Can there possibly be a more succinct distillation of the Bush administration’s worldview than country star Toby Keith’s lyrical post-9/11 promise to “put a boot in your ass”? In this sharp yet dishy book, Chris Willman explores country music’s embrace of such shit-kicking conservatism and how it became the unofficial soundtrack of the Dubya years.
As a fan, Willman appreciates country’s catalog of cantankerous songs slamming hippies and extolling God and the flag. But as a writer for Entertainment Weekly, he also knows that the genre’s current political bravado—like anything coming out of Nashville—walks the line between authenticity and slick marketing. While you can count openly liberal country stars on one hand (due largely to the fear of being “Dixie Chicked” into oblivion), Rednecks reveals that many Music Row execs are outspoken liberals who know that tunes like “I Raq and Roll” are simply good for the bottom line. Conservatism is part of the country brand, a way to appeal to its red-state fan base. Willman provides plenty of teases for outgunned “bluenecks,” though. After all, no better a source than Dennis Kucinich booster Willie Nelson confides that “Toby’s also a Democrat, you know…. Kind of.”