirement (something I would suggest you reconsider), you know inside your head what it is that the world needs from you to add real value to all our lives. Perhaps if we combine all our talents, we can overcome the existential threat of the technological monster we have unleashed upon ourselves. Even if we fail, we will have given our best and not been just a participant in our own destruction.

Jim Powers writes opinion columns. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarliy reflect those of this publication.

  • Hits: 833