I don’t think Toby Keith is inherently a bad man. He’s just a simple guy singing simple songs about excruciatingly complicated subjects. But he means well.
And I despise him for it. That’s because Keith and musicians such as Chely Wright, Craig Morgan and Keni Thomas represent a constituency known to exhibit blind audacity when it comes to things like belt buckles, mud flaps and geopolitics. Country music represents better than any other American music the kind of slack-jawed hayseeds that seem to make up the majority of our electorate.
But the feverish frustration of being an armchair liberal can be just as blinding, so I crowbarred open my mind and drove out to Grain Valley on December 8 to mingle with patrons packed into the Whiskey Tango for a show billed as “Operation American Soldier.”
The concert — which featured Wright, Morgan and Thomas — was a benefit for a foundation that helps provide college educations for the children of Special Operations soldiers killed in action.
The crowd was filled with military personnel and people wearing garish American-flag ties, shirts, vests and hats. Banners proclaiming “Support Our Troops” adorned the stage.
Fuck the troops.
Well, not really. But my support is limited to getting them home quickly, with as little physical and emotional damage to themselves and others as possible.
Yeah, yeah. I’ve read it all on your bumper stickers. “America: love it or leave it.” “These colors don’t run.” “My child is an honor student at Rockhurst.”
Thomas took the stage first. The former member of the Task Force Ranger unit immortalized in the movie Black Hawk Down sang sweet, sad songs about holding dying friends in his arms.
Wright, perched on a bar stool, sang hits such as “Shut Up and Drive” and “Single White Female,” thanked the radio-station sponsor 542 times and offered reflections about growing up in Wellsville, Kansas.
Morgan finished things off with a few feel-good ditties about chicken-‘n’-dumplings and the NRA, when he wasn’t poking fun at guys who paint their toenails. Ya know, queers. And Keith Urban.
As the show ended, a collection of patriots shouted the obligatory “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!”
Yet I found a certain measure of peace.
All involved had good intentions, if not entirely good vibrations. They didn’t know necessarily what to think about the war. But by God, they supported the troops, and that was all that mattered. They had found their way in a tumultuous world via the path of most clarity.