It’s an old joke – every country song is about a man who lost his dog, his girlfriend broke up with him, his truck died, and so he broke out a bottle of whiskey. It might be a not so subtle jab at the genre, but the truth is that there is a long history between country music and alcohol use. These days, when we are more aware of the factors that play into addiction and the reality of triggers in relapse, people are asking whether entertainers should so cavalierly recommend drinking away your sorrows. Some experiments suggest that listening to music about drinking can directly influence a person to drink.
One of the earliest and biggest country music stars, Hank Williams, was a notorious drinker. His music career began in 1937, when he was hired by radio station WSFA to perform and host a short program. His contract with the radio station was terminated because of his alcohol abuse, something that would plague him throughout his life. He died at age 29, and although the circumstances surrounding his death remain somewhat of a mystery, most people agree that had both alcohol and morphine in his system.
Despite his tragic and untimely end, country music performers have sought ever since to emulate Williams. It became part of the culture – you wrote country music from the soul, and you couldn’t put soul into your singing unless you were drunk. Even though alcohol was viewed as necessary for creative output, singers recognized the dangers. For a while, these songs were bleak and heartbreaking. Clint Black wrote ‘Killin’ Time’ about an alcohol habit that the song’s protagonist feared would kill him. In 1978, George Jones – an alcoholic himself – covered the song Bartender’s Blues, which is told from the point of view of a bartender watching his customers struggle with their demons by falling into a bottle.
Today, drinking seems to be celebrated. Once again, everyone needs whiskey or beer, but this time it’s to have fun. In the song Drinkin’ Problems, the band Midland proclaims, “People say I got a drinkin’ problem, but I got no problem drinkin’ at all.” Toby Keith sings an ode to his ‘Red Solo Cup,’ thanking it not only for holding his beer, but for being his “lifelong” friend.
Even singers who don’t drink (or at least aren’t drinking at that very moment) try to portray an image of hard-partying rebels. On the television show The Voice, country music superstar Blake Shelton frequently jokes about how the glass at his elbow contains booze, or how he’s been drinking too much to make sense.
It’s a dangerous message they’re sending, particularly to younger fans. The Country Music Association reports that the 18-to-24 age group of country fans has increased by 54% in the last decade. Are we making too much of what’s supposed to be silly entertainment? Maybe, but when you consider that excessive drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths among underage youth each year, perhaps it’s time to cut back a bit on the notion that alcohol is all fun and games.
If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504.