Clarence Page: Jason Aldean’s dream is my nightmare
Summer is half over, and I’m still looking to see what the “song of the summer” is going to be.
Jason Aldean’s controversial hit song, “Try That In A Small Town,” is “a bold display of the right-wing resentments that have fueled Donald Trump’s MAGA movement,” Clarence Page writes. Jason Kempin/Getty Images/TNS
That’s not as easy to determine as it used to be before top 40 radio playlists lost their taste-making dominance to TikTok, YouTube and other newer technologies.
More recently, “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X reminds me of 2020, when that country-flavored song won the rapper, singer and songwriter the Grammy for Best Music Video, despite some purists who had questioned – questionably – whether the Black artist’s song was “country” enough. The TikTok generation, among other consumers, came to the rescue. By the end of 2019, users of platforms such as YouTube and Spotify had streamed “Old Town Road” more than 2 billion times.
It may sound a bit naive now, but I actually felt encouraged by the rise of a Black star to such heights in country music, especially after I later found out he also is gay. The times are changing, I thought, even in country music.
Well, I later found, maybe not so much.
All of which serves as backdrop for the current summer’s new, racially charged controversy in the music world: Jason Aldean’s hit song “Try That In A Small Town,” a catchy anthem that has been selling like the latest iPhone to some music consumers, while others want to cancel it as unsubtle hate speech.
I call it a bold display of the right-wing resentments that have fueled Donald Trump’s MAGA movement – “Make America Great Again,” if you somehow haven’t heard of that – and undoubtedly will be heard at the former president and current candidate’s campaign rallies soon.
I first heard of Aldean as most people probably did, after a gunman opened fire on the crowd attending his performance at a 2017 music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada. He killed 58 people (two others died later from their injuries) and wounded more than 500 before he then killed himself in the Mandalay Bay hotel.
Like most music stars, especially those who still are trying to make a name for themselves, Aldean is known to have steered clear of politics rather than risk alienating his audiences, much like Michael Jordan’s famous observation – delivered in jest, Jordan insists – that “Republicans buy sneakers too.”
Yet, the rise of Trump and the outspokenness of the music star’s Instagram influencer wife, Brittany Kerr Aldean, known for disparaging the parents of transgender youths, among other issues, apparently persuaded Aldean to drop his shyness about politics.
Yet, as much as I support Aldean’s right to be wrong when his views differ from my own, I am more annoyed when his views serve to stoke tribal anger, fears, resentments and suspicions more than to appeal to reason, as corny as reasonableness may sound to some angry minds these days.
His new hit gives you a lot to be upset about, even though it is built on nightmare fantasies stirred up by the evening news and political ads aimed at the “hellhole” of crime in American cities.
Sucker-punch somebody on a sidewalk
Carjack an old lady at a red light
Pull a gun on the owner of a liquor store
You think it’s cool, well, act a fool if you like
Cuss out a cop, spit in his face
Stomp on the flag and light it up
Yeah, you think you’re tough
Well, try that in a small town
See how far you make it down the road
Around here, we take care of our own
I don’t know if Aldean really came from a small town, but I did. It was a southern Ohio factory town to which my African American parents moved from Alabama decades ago for the same reason that most of the local white folks did: seeking the American Dream, which meant opportunities to get well-paying jobs, raise families, get educated and climb steps to upward mobility.
Unfortunately, as in so many other “Rust Belt” factory towns, the jobs and, too often, the local economy played out in recent decades. The resulting job loss has left a lot of people singing the blues – or whatever their favorite music might be.
Listen to haters of cities, and you hear what sounds like a Republican campaign ad: scenes of urban violence and chaos juxtaposed with the genteel small-town life of great American dreams.
It’s a beautiful dream, well worth dreaming about and working to achieve as a united country of Americans – working together. We need to stop letting politics get in the way of our better selves.
Small towns are nice. Small minds are self-defeating.