Any time I get out into the wild, aka the Red River Gorge, I always have to listen to my favorite old country tunes to get myself into the “easy-going, fresh mountain air” mood. It’s not that I don’t enjoy other types of music, I’m just at a genetic disadvantage being from Kentucky – where the love of country music is inbred into my DNA. As I listened to the classics of George Jones and the Judds, I couldn’t help but notice, thanks to what I’ve learned from class, that there are many pastoral themes in country music. Even the genre name, “country” implies to the listener that you might expect to hear about easy going times of a simpler style of living.
Take the song “Grandpa Tell Me About The Good Old Days” by the Judds for example. The first few lines sing, “grandpa, tell me about the good old days / some times it feels like, this worlds gone crazy / Grandpa, take me back to yesterday / when the lines between right and wrong, didn’t seem so hazy.” This song is a great example of someone longing to go back to a better, simpler time. The nostalgic theme suggests the desire to be back at a time when things were much easier and family oriented – when “lovers really fall in love to stay, and stand beside each other come what may.”
It’s not just the classics though. Even more modern country tunes also have pastoral themes. Take Mark Chestnut’s “Too Cold at Home” for example. This melody sings about a man seeking to get away from the “troubles at home” and get in out of the heat and just relax and find a simpler time. As he pulls up a chair at the bar he notices a baseball game on television stating, “that baseball game on TV, takes me back to when I was a kid / we proudly wore those uniforms, just like the dodgers did.” Again, we see a nostalgia to return to the past, when times were easier and simpler.
In another excellent Mark Chestnut tune, “I’ll Think of Something.” the author describes a story about how he is having some complex girl-trouble. His simple solution to his complex relationship troubles are to try and drown them out by drinking enough that he forgets. Not that I condone excessive drinking, but this song also presents anther great pastoral theme – simple solutions to complex problems. Singing about a lost love could also be related to the historical definition of pastoral theme, when shepherds also talked about their lands and loves. “That Summer” by Garth Brooks is another good example of both a longing for the past and a lost love. In this song, Garth sings about memories of working on a farm, and the feelings that developed for a lady he met while there. “I often think about that summer, the sweat the moonlight and the lace,” describes the longing desire to be back to a simpler and better time, in the arms of a momentary lust turned love.
Finally, if your not a fan of country music we have Lynard Skynard’s “Simple Man.” Again this song is littered with the pastoral theme of being “simple” and not complicated – to lead a simple life which will “help you some sunny day.” “Take your time and don’t live too fast / troubles will come and they will pass” sets the tone at the beginning of the second verse. Every time I hear this song, I am encouraged to try and slow down, and enjoy life, and not let things get too complicated.
Are we naturally drawn to these songs though or are we sincerely drawn to the pastoral themes which they represent? Do we listen to these songs and find ourselves immersed into them until we seek to fulfill our own pastoral desires? Perhaps it is a little of both. I believe that hearing music which sings of things we all long to do, only reinforces our own pastoral desires for nostalgia and simpler times. It is much easier to appreciate our own position in life when we hear of others struggles. The music is what moves us, and allows us to escape our reality, allowing us to be in our own simpler, easier time, even if only for a moment – something I believe we can all appreciate.