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February 19, 2021
from “How Lady Antebellum Wrecked Country Music”
in Anything Will Be Easy after This: A Western Identity Crisis
by Bethany Maile
“Bethany Maile…traces her love of country music to weekends riding in her father’s pickup in the Idaho foothills with her feet out the window listening to ‘Rodeo’ on repeat.”—THE
Bethany Maile is a professor of writing at Boise State University. Her work has been published in Shenandoah, the Rumpus, River Teeth, Prairie Schooner, High Desert Journal, and the Normal School. Her essay “How Lady Antebellum Wrecked Country Music” begins as a critique of the band Lady A, but ends up being about herself and much more. Her collection of essays about the myth of the wild west is called Anything Will Be Easy after This: A Western Identity Crisis.
The Paragraph of the Week
I have said that the group [Lady A] poses too hard in the shadow of a thing it just isn't, and here I see the lamest reflections of myself. I wear cowboy boots to shopping malls and movie theaters. I drive my pickup to coffee shops. I have laid out my costume, if you will, as evidence of my earnest Idaho-ness, and while I genuinely like these things, nothing about them is authentic. I don't haul trailers or hay with my pickup; it could just as easily be a convertible. I could wear sandals or flip-flops more purposefully than my boots. I have taken the functionality of the old world and reduced it to a stylistic flourish, like a whiskey shot lyric or fiddle tiff. Maybe Lady A has been just as thoughtless, yet earnest, with its flashes of country. Maybe this should elicit empathy or grace.
“How Lady Antebellum Wrecked Country Music” is a smart and blistering critique by Bethany Maile of the pop-country band Lady A for not being country enough, good enough, or interesting enough which, she admits, is an indictment of herself. She traces her love of country music to weekends riding in her father’s pickup in the Idaho foothills with her feet out the window listening to “Rodeo” on repeat. She realizes that this view of herself is a myth—she doesn’t haul hay in her pickup which “could just as easily be a convertible”—but she wants country music to be authentic to that idyllic past. Lady A, which is “vague and therefore universal” does not do justice to the myth of the west, and like her has “reduced it to a stylistic flourish, like a whiskey shot lyric or fiddle tiff.” But can you be authentic to a myth, she asks, in the question at the heart of both her essay and her book Anything Will Be Easy after This: A Western Identity Crisis? She realizes that authentic country songs are “fixated on the past,” each an “elegy to a world that’s disappeared” and an attempt “to pin down the vanished.” Comfortable memories of her mother’s “gingham blanket” or of eating “crackers and cheese” and sharing an “overpriced Coors” with her father seem far-off. In the end, she rejects these much-loved, but frozen clichés as no longer sustaining and calls for “a new story for us to occupy” based on “analysis and deep thinking and interrogation,” one “that prizes the health of a place over our desire to claim it” in an ever changing world that changes us as we are passing through.
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“The White Space”
Zone 3 magazine has published my lyrical prose ode called "The White Space" about the inevitability of loss. It draws on the translation of a truncated lyric of Sappho by Anne Carson that was later shown to be incorrect when the complete manuscript was discovered. The piece begins this way:
"Deer surprised me this morning, eating ivy below the window. It’s early spring and snow melts in the mist leaving dark patches of leafy green for them to pick through. Knock-kneed fawns nibble at the broad leaves, ears like wimples, while the doe, bending graciously from the neck, turns onyx eyes on me..."
Learn more at the Zone 3 website here.
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Folly Beach, my newest book, is a personal essay about easing fears of mortality and loss through creativity, certainly a message for our frightening times. It never loses sight of the inevitable losses that life brings, but doesn't let loss have the last word. In the face of the grim, Folly Beach holds up the human capacity to create as our sufficient joy.
“In a world of loss, creativity is the best revenge.”
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You can learn more about the recent work of Steven Harvey at his author's page here.
Post-Script Press which started last year has become affiliated with The Humble Essayist and changed its name to The Humble Essayist Press. We plan to publish three new works of nonfiction this year under the new name. You can learn more about the fledgling press at the new website here.
We at The Humble Essayist are in love with the paragraph, that lowliest of literary techniques. A sentence stands out as a noble thing: a complete thought. But what is a paragraph? And what, in particular, is a good one? You know it when you read it--that is our article of faith. So on Friday of each week, beginning on Independence Day 2014, the very day 169 years earlier that Henry Thoreau moved to Walden Pond, we will select a single paragraph from an essay or a reflective memoir and print it here along with a paragraph of commentary. We will choose paragraphs that are surprising, beautifully written, and, above all, thematic--illuminating the author's comment on life. Each paragraph of the week is, in short, a concise review of the writer's work. We hope that this page will introduce you to many exciting authors and their ideas.
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