Country Comrades

A long time ago, when I was still updating this blog, I wrote about Dwight Yoakam and country music’s Southern California heritage. It was somewhat personal for me, because, like Yoakam, I’m an Appalachian transplant to Los Angeles. That post was more about culture and aesthetics, but lately I’ve been thinking about the effect that country music (which colors some of my earliest memories) has had on my political commitments. I don’t have a theory of ideological causation or anything systematic like that, nor do I mean that great country songs are just topical screeds about politics, but I thought it would be fun to draw up an impressionistic, arbitrary playlist of songs that pushed me, in some small way, to the political left. For all its endemic conservatism, the South has more left-populist seams than a lot of Americans realize.

merle-haggard-workin-man-blues-capitol

No more than one song by any artist. Otherwise this would have twenty Merle Haggard joints. Also, I’m defining “country” somewhat broadly and arranging my choices at random. Suggest more songs in the comments if you want.

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My-Tennessee-Mntn-Home

Ryan on Drugs at the Los Angeles Review

Over at the Los Angeles Review, I’ve written a short essay about a new book on drugs, art, and culture. Despite the subject, I’m sober as a judge. Here’s an excerpt:

But the book would be limited if it just catalogued the influence of chemicals on the lives and works of artists, fascinating as that might be. Scott goes further, locating drugs within networks of capital and power. Narcotics are big business. Reliant on economic and ecological networks built during centuries of imperial conquest—that’s how rum, cocaine, sugar, coffee, Scotch, tea, tobacco, weed, Oxycontin, and all the other hedonic goodies became global commodities—“migrations of the narco-imaginary are marked by a history of violence.” Police power backs up corporate interests, determining which drugs are legally available and which are forbidden, and punishing socially marginal users of the latter most severely. Witness America’s prisons, full of black and Latino users in 2017, when a middle-class white literary critic might walk down the street smoking a joint in any state where you can buy a medical-marijuana card. The great irony of drugs: promising transcendence, they are wired into the same late-capitalist circuits that provide us with Chicken McNuggets and private jails.

-Ryan