As we’ve previously discussed, here at How’s Your Morale we are fine with doing year/decade end wrap up stuff in January. There’s a few reasons for this; for one, the year or decade have actually ended. That’s the biggest one. People making their year end movie lists in mid December probably slept on Knives Out– or at least didn’t let it have staying power in their memory– and are suckers for it.
We may be many wonderful things, but we are not suckers.
TO THE LIST AT HAND!
Have you heard of this song “Old Town Road?” It’s a fun track! It’s catchy, but too short to get super annoying. Plus, it is accompanied by lots of fun trivia for music writers to include. Like did you know that Very Important Musician Trent Reznor From Nine Inch Nails got his first number one single by being sampled on this song? He did! I bet YOU thought that “Closer” had been a number one single. . . not even close!
That song still slaps, though . . . like an animal? Oh, Trent you dog! *fans self*
Anyway, I heard “Old Town Road” a helluvalot of times this year. Here are the five most powerful times. Also from here on out, we’ll call it OTR.
#5: THE FIRST TIME
At the time, I’d just barely heard of the song, and I listened to it out of curiosity. This was before Billy Ray Cyrus jumped on, after the song had been deemed “not country enough.” Without Cyrus, the song is even shorter, so I think I’d just gotten into my second rotation of quality head bobs when it ended.
“oh.” I thought.
#4: THE TIME IT STARTED PLAYING WHEN I WAS READING A YEAR-END SONG ROUND UP ON A RESPECTED MUSIC SITE THAT STILL HASN’T STOPPED IT’S AUTOPLAY FEATURE, FIX THAT GUYS
This song ends somewhere on most cross-genre song lists. The blurbs always cite the same things– it broke records for weeks on top, helped blur lines between rap and country (yay?), helped usher in a new generation of performers. All true. Some publications leave this as enough evidence for OTR’s worthiness, others let their writers draft a few extra ebullient lines of poetry praising the efficacy of this jam.
In all cases, however, the blurb always ends with some variant of . . . “. . . and listeners all seemed to agree that they too, wanted to ride, til they can’t no more.”
#3: THE TIME IT CAME ON IN BETWEEN KARAOKE SONGS AT TWILIGHT EXIT
. . . and everyone knew the words to it better than whatever ’90s hits came before and after.
#2: THE TIME I HEARD IT THREE TIMES IN TWO HOURS
After work I frequently take my laptop to The Meyer, a pinball/pirate/bar themed bar in Pioneer Square. The drinks are cheap and the staff is friendly and it is walking distance from my apartment and they let me use their wi-fi. The music played there is usually 1) punk 2) pop punk 3) emo (but the punk kind) 4) death metal 5) deep cut gangsta rap from the ’90s.
What undercuts this very set aesthetic is the fact that this is a bar in Pioneer Square that has an internet jukebox. So for every sweet, soothing Fleshgod Apocalypse track, you may have to endure Jim and Bill’s Bothell Crew selecting as many goddamn Pearl Jam and Sugar Ray songs as humanly possible.
Sometimes things are different, though. The first time I heard it, I nodded along. “Cool,” I thought. A few other current, popular songs that I was neither enthused by nor weary of came on. The sonics returned to their regular playlist, on this evening alternating between rap and metal (BUT NOT RAP METAL) when the song came on again. I was deep into whatever brilliant thing I was writing, and didn’t notice until halfway through the aforementionedly short hit. Fair.
Enough folks had cycled through in the last forty five it made sense that new jukebox users would cue up the most popular track in the land. What didn’t seem entirely necessary was when fifteen minutes later OTR came on AGAIN. If it’d been a magic moment when everyone stopped to sing “RIIIIIDE TIL I CAN’T NOO MOOOORE” together, I’d have let it pass. But everyone in the improbably crowded-for-a-Wednesday drink joint just looked annoyed and confused.
I mentioned this phenomenon on the most popular of social medias, and my bartender came over to me “Thanks for posting that. . . I couldn’t tell was I really hearing that for the third time or is this job just driving me crazy?”
We fist bumped.
#1: THE DRIVE TO COLVILLE, WASHINGTON, HOME OF THE WORLD’S LONELIEST D and D PLAYERS
A couple times a year I go out to visit James, one of my besties, in Cheney, Washington. A ritual of ours is to pick an even smaller town forty five minutes to two hours out, take a drive, talk life, and explore a new place. This time we picked Colville, Washington, largest and most curated town in Steven’s County. What on the outset looks like a positively adorable mountain town– restaurants, breweries, multiple game shops, a bookstore– turned sour to an almost cliché degree, as the bookstore owner wouldn’t even look at us. Soon we realized that there were multiple Glenn Beck books in the history section, as well as a book about how World War 2 was a trojan horse for Communism. The closest to anything literature, neutral, or godforbid secular were a few copies of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and Brothers Karamazov.
It was not marketed as a Christian Bookstore, and even if it were, I’d caveat that that is a very very specific reading of the faith. The game stores were the same. The antiques store wasn’t quite the same– the ladies behind the counter seemed like hardened cowgirls with a sense of humor who’d definitely take a mimosa after church– but still. The sense of an oppressive monoculture remained, in a way that I thought Liberals from Cities had made up to justify never leaving Fremont.
We wandered three blocks off the main strip and found, in a converted craftsman home, a Dungeons and Dragons/Magic the Gathering store. Called the Dragon’s Lair. We dubbed this block the Secular Strip. There was also a tattoo parlor in a house, and what looked like a bar/antiques store but also did not look welcoming to strangers. We went into the Dragon’s Lair. There was one man at the counter, with a goatee and glasses and short hair. There was an awkward 15? 17? year old kid going over his magic pack. Both looked at James and I with searching eyes.
“Do you play D and D?”
James: “Well yes, I enjoy it quite a bit.”
The store’s selection was minimal, but it was enough to get a few games going. I’m not a main guy of that scene, but I could tell from the postings for weekly games and meetups that if you were a weirdo in Colville, this was maybe the one public space you could feel safe. James admitted there was nothing there he truly needed in his own gaming life, but we couldn’t leave this store unsupported. He bought what he termed “a solid general addition to anyone’s library” for $50. As we cashed out the man behind the counter asked where we were from.
James: “Well I’m from Cheney and me and my friend here like to take drives, so we figured we’d pop up and explore Steven’s County.”
I didn’t mention Seattle.
Earlier that day, on the way out, James asked me if OTR was, “in fact, a good song?”
“Dude I can’t believe you haven’t heard it. It’s like two minutes long.”
I threw it, and some Billie Eillish, and Lizzo, on and we set off, dissecting the multiple merits of all the above, and returning to OTR because it’s short enough you can do that. Eventually conversation took over as we found our way into the mountain towns. On the way back, I mused that despite the internet, culture is still highly localized. It might take something as omnipresent as Old Town Road to make it as far as Colville. Maybe any kid who wanted to escape that could find inspiration in those lyrics, and ride until . . . they found their destination, or next launching point.
You want to save some energy for when you get there.
Also published on Medium.