I have been in England for three weeks now, and one thing I have realized is British people do not understand the appeal of country music. In their defense, many Americans do not understand it either—including, until recently, me. Since leaving the States, however, country music is all I want to listen to, whether I’m studying or reading or hanging out in my room or eating dinner. When I first felt the urge to listen to country music, I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but after a few days, I realized that my desire for the twangy sounds of Luke Bryan and Keith Urban stemmed from my desire to feel closer to home. There is something about country music that is quintessentially American.
Country music tells the same stories over and over: girls and boys falling in love, getting drunk at a tailgate party, parking the truck on a back road and listening to music (maybe even stealing a kiss), hanging around campfires eating greasy home-cooked foods. Hardly a complete picture of American values; more like a small microcosm. And I’ll admit that this experience of life has not been my experience by a long shot. But being familiar with the musical stories of such experiences makes me feel it has been. I can see America by listening to the songs. And it makes me feel closer to home.
Country music talks literally about American soil in its every verse, describing the people and their relationship to the vast, open land that exists in much of America. In America, we can drive for hours upon hours and still be in the same state. We can find places out in the woods to hang out with our friends and build bonds with each other and with nature. We can swim in lakes and run around in fields and climb mountains. America is a nation unified by the concept of freedom, and that sense of freedom comes in part from the wide open spaces the land itself provides, and with those wide open spaces come the freedom to go.
Because England is a small country located near a lot of other small countries, British life lacks the sense of vastness and freedom that exists in America. My British friends don’t see any appeal in the idea of a summer spent swimming in a lake and sneaking whiskey out to a cornfield and blasting “Sweet Home Alabama” on the Fourth of July, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that many Americans understand that, even if they’ve never lived it and never will. And that is what country music denotes.
My life in America was not like a country song, but now that I’m in another country, it feels more like it than where I am now. So while I’ll admit that there’s something a little strange about my intense desire to listen to country music when I’m studying abroad in England, I’m thankful for the reminders of the Americana lifestyle that country artists such as Billy Currington in his song “We Are Tonight” provide: “Summer pouring through a rolled down window / Tearing down all those two-lane back roads / Freedom and fireflies in the air.”