Saturday, August 28, 2010

Beer For My Horses

We're living in an age where any damn thing at all can be made into a motion picture. We've got movies based on TV shows, comic books, video games, theme park rides, other movies, board games, and big-headed tween slut dolls. This one right here, Beer For My Horses, is an action-comedy based on a Toby Keith song guest-starring Willie Nelson. It's about vigilante justice, which is odd, because the movie's about cops. Also, not only are there no beer-drinking horses, I actually don't remember seeing any horses at all. Then again, it might be wishful thinking to expect that kind of thematic consistency from a movie in which impending doom is announced by a farting bulldog.

Before we get to the movie, I'm gonna make an announcement that will probably blow your mind. You should go get a drink of water or some smelling salts or something just in case. I will not be held liable for any bodily harm that may befall you due to fainting and/or seizure caused by reading the following statement.

I like country music.

I ain't talking about Johnny Cash, neither. Everybody likes Johnny Cash. If you don't like Johnny Cash, congratulations, you're an asshole. Come on up to the front and get your certificate, which is in the form of a big, brown "A" tattooed right on your fucking forehead. The "A" stands for asshole, asshole.

So, obviously, I like Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard and David Allan Coe and all that old school outlaw country it's cool to have at least a passing appreciation of. But that's not the country I'm talking about. I'm talking about country country. The kind of music cool people hate more than any other. The kind of music made by ignorant rednecks, for ignorant rednecks. I ain't embarrassed about it, though, and let me tell you why.

Well, first, let me make it clear that I ain't talking about no pussified country. If it sounds like Celine Dion with steel guitars, I hate it just as much as you do. Unfortunately, that's about 95% of the country that's out there. That's why you can't buy country by the album. You have to cherry-pick the good songs and make a mix. A good country song possesses the same gumbo of irreverence, showmanship, absurdity, braggadocio, and unexpected emotion that I look for in a good B-movie. And just like a B-movie, you can usually tell whether it's gonna be a good one based on the title. You see a song called "Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)" or "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk," you know you're in good hands. You learn to look for certain keywords, like "beer," "redneck," "drinking," "truck," "bottle," "Texas," "six-pack," or any combination of the words "kick" and "ass." But whatever you do, stay the fuck away from any country song with the word "love" in the title. Those songs are for overweight housewives from Utah whose husbands spend too much time at Home Depot.

Now that that's out of the way, I must stress that I don't just listen to country. I listen to all kinds of music. Everybody says that, but what they really mean is they listen to everything from U2 to Pearl Jam. I really mean it, though. On any given day, I could be found rocking out to German pirate metal, early nineties New York hip-hop, vintage British punk, cheesy eighties synth pop, trendy bands with three full-time French horn players, and/or any of Mike Patton's estimated 975 side projects. I am a well-rounded motherfucker. If a song makes me feel something, whether it's making me want to laugh, cry, dance, or punch somebody in the neck, I consider that a good song, no questions asked. I don't give a fuck if it's cool or original or well-played or anything. All I care about is the effect it has on me. In the words of the great prophet Andrew W.K., "I love music / I love to feel / I love to get through."

I think a lot of modern music forgets about that last part. It makes no attempt to connect with the listener. It's so desperately poetic and willfully obscure that you can't relate to it. It makes a nice sound, but what's it saying? Think about it. What is the average contemporary rock song even about? Half the time, you can't even understand the words the singer's slurring, and even when you can, they don't mean a damn thing. All the average contemporary rock song seems to be about is a vague sense of dissatisfaction. I actually listen to a lot of that shit, but it's not exactly the kind of thing you want to raise a beer and sing along to.

Country's not like that, though. It always wants to connect, and that's important to me. Its subject matter is the stuff of good times: drinking, driving fast, picking up chicks, and not giving a fuck. These are rock staples, but rock has largely abandoned them in favor of navel-gazing and angst. It's the same thing that happens to every art form on its journey to redundancy: It loses touch with the basic gristle of human life, turning ever inward, until only its practitioners and the most devoted of aesthetes can appreciate it. It happened to once-popular mediums like poetry, theater, and jazz, and if things don't turn around, it'll happen to rock, too. Some day, if the Radioheads of the world have their way, the only place you'll be able to hear rock is in a cocktail lounge. Snobs will be sipping white wine and thinking real hard about every note, while outside, the rest of humanity is having a great time drinking and singing along to whatever new form of music has deigned to come down from its pedestal and talk about shit that matters to them.

