There comes a time in life when we begin to search for wisdom from new sources. Some look to books, scouring libraries of literary and philosophic texts in search of meaning. Others reach out to mentors, wiser elders who have come before. Others still turn to religion, seeking in faith the answers they cannot find in knowledge.
Me, I get mine from country songs.
For every existential edict or Hegelian truth, there is a country song that says the same thing with a lot less words. For every “Great Truth” there is a “Great Tune.” For each “the unexamined life is not worth living” there’s an “If I had to live my life over, I’d live over a delicatessen.”
In short, there is a country lyric to handle every problem in life, particularly if your problems include drinkin’, cheatin' or heartbreak.
On the surface, country songs do seem to lean heavily on the big three. Songs like “I’m Gonna Put a Bar in the Back of my Car and Drive Myself to Drink,” “If Whiskey Were a Woman I’d be Married for Sure,” or the Mac Davis classic “I’m Drinkin’ Christmas Dinner (All Alone This Year)” seem to promote a fairly wayward lifestyle. But they also speak to the longing of the human heart, the misery of solitude and the simple sadness of lost love. Tunes like “I Want a Beer as Cold as my Ex-Wife’s Heart” are actually cries for empathy while “Get Off the Table, Mabel (The Two Dollars is for the Beer)” can be read as a cautionary tale of bad choices and frightening outcomes.
Traditional cheating songs, such as “If You’re Gonna Do Him Wrong Again, You Might as Well Do Him Wrong Again With Me,” or “It Took a Helluva Man to Take my Anne, but it Sure Didn’t Take Him Long,” actually serve as thesis on the fleeting nature of happiness. While those seeking guidance on the meaning of life’s inevitable clues need look no further than “When You Wrapped my Lunch in a Roadmap, I Knew You Meant Good-Bye.”
Of course, with cheating comes heartbreak, and we all could use some guidance in dealing with that. “I’m So Miserable Without You, it’s Almost Like Having You Here,” explores the ageless dichotomy of watching what you wish for. “I Still Miss You Baby … But My Aim is Getting Better,” addresses the options of a conflicted heart. “I Bought the Shoes that Just Walked Out on Me,” explores the economics of loss. And "I Keep Forgettin’ I Forgot About You,” brings us to a quandary not unlike the Taoist pledge to “Do nothing so that nothing is not done.”
Not that the country scribes don’t explore issues beyond the human heart and liver. Songs like “Going to Hell in Your Heavenly Arms,” and “Drop Kick me Jesus (Through the Goal Posts of Life)” are about temptation and faith respectively. “I’ve Been Roped and Throwed By Jesus In The Holy Ghost Corral” is a celebration of surrender. And the Austin Lounge Lizards’ classic “Jesus Loves me But He Can’t Stand You” is a near-perfect example of man’s aggravating willingness to project his own judgment on the Almighty.
So next time you reach for some fancy philosophy book, think again. Chances are Sartre and his posse won’t offer any words as wise as “I Went Back to My Fourth Wife for the Third Time and Gave Her a Second Chance to Make a First Class Fool Out of Me.”
Or, to add my own lyric to the mix, “If It Can’t Be Learned on the Radio, It’s Hardly Worth Learning at All.”