By now most Country music fans have heard or read about Americana singer-songwriter Sturgill Simpson’s rant against the Academy of Country Music. Simpson released a scathing rebuke of the ACM for naming an award after country legend Merle Haggard. The rant also took aim at Nashville for turning its back on Haggard in his latter years and took a swipe at current Country music. Simpson closed his hissy-fit-on-paper with “F*** this town. I’m Moving.”
Make no mistake, Simpson is a talent, but his rant came across as childish and pretentious. The ACM’s celebrated Haggard when he was at his peak, and they are continuing to celebrate him. The approval of artists who wear their lack of mainstream success as some kind of badge of honor is not needed (of course, most of these same artists would give their left eye to have a massive hit).
Country music encompasses so much, and what’s Country to one person might not be Country to someone else. I’m not into the so called Bro-Country (a goofy term created to divide music lovers), but I don’t believe guys like Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan or the twosome who make up Florida Georgia Line are any more or less authentic than Simpson. Their music has it’s place, and right now it’s at the top of the charts. As much as some people don’t like it, the fans who buy the albums, concert tickets and merchandise drive the machine.
Maybe one day a young guy or gal will come along sounding like Randy Travis or Loretta Lynn (or Sturgill Simpson), and there will be a major shift to an old-school sound, maybe not. God knows they’re out there right now, like Simpson, slugging it out in the trenches. You can blame the radio programmers, you can blame the songwriters or the label execs, but in the end what sells is what these people are going to focus on. It is a business, after all.
In his rant, Simpson places himself in the same league as Jason Isbell. Isbell, who comes across as pretentious and bitter himself at times, has written and recorded two of the best Americana albums of the last decade. Isbell’s songwriting is progressive and modern sounding (and is as original as possible in a world where everything has been done). If you’re going to shoot your mouth off, you damn well better be releasing something on par with Isbell. (In my opinion, Simpson isn’t even close).
Here’s the thing, Simpson doesn’t get to decide what is or isn’t, as he put it, ‘actual country music’. As someone who grew up on Haggard and Jones, along with Hank Sr. and dozens of other great old-school artists, I’m well versed in the history of the genre, and there has always been a bitch-fest when new artists unseat the old. Music evolves or it dies. Get over it.
F*** Nashville? Nah, f*** Sturgill Simpson.