I’ve been putting off this off, because there’s no way to have this discussion without sounding condescending — the opposite of the tone I’m striving for on this countdown. But I just can’t post song #7 without dealing with the video that accompanies it, and the context in which that video was made. I’ll try to be as quick about this as I possibly can.
In my background post, I mentioned that one of the first things that drew me to country music at 6 was how straightforward the videos were. I especially liked how, very frequently, you could see the performer singing (lip-synching, but I didn’t know this at the time) his or her song, making eye contact with the audience. My listening comprehension has never been great, and I’ve always had more trouble understanding song lyrics than most. (It wasn’t until about the age of 5 that I realized songs lyrics were actually comprised of coherent thoughts, and not just a bunch of words jumbled together that sounded nice with the melody). So it was very nice to be able to watch the expression on the singer’s face, as it made it easier to understand the nature of what he or she was singing about.
All of these videos tend to be literal to a fault (as Erin pointed out a few songs back) and the action in the video is unquestionably faithful to the story told in the song. Toby Keith releases a single about driving past the house he has been exiled from? Then Toby Keith shall make a video for that single in which he is driving past that house in the “old fixer-up.” Couldn’t be simpler.
Meanwhile, over at MTV…
The only two pop/rock videos I really remember being conscious of during this period were Annie Lennox’s Little Bird, which featured multiple Annie Lennox personae on screen at the same time (my mother thought this was just about the coolest thing she’d ever seen at the time), and R.E.M.’s Losing My Religion, which featured prominent biblical imagery, and an ominous little balding man (I thought this was just about the most frightening thing I’d ever seen at the time).
The Losing My Religion video seems loosely based on the song (insofar as you can tell what’s going on in either), but Little Bird the video demonstrates almost zero correlation to Little Bird the song. There isn’t even a bird. And these two may not be entirely representative — but they’re certainly not extreme, either. Mainstream music videos were supposed to be somewhat avant-garde and obtuse. (You remember that Blind Melon video with the small girl dressed as a tap-dancing bumble-bee?)
Country music videos were not. It’s tempting to attribute this to the relative newness of these videos, and claim that they simply hadn’t evolved to the level of sophistication of their pop/rock counterparts. But country music videos weren’t that much younger than mainstream ones (CMT debuted in 1983), and if you look at videos by Carrie Underwood and Kenny Chesney today, they’re only slightly more abstract than Clint Black videos from 15 years ago.
It has a lot to do with the audience. Country music fans have not historically been early adapters (this is changing now, but back then it was still true), and if they were going to be sold on something as new-fangled as a tiny movie that played while you listened to the song, it needed to be made as familiar and un-foreign as possible. I’m not saying country music fans aren’t less able to appreciate subtly and art; I’m just saying they aren’t as turned on by novelty. The songs were usually more story-oriented than mainstream songs to begin with, and this further lended itself to more straightforward videos that helped to tell the story.
And yes, OK, it’s a little ridiculous that the director felt the need to dramatize each verse in the number 10 song, but would you really have rather seen a small, unsympathetic child in a bumble-bee suit tap-dancing to it?
This all being said, the video for Number 7 is flat-out indefensible. It’s a perversion of the standard country/western video, really. The video for number 7 does tell a story — it’s just a story that ignores a big part of the story the song’s telling. I’m guessing the creators envisioned this abomination as a grandiose epic (“Like Thriller, but for a Country audience!” is how I imagine them pitching it to the network execs.) Perhaps this is how they were able to justify the intrusive snippets of dialogue interrupting the lyrics. How they were able to justify naming Travis Tritt’s character “Mac” is a mystery that I’d rather leave unsolved. But so this ends up looking a lot like the music video for a song off of a movie soundtrack. Except that:
1. This is not a real movie.
2. Travis Tritt is not a real actor.
2a. Nor is he a real paraplegic.
2ai. Nor does him feigning paraplegia enhance the power of the song.
2aii. I don’t think it’s really advisable for a paraplegic to be moving his head so violently when he lip synchs.
3. His African-American side-kick is not the real Danny Glover.
3a. RACIST. I can’t quite put it into words. I just know on a very deep level that it is.
3b. Every time I hear the sidekick exclaim “Go GET ’em, Mac,” in my head, it makes me feel ashamed for wanting to share this with you. Like I’m about to inflict something horrible on you, from which you will never quite recover.
4. That scene where she hits her head. We lived on the lake, and we had a dock with boats. And they’re pretty graphic with what they show. So this was almost as traumatic as Losing My Religion. Thank God Michael Stipe doesn’t make a cameo.
I’m not saying that a little creative license is always a bad thing, and I’m not saying other Country Music videos didn’t frequently employ it (as we’ve already seen). But these people held a creative license to kill. The song suffers from this video treatment, and that’s something no video should ever do.
Even more damning: having to talk so much about this Godforsaken video has left me very little time to discuss the song. It’s more of a power ballad than a Country song, and it’s a little overblown, but that doesn’t stop it from breaking your heart. I love the way he goes from nearly shouting “You didn’t say you don’t love me anymore” to the soft, pleading, “It was just my imagination telling lies,” as if the futility of the deception he’s trying to will himself into has suddenly hit him, and knocked the wind out of him afresh. The idea of having to wake up and face anew the loss from which sleep had briefly allowed you some respite, and then spend the rest of your day trying to convince yourself that it didn’t happen in order to manage the pain so that you can function is harrowing. I leave it to you to decide whether it is more or less harrowing than watching the following music video in its entirety.