Cocaine and Rhinestones: The Story of Country Music
What makes music the most special of all artforms is its inherent vagueness. In relation to other animals, our ears are limited and due to this our dependence on them is much less than most creatures. While we communicate with sounds, western society has transformed this into more of a dependence on words and written language than the assigned sounds. Written words have become our most efficient mode of communication and art criticism shows that. Literature jargon has become part of the daily lexicon for casual conversation as well as music. This is why I find music criticism so interesting. This is also why I have committed my monthly articles to album reviews that I hope bring up intelligent conversations regarding the music. Another man fighting this good fight in the realm of country music of the twentieth century is Tyler Mahan Coe.
Tyler Mahan Coe, the son of David Allan Coe, has created a 14 episode first season to his podcast Cocaine and Rhinestones that spans such a wide scope, yet creates such an intimately weaved story, that you start to wonder if country music and music as a whole are just one big simulation. The timing of this podcast is in some ways ill-timed due to the release of the Mike Judge produced ‘Tales from the Tour Bus’ which discusses the obnoxious escapades of country music’s biggest starts told by their nearest confidants. The first episode of Coe’s podcast tells a similar tale of the time Ernest Tubb attempted to shoot Grand Ol’ Opry stage manager Jim Denny. While this episode is enjoyable and ‘Tales from the Tour Bus’ is a riot, what makes Coe’s approach in the later episodes so terrific is the grand scope he can make in specific situations. A perfect example is his second episode about the radio censorship of Loretta Lynn’s song “The Pill.” Needless to say, the double standards in the country music industry are incredibly enlightening and extend places one might not have believed. Another episode that will be eye opening to many is focused on Merle Haggard’s smash hit “Okie from Muskogee”, which he explains effectively is not about what it seems.
Another strength of the podcast is the wide net Coe is able to cast in order to get the full story of twentieth century country music. This extends on one end to the Louvin Brothers, and Bobbie Gentry on the other. The writer behind “Ode to Billy Joe”, Gentry created a diverse and bipolar discography all within 3 albums and years. If there is any listening recommendation from this entire season it would be Gentry’s ‘The Delta Suite’ which is an incredible display of 60s psychedelia mixed with country influences. While the Gentry story is an under appreciated one, the Louvin Brothers relationship has gone down in infamy has one of the most inflammatory and tortured brother relationships in music. This made this episode underwhelming only due to the amount of juicy material that had to be left out to make sure it didn’t extend to far.
Some favorites for bluegrass fans will be the third part of the three part episode about “Harper Valley PTA” which is about the song’s author Tom T. Hall. For some reasons, this is one of the best episodes of the season because Tom never had much trouble, unlike murderers like Spade Cooley or untimely death like the two part episode about Buck Owens and Don Rich. That episode brilliantly gets into the duos telepathy and how tight of a unit the Buckaroos were, which is a delight to listen too.
If you are feeling adventurous and confident in your musical opinions I would also recommend Tyler’s other podcast, ‘Your Favorite Band Sucks’. Coe and his partner Mark Mosely spend anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes ferociously destroying favorite bands of the 60s up to today. (Unless you’re Interpol, who doesn’t even merit the minimum 30 minutes due to their lack of interesting qualities). Either way, Tyler Mahan Coe has become a voice of reason and brilliance in a world of country music where there was barely a voice at all. For country fans and music fans as a whole, these podcasts are for you.