If you write a well-intentioned song that a post-high school educated class of Americans calls hideously tone-deaf at best and deeply, ignorantly racist at worst, you will have no shortage of defenders.
If you write a song in which you make an extended, tedious, man-cave-y joke about how “men” are filthy, opportunistic cretins whose feeble and impulsive brains cannot be expected to induce any responsible or empathetic behavior, yet whose habits and preferences are somehow still far superior to a falsely constructed perception of “femininity,” far be it from any one to even think to complain. However, any slight eye-rolling reading of a critic will swiftly result in a boisterous rallying of persecuted white men.
But if you write a playful, catchy song that uses a dirty/innocent conceit like a goddamn metaphysical poet and flits around one double entendre – one that manages to be both subtle and blatant, both sophisticated and charmingly redneck as hell simultaneously !- for the entire song, where are your defenders? They are no where. A critic reports that, of any popular country song in the contemporary era, this is the first to ever “skeeze [him] out.” Your song is called “either the catchiest or the dumbest song” another critic has ever heard. It gets a “C-” rating from a man who gave a “B+” rating to Taylor Swift’s “Red,” a song that compares a pleasant love experience to the color “red” and a sad love experience to the color blue.
What I am talking about right now is Brad Paisley, and the songs I’m talking about up there in order are called this:
1. “Accidental Racist”
2. “I’m Still a Guy”
and, finally, the sparkling, eminent bloodsucker of a hit:
Let’s dig in, because oh boy, this one is fantastic:
Paisley’s coy lyrics are a seduction in the form of conceit: applying an unexpected and jarring metaphor to a surprising or inappropriate situation. In this case, he suggests a seemingly innocent alternative to what the girl featured in the song might expect from another wooing cowboy in the bar. Using misdirection and a chummy tone, he flicks a shoe at the statue of discretion with tongue securely mounted in cheek and delivers a seriously hilarious song.
Every time you take a sip
In this smoky atmosphere
You press that bottle to your lips
And I wish I was your beer
Immediately introducing a bit of a surprise tactic, Paisley doesn’t go to an obvious place of, “I wish that I was makin’ out with you on your mouth, hot woman o’ mine o’ mine o’mine” but rather takes it to a funny dream – he doesn’t wish that he was in the place of “[her] beer”, but rather that he indeed actually was “[her] beer.” It’s more powerful both because it’s unexpected but also because it’s extreme, it’s a fantasy of metamorphosis that we’d accept from the most obsessive sonneteer, but Brad! It immediately made me think of this old charmer:
Oh but were I a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!
Yeah that’s right, know where that’s from? That’s Shakespeare. That’s mother-fucking-Romeo Montague talking about Juliet-mother-fucking Capulet. It’s our most widely known Shakespeare and the arguably most recognizable scene, in which our young lover rapturously wishes away all humanity but for the briefest joy of living life as a glove and touching his fair-lady’s hand. And Paisley’s lyric, set for context and kitsch-tone, echos precisely the same idea. A complex and pretty weird idea, if you take it there, but one that phrases the moment of sudden and captivating desire with subdued elegance. Let’s go on:
In the small there of your back
Your jeans are playing peekaboo
I’d like to see the other half
Of your butterfly tattoo
We’ve definitely got an image here, and god, it’s a great image. It works! Just like she’s workin them jeans. I like that he manages to talk about somebody’s body that he’s interested in with a generous amount of tact. He’s not being too direct about the honky-tonk-bedonk-a-donk, but he’s still being charmingly forward. Also, as Andrew has deftly pointed out, Paisley neatly parallels the construction of a usual comparison sentence with the literal image. A signifier is written as over the signified object, and we are left to gaze at this literary construct in the form of one half of a butterfly tramp stamp exposed, and the other, the one we’re really talking about, still concealed.
I’ve conducted a thrilling google image search to find a suitable set of photographs for reference and I got this:
And then I wanted a really nice parallel picture of the half-revealed, inked lepidoptera on some prime human skin, but after searching for that image for about 3 minutes I did not feel super great about what I was looking at. So please, continue to imagine.
It’s here that Paisley really gets us in the truck and takes us down his dirt road of a narrative structure:
Hey that gives me an idea
Let’s get out of this bar
Drive out into the country
And find a place to park
Way back in the sticks
Through a field of wildflowers
And I’d like to check you for ticks
Out in these woods I used to hunt
Don’t worry babe I’ve got your back
And I’ve also got your front
Brad started learning guitar at the age of 8 and wrote his first composition, some smaltzy child-like bullshit about Jesus, the following year. Here his is playing “Cannonball Rag” like a maniac with Tommy Emmanuel (starts around 0:52):
I don’t know why I’m surprised by this, because playing the guitar like an appalachian cowboy is this man’s one and only job, but I guess I operate under the assumption that all popular and commercially successful musicians are actually just docile cows who have been hexed and glamoured with sparkly money and spells into looking like dancing and smiling humans with holes in their sides to put cash in. So, good on you Brad.
Finally, my top favorite, all time best ever #1 Brad Paisley fact is this charming story:
In 1991, he took some girl on a first date to see Father of the Bride, which is a film about the transfer of a property from one man’s holding to another, the first becoming rather sentimental as he remembers the 19 or so years he spent with his property, but eventually realizing that she now will be unable to garner him any profit and will simply drain his food stores, and therefore happily passing her on to a new and younger sucker so she may hopefully incubate his masculine children in her womb.
I wasn’t old enough to really appreciate any films in 1991 besides The Muppets Christmas Carol or Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, so I can’t really say how popular young culture viewed the film at the time. I do remember that its star was Kimberly Williams, who played some basketball with Steve Martin at midnight and was overall pretty fine. Brad Paisley apparently thought so too, and said to himself “fuck this girl I’m on a date with – THAT is the ho for me!” He then carried a wee torch for Williams in his cowboy heart for years, going to see Father of the Bride Part II alone, to watch a really disturbing double-mother-daughter birth scene and pine away. In 2001, he named his album Part II, which is an allusion to this sequel. He then somehow got Williams to come hang out with him – presumably by hiring her to be in a music video – and they then married in 2003. They have a son named Huckleberry “Huck” and some other kid. Now they live in Nashville and watch football with William Shatner on the weekends.
I’ve told you all this information basically because I’m trying to point out that Brad Paisley might just be kind of fascinating, and he might be thinking a little about the ridiculous words he writes in his songs more than I give him credit for, and all of this poetic-meat might not be a total accident.
Whichever it is, I really hope that the amount of time I’ve spent thinking about this incredible gem will never, ever impede it’s comic beauty and unstoppable, redneck charm: