What Can Be Learned From Toby Keith's "Drunk Americans"
There's nothing more American than getting really drunk, listening to old country music and then yelling, hugging, and yelling some more. Happy July 4th!
I hear the complaint that America is getting soft. Chock full of Social Justice Warriors and PC savants who shoot out labels of “sexist” and “racist” like BB gun pellets. Even Jerry Seinfeld is mad. The least foul-mouthed, most famous comedian in America is mad about what we can or can not say. But America is changing in so many ways. This is the land of the free and free speech, after all, or so I have been told as an immigrant from the neighboring North.
I’m Canadian, so to me America has always been like that annoying big brother who can’t express himself with words, so he teases you mercifully and kicks your ass on the regular just so the two of you can hug it out afterwards. He’s ignorant to everything except for his own interests and peacocks as though he’s the best thing in the room. He pisses on his lawn whenever he wants to because “it’s his God damn property.” There's nothing more American than getting really drunk, listening to old country music and then yelling, hugging, and yelling some more. That’s what I think of when I think of America and I like it. It’s so unpretentious. No rules. Free pour. Let’s all come together over our common love of getting fucked up to forget we even exist. The outer geographical ring of America likes to tell the inner that they are prejudiced and stupid, and the inner likes to tell the outer that they are liberal queers. America is all about me versus you, even within their own country. There’s only two sides to pick from—ever. You are with us or against us. It’s that simple, but these opposing groups are always brought together by the one thing everyone in America loves to do: drink.
The 4th of July is the birth of America and the day the country gets the drunkest and lights off fireworks to celebrate being from “The Land of the Free.” Red, white, blue, and apple pie. And beer. Budweiser, obviously. All the stereotypes embraced and paraded proudly. Toby Keith was born four days after America. Maybe that’s why he became a country singer? Maybe his parents told him he was special? That he was the chosen one from Clinton, Oklahoma to make country music “accessible” or what modern country music is today. Country music was not always terrible, it was once great, but it was and still is whole-heartedly American.
There’s this legendary country music story that Ethan Hawke revealed in his Rolling Stone profile on Kris Kristofferson in 2009. Apparently, Kristofferson ran into Toby Keith at Willie Nelson’s birthday and started a brawl with him because he was offended that Keith had written a song about bombing enemies when he had never fought in a war himself. Afterwards, Kristofferson said to Hawke, “You know what Waylon Jennings said about guys like [Keith]? They’re doin’ to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckin’.”
What would Kristofferson think about Keith’s song “Drunk Americans”? I stumbled across this video earlier this week and it's like an episode of South Park in that “jib jab” style. Americans portrayed in slow moving, Second Life heads that chomp up and down like a trash compactor. Obama, Michael Jackson, truckers, strippers, rich men, and Willie Nelson can all live in peace over booze. The sentiment is there: we are a nation of all kinds, from all places, but at the end of the day, we all drink in this goddamn great country and therefore, we are all proud, drunk Americans. Keith doesn’t care that some of us sport ball caps, while others turbans or that some of us are CEOs while others don’t have our GEDs. When we put that Budweiser to our lips we are all drunk Americans. It’s a nice fantasy. A really cozy idea that every problem in this country will somehow magically disappear the minute we step into the local tavern and get loaded, but the truth is, it won’t. It’s just what delusional America likes to think could happen.
But who wants to worry about national debt, murder, rape and poverty? Nobody. Ignorance is bliss, man. Keith knows this. Just tell a heroic, patriotic story and everything will be OK, because, “We’re all stars we’re all stripes, and we’re all drunk Americans.” So, maybe things are changing in America and the inner tension is growing. It’s all going to get pretty messy and that’s interesting. Maybe how free everyone’s lids really are is being challenged, but one phrase that won’t ever be stopped is, “Pass me another beer.” So, do it.
Happy 4th of July.
Mish Way is the lead singer of White Lung and she's on Twitter.