Take Toby Keith, for instance. Now, I'll be the first to admit that his politics are somewhat less than progressive. "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue" is a horribly jingoistic and short-sighted song that I happen to find hilarious. I don't agree with its mission statement that "put[ting] a boot in your ass" is "the American way," but I have to admit that it's a fun fantasy along the lines of a mid-eighties Chuck Norris movie. I kind of wish that we were that righteous and that all we had to do was find the right asses to kick to set the world straight, but I know that ain't so. Luckily, it's just a song. It's not a foreign policy doctrine. But he's also got a song called "Get Drunk And Be Somebody" that I can totally get behind. Its message has gotten me through some rough times. It's about working all week for people who don't give a fuck about you, then going out on Friday night and being with your friends and feeling like maybe it's all worth it. Who can't relate to that? You hear it once and you already know the chorus by heart. You know what it's about just from the title. It ain't trying to prove how smart it is. It's just trying to make you feel better about your shitty life. Because guess what, hipster bands? Most people have to go to work every day. We don't live in a loft with 18 other art school kids, so we can't really relate to your danceable but aloof songs about Kierkegaard and ennui. We have real problems, so we don't need to manufacture depression through music just to feel something. We'd rather listen to a song that makes us transcend all that bullshit and feel good about ourselves for a change.

That brings me to the topic of joy. Isn't joy awesome? It's just about the best thing on earth, yet there are a whole bunch of joyless fucks out there. Let me tell you a little secret: The world don't wanna give you shit, so you better steal your joy where you can. If some country-western singer gets his from putting monster truck tires on his Ford F-150 and spitting his Copenhagen juice into a Big Gulp cup, who the fuck am I to argue? And if he can convey that sense of joy to me—a sarcastic New York liberal—then doesn't that make the world a better place for everybody? Even though I've never gone hunting or been in a honkytonk or worn my straight-leg jeans up to my sternum, I know what he's getting at. He's just trying to express himself through the iconography of his time and place. It's just like when a rapper talks about his gold chain or when a metal band sings about swords. These items are just totems of their identities, like Batman's cape or Indiana Jones' hat. When a rapper talks about his 24-inch rims, he's really saying, "This is who I am, and I don't give a fuck if you don't like it." When a metal singer talks about the glory of battle, he's really saying "I am awesome. Deal with it." And when a country singer writes a song about sitting on his tractor, drinking sweet tea, he's saying "I am not embarrassed to be who I am," which is a sentiment that I think we can all stand to learn. When you're listening to a song, it doesn't really matter what the particulars are, as long as the theme is relatable. I can't relate to owning a pickup truck, but I can sure as shit to relate to being totally in love with a whole bunch of stuff that the rest of the world looks down on (See: every movie review I've ever written). Whatever you care about, whatever makes you get up in the morning and love being you, even if nobody else understands, that's your pickup truck. That's what the man's singing about. He's not singing about his gun rack and his Skoal Ring; he's singing about joy. And joy, my friends, is universal.

Anyway, that's a lot of shit to dump on a movie co-starring the guy who wrote a song called "Letter To My Penis." His name his Rodney Carrington, he's some kind of redneck comedian/novelty songwriter, and he's Toby Keith's sidekick.

In Beer For My Horses, Toby and Rodney play bumbling deputies who have to take the law into their own hands when Toby's high school girlfriend Claire Forlani (still the prissiest broad in movies, despite the halfway decent Oklahoma accent) gets kidnapped by Mexican meth dealers who dress like Scarface. Luckily, they've got Ted Nugent on their side. He plays the Snake Eyes of the Bible Belt, a mute bowman who was raised by Indians, carries two Tech Nines at all times, and has his badge tattooed on his chest. Needless to say, the Nuge rules, but he's just one small facet of a great cast. Tom Skerritt plays the leather trenchcoat-wearing sheriff; Willie Nelson pops up as the leader of a trailer park circus troupe; David Allan Coe says one unintelligible line but still scores with a 21-year-old blonde hooker with a gold cross dangling between her hooters; Gina Gershon has one scene as Toby's soon-to-be ex; the guy who played Booger plays yet another sleazy lawyer; and Barry Corbin (Northern Exposure, plus every movie ever made) is the jerky rich villain who makes fun of Toby because his dad died poor. It's a game of Spot The That Guy: Good Ol' Boy Edition. Also, Toby's character is named Rack, which makes me hope his first name is Gunther. (Think about it.)

Movie-wise, this is all very eighties. There's lot of wisecracking, some truck chases, an explosion, and a shootout in a bar where Toby gets to jump through the air shooting two pistols. And just when you least expect it, there are monkeys and midgets running around everywhere, though they're not half as surreal as the scene where Rodney sings an a capella version of "Shout!" with a bunch of multiethnic thugs who for some reason are hanging around a rest stop bathroom in the middle of nowhere, which seems to reinforce the theory that minorities are only acceptable to the masses if they can sing. None of this is gonna blow your skirt up or anything, but I don't know, I like this kind of movie. It's just a stupid buddy flick that they don't make anymore unless Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan are in it.

Anyway, having a fondness for country music will probably help you appreciate Beer For My Horses more. (By the way, the title refers to a toast: "Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses.") I ain't exactly recommending it, but I am recommending busting out a bottle of whiskey, a bucket of icy longnecks, a pack of Marlboro Reds, and a playlist of shit-kicking music. If you need some suggestions, give me a holler. And if your voice ain't hoarse the next day from singing along, I'm sorry, bud, but you ain't doing it right.

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