Melancholy melodies

Kevin Cowherd

December 04, 1992|By Kevin Cowherd

For the most part, newspapers today are filled with boring stories about economic summits and good cholesterol vs. bad cholesterol and "lifestyle" pieces on the latest touchy-feely way to raise children.

This is why so many people pick up the paper in the morning and discover their eyes closing mid-way through breakfast, to the point where they eventually find themselves slumped face-down in a bowl of Rice Krispies.

So imagine my surprise when I actually came across an interesting article while thumbing through the local rag during a visit to upstate New York.

The headline said: "Study links suicide and country music." Given the line of work I'm in, my first reaction was to lift my eyes heavenward and whisper: "Thank you."

Maybe there are people who can look at a headline like that and yawn and turn the page, but I'm not one of them.

Anyway, the gist of the story was this: an Auburn University sociologist had done a study of 49 metropolitan areas that showed that the greater the air time devoted to country music, the higher the suicide rate among white people.

Naturally, the country music community was in an uproar over the professor's findings, promptly labeling him a kook and an egghead and an elitist, which he might very well be.

Yet to me, the professor's findings made perfect sense, as listening to country music has always brought on an intense melancholia in my soul.

Oh, I'm not saying I listen to a Garth Brooks song and get all misty-eyed and think: "That's it. I'm throwing myself off a cliff . . ."

But if a person were forced to listen to, say, "Achy-Breaky Heart" several times a day, I could see that person eventually walking out to the garage, starting the car and sitting there until overcome by exhaust fumes.

I myself have only heard "Achy-Breaky Heart" once. But the song and the circumstances in which I heard it were so unnerving that, even today, the memory causes a chill to run up and down my spine.

What happened was, my wife was watching Arsenio Hall's show not long ago, and I was in another part of the room, doing my best to ignore it.

Suddenly I hear Arsenio shout something like: "Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for my man Billy Ray Cyrus!"

(Hey, you know how Arsenio gets. Look up the word "fawning" in the dictionary, the man's picture is right there.)

So I glance at the TV and here's ol' Billy Ray Cyrus, wearing a

shirt unbuttoned to his navel and these real tight jeans and his trademark ponytail.

The guy is real good-looking, too. So right away I don't like him. Plus my wife is fanning herself and practically drooling on the coffee table, which will get on your nerves after a while.

Anyway, what followed was a dreary (if frenetic) three minutes that consisted of Billy Ray mumbling something about his achy-breaky heart breaking, wiggling his butt and stomping his right leg like it was on fire.

When the song was over, Arsenio started jumping up and down like a kangaroo on Dexedrine, and the audience was hooting and barking.

And I thought: "If you add the flames, this is what it must be like in hell . . ."

Then Arsenio said something like: "Maybe if we put our hands together, Billy Ray'll sing another one . . ."

Which is when I sprinted out of the room and went to bed. Only I didn't sleep very well, as you can imagine.

The point is, you can't help but see the connection between that frightening incident and what that Auburn professor is saying.

The professor's study concluded that country music "nurtures a suicidal mood" with its emphasis on marital disputes, alienation from work and the like.

Which makes perfect sense to me, since every country song I've ever heard involves two-timing husbands, cheating wives, babies born out of wedlock, evil factory foremen, boozy 2 a.m. laments at the local honky-tonk, dogs getting run over, train wrecks, lonely, amphetamine-fueled days behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler, etc.

My God! If I listened to that stuff on a regular basis, I'd be gobbling fistfuls of Prozac like they were sunflower seeds.

Of course, I don't listen to a whole lot of country music. And people who do listen to it frequently say the newer country songs have far more cheerful themes.

I sure hope so. All I know is, up-tempo or not, the lyrics to "Achy-Breaky Heart" don't exactly remind anyone of "Happy Days Are Here Again."

Have the Kleenex handy, is all I'm saying.

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