The AV Club’s observation that Toby Keith’s latest reminds them of Built to Spill reminded me that I’ve always thought that Keith is one of the more misunderstood politicized musicians out there. Some of that’s self-inflicted. Yes, “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue,” is an incredibly unsubtle revenge song, too easily repurposed as a war cry rather than a call for taking out the actual perpetrators of 9/11 (Most Wanted List references notwithstanding), and one that Keith probably rode on a bit too long and let obscure his actual views on things like the war in Iraq (he’s against it, and is generally supportive of Obama’s Afghanistan policies — ironically, James Jones was the person who told Keith to actually record the song) a bit too much:
But as much as it’s totally obnoxious, it was interesting to see how near-universal the emotions in it were when American troops killed Osama bin Laden. The song of the night might have been “Party in the USA,” which if anything, is an even more dissonant soundtrack, a distraction from the fact that folks were celebrating a man’s death. But the emotions were pure Keithisms. In the run-up to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, it made sense to treat revenge as if it was an unacceptable emotion because it seemed to legitimatize a wider field of military action (particularly the perception that the invasion of Iraq was payback for Saddam’s anti-Bush I animus). But if “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” had been released in the immediate aftermath of bin Laden’s death, I can’t imagine it would have been as remotely controversial as it was when it was released in 2002.
Interestingly, “Made In America” has a hedge against controversy in its encomium to a man who “breaks his heart seeing foreign cars / Filled with fuel that isn’t ours / And wearing cotton we didn’t grow,” cautioning that “He ain’t prejudiced / He’s just / Made in America”:
It’s a fairly straightforward articulation of why it’s admirable to dig a little deeper to support American industry, which I suspect will go entirely unnoticed by the hipsters who buy American Apparel for the local production.
Then there’s Keith’s reconciliation of evangelical Christianity and premarital sex:
Now, Toby Keith is not one of America’s great political thinkers. He’s much more conservative than I am on lots of issues. He was at least briefly seduced by the clarion call of Sarah Palin. But he’s a valuable illustration of a basic fact: conservatives are much better at uncomplicated expressions of patriotism than liberals are, even as liberals are (with the exception of drilling in the Arctic, etc.) much better than conservatives at the substance of supporting the troops and people who work in American industry. It should be enough to win policy debates on the merits, but messages are powerful.