The Unknown Toby Keith

February 28th, 2005  |  Published in Uncategorized

Toby Keith gets a bad rap. If you don't know who Toby Keith is, you're not alone, unfortunately. He's one of the best selling modern country stars, but alas, progressives still continue to live up to Michael Moore's stereotype of them: ignorant of country music, NASCAR, and everything else branded "white working class" (or "redneck" as it's called among certain classes).

Most leftists who do know who Toby Keith is probably remember him mostly for "The Angry American", a.k.a. "the 'boot up your ass' song". And yeah, that song is some pretty ripe jingoistic stuff. I always found it funny because it was so over the top, but I can see how some people would be offended.

But don't judge Keith by the worst of his output--and songs like "Angry American" and "American Soldier" are definitely his nadir, not just politically but aesthetically as well. The rest of his output, though, tends toward irreverant, drunken populism, and it's both fun and politically pretty tolerable.

It was "Whiskey Girl" that really sold me on Toby Keith. I really relate to a guy who prefers a hard-living, whiskey-drinking woman, and the songs makes me think that Keith is somewhat comfortable in his masculinity. Which is a rarity among men who....well, among men. I have my reservations about the second verse--I like that your girl has a badass car, dude, but why are you driving it?--but all told, it's pretty right on.

I also recommend "If I was Jesus..." (the end of that sentence is, "...I'd be the guy at the party, turnin' water to wine"), "Nights I can't remember, friends I can't forget" (mostly self-explanatory, but it's about being in college, which cuts against the faux-working class posturing of most modern country guys), and "Weed with Willie" (Toby, it seems, is a bit of a lightweight in that area.)

Consider the foregoing a chapter in my ongoing crusade for the value of an aesthetics not immediately tied to political doctrine. I like Toby Keith the way I like a lot of gangsta rap--sometimes radical, sometimes reactionary, musically good, and very much immersed in its historical moment. Maybe sometime I'll write the egghead version of this post, about Frederic Jameson, Georg Lukacs, and the problem of Marxist Aesthetics. But until then, listen to Toby Keith.

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