In the week that Big Tom died, I am reminded of an analysis of Country Music by Malcolm Gladwell – how it touches our emotions. If you look at the top 50 Rock music songs – they tend to be generic, repetitive and often laced with cliches. Gladwell calls them, “hymns to extroversion”.
Country music is different – it deals with the dramas of human life – relationships in trouble – marriages breaking up, people falling apart, throwing themselves off bridges, drinking themselves to death. Gladwell gives the example of ‘Golden Ring’, a song by Tammy Wynette. It is is about a marriage that is falling apart – the song follows their wedding ring from pawn shop to pawn shop. “Cast aside like the love that’s dead and gone. By itself it’s just a cold metallic thing…etc
Gladwell suggests it is the details in Country Music – the ‘specificity of the moment’, that touches our hearts in a way that Rock music does not – the story is real, the details sharp and we are caught up in the emotion.
Another part of the story is that rock and roll musicians are from diverse backgrounds and almost have to be generic if they are to be understood. Country music on the other hand comes from a tight knit musical community and can be specific – you are singing to people who know your world, “you can bare your soul because and they will understand – you are among your own”. Big Tom was from this community and they loved him.