Climbing into a Boeing 737 Southwest Airlines jet in Chicago, I settled into the window seat next to my wife. Our flights to Florida and back were quite affordable, and we had family business to attend.
There was a layover in Nashville, Tennessee. We approached the airport descending over lumpy ground that surrounds the place country music calls home.
I’m no big fan of country music, but have long admired the country rock of folks like Jackson Browne, the Eagles and even Neil Young. Their songs have fueled me over many miles of training.
It is well-known the Beatles were big fans of country music. They drew inspiration and covered songs by country icons such as Carl Perkins. I love the Beatles, yet I’ve never completely warmed up to the workings of so-called “pure” country music.
Actually, I’m not sure such a thing exists anymore. The twang and accents of what passes for real country music today seems like so much affectation. So I find it repulsive. The cowboy hats tipped over the eyes. The “country” costumes all feel fake as hell to me.
When we landed in Nashville, we climbed out of the airplane and dined at a restaurant in the airport called Gibson’s. It is named after the famous line of guitars, which makes sense in such a music town. I’ve played songs on Gibson guitars, but I cannot make the claim that I am actually a guitarist. I can strum chords but can’t make it cry and sing. So I’m not really a musician.
It seems like even musicians aren’t musicians anymore. I’ve heard classic rockers such as Joe Walsh of the Eagles lament the relative state of recorded music these days. It’s all produced like a genetically modified digital crop. Everything engineered to tight specifications unless it flows through the Indie channel system where distribution is up to the creators, not record companies. Even that system of selling music has been undercut by free music applications such as Spotify and Pandora.
It’s like the entire world has been left to scratch out an existence on the thinnest of premises. It’s true with industries as organic and central to existence as farming, where “salt of the earth” people create food from the land.
Even though I spent considerable time on a farm as a kid, I was never really a farmer. I visited my uncle’s farm and did some chores when I was there. But that’s not the same as living on a farm year-round, or milking cows at 5:30 in the morning. But I did develop an appreciation for the work that goes into farming.
These days the sight of the massive grid of square fields below an airplane gives me an empty feeling inside.The whole enterprise of farming in America seems so shallow. From high above, it just looks like scratching out a living on little squares that mean so much to the owners, but what is the real dynamic?
So many farmers rent their land or equipment now it’s all mortgaged and leveraged to the max. Everyone in the farming business paying bankers at some point, and delivering crops to the maw of the markets.
Even the seed that farmers purchase these days is manufactured by giant companies such as Monsanto. Farmers basically “rent” seed to plant, and aren’t allowed to keep any of their seed stock from year to year. Farming crops like corn or soybeans is thus as shallow as the thin layer of dirt on which they depend for life
Yet I also recognize that those of us who run and ride rent the space to do so from society as a whole. There’s no way that any of us can “own” the miles we traverse on country roads. Just like musicians or farmers or any other occupation on God’s green and brown earth, we’re scratching out an existence like so many ants below the airplanes flying through the blue space above. It’s all very humbling, and we barely deserve an inch of it. Yet here we go again while the earth turns, the sun appears to rise and the miles roll away beneath our feet and tires.