Some people respond to middle age by buying fast cars, having plastic surgery, or cheating on their spouses.
At age 46, I’ve found a less expensive and more socially appropriate outlet for my mid-life angst: I’ve gone redneck.
It didn’t happen all at once.
Perhaps it started with that trip to visit friends who had relocated to Texas.
Or perhaps it started years ago when Jon Bon Jovi teamed up for a crossover duet with country singer Jennifer Nettles.
All I know is, for the past year, my car radio has been set to, not one, but three different country stations. And on any given day, you can find this life-long New Englander driving around suburbia belting out songs about trucks, beer, catfish, and “chicken fried.”
So what explains my transformation to redneck, country music fan?
Some might attribute it to politics.
It is true that my political views are more aligned with those of Toby Keith than Lady Gaga. But this is more over-simplification than explanation.
After all, Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi are big-ol’-lefties, and I haven’t given up on them. So is Sheryl Crow — and she’s recently gone country too.
Although politics, in the sense of party affiliation, is NOT the reason I now listen almost exclusively to country, the genre’s culture certainly plays a role.
Admittedly, I am inspired by country music’s unapologetic expression of love for God and country and its simple tributes to farmers and factory workers, small towns, summer days, football, and plain ol’ appreciating what you’ve got.
And I am grateful that — for the most part — country music doesn’t embarrass me in front of my kids or require me to turn off the radio or television to avoid exposing them to profanity and misogynistic, sexually-degrading lyrics or behavior.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know there’s plenty of bad behavior in country music too: tales of drinking, fighting, chewing tobacco, and ending up on the wrong side of the law. And country music certainly has its share of violent revenge songs (think “Goodbye Earl,” by the Dixie Chicks; “Before He Cheats” and “Two Black Cadillacs,” both by Carrie Underwood; “Independence Day” by Martina McBride and, most recently, Taylor Farr’s “Redneck Crazy”).
But, for the most part, these songs present as fictional stories, parables, or cautionary tales. They are a far cry from the self-indulgent, “f— authority” anthems of hip-hop and pop music sung by wildly-inappropriate starlets utterly lacking dignity.
Call me crazy, but I’m more comfortable singing along with my kids to songs about drinking or the fury of a lover scorned than to songs that glorify drug use, uninhibited sexual promiscuity, or abusive relationships.
Perhaps most important to understanding the move to country — not just by me, but by an increasing number of teens — is recognizing that the genre has changed.
This is not your daddy’s country music.
Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood probably deserve the most credit for blending country and pop in a way that brought a whole new generation into the country fold. But one cannot underestimate the contributions of other crossover artists such as Florida Georgia Line, Lady Antebellum, Blake Shelton, and Darius Rucker (formerly of Hootie & the Blowfish).
The popularization of country isn’t without its critics. Purists grumble that the new country is too commercial and isn’t true to its roots.
That may be. But for this New England mom, it might be just the cure for my middle-aged blues.