I used to listen to the twangy sounds of country western music on an almost daily basis. Usually while covered in charcoal during 2am drawing sessions on my battered Sony Walkman. It was a long time ago and I was in exile far far away. The genre was not exactly my favourite. I avoided mentioning my listening habit to newly acquired sophisticated friends. However it was oddly comforting when drawing alone in an old building late at night.
Yet the most unusual discovery was realising the genre was an unusually pleasant form of informative cultural immersion. Gave more realisations and broke the usually country music stereotype of the dog, the woman, and the pickup truck. My exile was a region saturated with FM country western stations. Tuning in after midnight meant a lowered number of ads. Typically ignorable offers of bankruptcy protection, debt relief, and discounted furniture clearance sales. You got a chance catch to new acts testing the waters, and sample old classics now banished from prime time.
The songs weren’t particularly memorable except for one. I don’t recall the title, the artist or the lyrics — just the gist of the story. It was about two teenagers who get married after having a kid. The song paints a story of their condition in a series of highly vivid details. Scenes with the stillness and golden light of an Edward Hopper but rendered in the dry brush of Andrew Wyeth. Despite the Un Sri Lankaness of the song’s narrative and imagery, it had a “vibe” of universal yearning. Mostly for a simple happy life despite the lack of material things. It is a vibe I have heard in the muffled tunes blaring from roadside shops on the roads outside Colombo. Or the “pal kavi” (folk poems sung by farmers keeping watch over crops at night) we city kids read about in text books but never heard in real life.
I think I remember that song for two reasons. Its vivid imagery communicated human universality in an unexpected way, through a genre not known for cross cultural communication. The song encapsulated the hopes and melancholy that is omnipresent in late night country western music of the time. It was not exactly an aha! moment. More like a decent sauce infusing a bland cube of bean curd with flavour before anyone noticed. The result was a strange understanding of the natives — the ones in the hardware shop and working the cash register in the supermarkets. Or new acquaintances who were adjusting to life in a town with more than 2000 people.
After a while my late nights turned to other things as did the listening habits. The country western thing stayed a secret mainly because I didn’t think anyone would believe me or was even interested. Now you know because I needed a different topic to blog about. If you are terribly terribly shocked (which I doubt), to bad. Cultural communication occurs in the strangest ways in the oddest place no?