Tuesday, March 29, 2005

An Open Letter to Brian Burns

Dear Brian Burns,

I'm sorry to say I haven't bought any of your CDs yet, but I do plan to buy all four next time I go to Amazon. I like your historical songs a lot; one particular reason is that you are a guy who's trying hard to be serious. It's hard to write songs in the first place, and it's much more difficult to be serious than it is to be funny; also, you choose first-rate cover songs. Also, you're quite obviously a good musician and singer, and you put together a quality project with first-class sidemen and production. You're a guy who doesn't rip off his fans. I also think it's great that you do shows at schools, and I'd recommend that any school hire you as a boost for their social studies program.

I must say I'm bothered by the lyrics to two of your songs, though, both of which KHYI plays quite a lot. One of them is the one that goes "I won't make a record if I ain't got nothing to say." That's kind of snotty. I understand you're irritated that people who are bigger names than you can put out what is comparatively crap and get richer and more famous, but that's always been the deal in showbiz and you know that. You don't need to proclaim you're better than other singers; that's perilously close to Vanilla Ice territory.

The other one is "Welcome to Texas". I hope the "I" in that song is a character rather than your real opinion, because it is distinctly unwelcoming, even disdainful, and standard anti-migrant nativist crap. We have enough difficulties assimilating people to life in the US--as you know, some 10% of Americans are immigrants from other countries--that we don't need some country singer stirring up anti-Yankee migrant sentiment. Yankees are, remember, your fellow Americans, and they don't mind Southern humor when it's good-natured. But I can tell you that bullying of Yankee kids happens in Texas schools, and much of it is carried out by the group that calls themselves "kickers" or "ropers". Country music ought to help outsiders join the group, not help keep them out. I'm sure you'd agree with me that's true for kids originally from China or Mexico or Vietnam. It's also true for kids from New Jersey and Chicago.

My father is a fifth-generation Texan on both sides; they came out of Kentucky and Tennessee about the time of the Civil War. My mother is fifth-generation on her mother's side--that's the bunch that came out of Alabama and Mississippi and was part-Cherokee, and when most of them took land in Oklahoma or got deported, however you want to look at it, our guy moved to Texas instead of going with the rest--and second-generation on her father's side, because her dad was an Austrian German from Kansas. How authentically Texan am I? Now consider that I was born in New York and grew up in several Northern suburbs, moved down to Richardson in the ninth grade, and regularly got the crap beat out of me by the local white trash (I didn't name them that, the students whose parents had jobs called them that) until finally losing an all-out bloody brawl with a much bigger kid, which brought me under the protection of some of the jocks since it was the third time I'd put up a fight. After that I was even allowed to play pickup football after school in the vacant lots under the high-power wires along straight-as-a-rod Meandering Way, and people stopped pissing in my gym locker and sabotaging my bicycle.

Sincerely yours,
John Chappell

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