You may have noticed a shared motif among some of the videos as we’ve neared the end of this countdown. It’s something along the lines of “ignorance is bliss”. Toby Keith wants to go back to a time when he didn’t know. Randy Travis is trying to pretend reality is a dream. Wynonna is going to shut her eyes to a scene of loss. You get the idea.
Superficially, this confirms a deeply- ingrained stereotype about stupid red-state Americans who are afraid to face the cold, hard truths of life, and now the country’s going to hell. Watching these, though, I don’t sense fear so much as wariness. They may not be experts on all of the intricacies of Global Warming, but they’ve been around enough to have a feel for the intrinsic sadness and disappointment of life. It’s not that they’ve insulated themselves from the sting of strife with Jesus and Wal-Mart; quite the opposite, actually. They are especially attuned to the realities of tragedy, and have faced so much of it already, they just don’t know if they can withstand anymore.
It’s easy to make condescending judgements when you’ve gone to private schools your whole life, got your PHd from Harvard, and now spend a comfortable life in a lab or at a University. (Speaking of deeply-ingrained stereotypes…) You only face difficult information from afar, after all; it doesn’t really touch you. It touches the group of whom Judd and Keith and Travis represent.
Our top song could not express this idea more fully, or more beautifully. It also expresses it hopefully. In stupid red-state terms, this song is cautiously optimistic. The speaker is able to pull himself far enough back to understand that ignorance is, in a way, the antidote to fear: without it, we’d be too afraid to go out and experience life’s beauty. The speaker is mournful, too — but he has no regrets. None that he’s going to allow himself to feel, anyway.
Like all great songs, you can understand this song either personally or universally, depending on what you need it to be at that particular moment. These are some of the best lyrics ever written, to be sure. But it’s the performer’s phrasing that pushes this song from beautiful tear-jerker to a Classic — of Country Music, of Modern Music, of American Music. (And if you haven’t guessed who that performer is at this point, consider that any countdown dealing with 90s-era country music would be incomplete without him).
That being said, I highly recommend you skip the first 30 seconds of this video, as said performer manages to make a complete ass of himself with his preliminary commentary.
That being said, even his self-important, breathy interpretation cannot stop this song from making me profoundly sad. In a way that my 7-year-old self was just barely beginning to understand. In a way that my 22-year-old self admittedly understands only marginally better.