Sunday, November 23, 2014

Track of the Week: Johnny Cash "Country Trash"

This year will be yet another Thanksgiving spent away from my family back in Nebraska.  It's been a year since I've been out there (sadly, for my grandmother's funeral), and I don't know when my next trip will be.  Now that my daughters are two years old, that means two more plane tickets to pay for that I can't afford.  I will certainly enjoy myself here in New Jersey with my wife's family, but I'm still feeling a little homesick.

November is a fearsome month in Nebraska.  On the Great Plains the weather in all times of year is unpredictable and extreme, but in November it's especially so.  The ground freezes, the constant wind starts to get a barbed-wire edge, the corn fields have all been reduced to stubble, and the colors drain from the prairie, now transformed into eerie dull browns and jaundiced yellows.  Harvest has come and gone, and fearsome winter is about to strike.  Growing up it always seemed like the bitter cold and first heavy snow came right after Thanksgiving.  If not that, you could at least count on freezing rain coating everything in ice.

To live on this land, especially if you make a living from it as a farmer, you have to have a certain fatalistic streak to survive.  While I grew up in the town, my mom grew up on a farm, and my dad in a tiny village of 250 people.  They still had the hardy country attitude when confronting life's problems, and it's one I've tried to emulate, even though I live far, far away from home.  Thanksgiving is a perfect holiday for Nebraska's country folk, in that their mental outlook tends to focus on what they have, rather than on what they don't.  While this way of seeing the world can be maddeningly conservative and lacking in ambition, it does make people a lot more satisfied with their lives, no matter how simple.

That attitude really comes out in Johnny Cash's "Country Trash."  The narrator talks about his modest farm and what he's got laid up for the winter.  It isn't much, but "let the thunder roll and the lightning flash/ I'm doin' all right for country trash."  As far as resenting his place in the world, or that others have more than him, he simply remarks, "But we'll all be equal under the grass/ And God's got a heaven for country trash."  I can really hear my grandmother, who farmed almost her whole life, in those words.

I work each day in New York City, a place of constant ambition where no one is satisfied with what they have, and find themselves miserable amidst the lucre piled up by being at the heart of the world economy.  It's very easy to fall into that mentality.  That's why it's good, from time to time, to remind myself that I'm doin' alright for country trash.

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