Friday, November 02, 2007

Doyle & Debbie Trash Country Music

Category: Review

What a difference 24 hours makes. The opening of the Americana Music Association conference on Wednesday featured a tribute to the late Porter Wagoner, where people unashamedly professed their love for the man and his music. On Thursday, the Doyle & Debbie Show, showcased in the Listening Room at the conference, threw dirt in the face of every country music fan.

It’s a terrible shame that Doyle & Debbie (Bruce Arntson and Jenny Littleton, respectively) have decided to make ridiculing country music in the name of comedy their forte, for they are very talented singers. Indeed, if they opted for a different path, they could well be the vehicles for a resurgence of traditional country music. Instead, they have chosen to take every horrid, baseless stereotype about country music, country music performers, country music fans, and country lifestyle in general and cram it into their routine. If Hee Haw set country music back 50 years as some claimed when the classic show first aired in 1969, Doyle & Debbie’s brand of humor mercilessly throws it back to the Stone Age.

Without question, both singers have fine voices and a gift for writing songs. And, they do have some funny numbers (especially “Fat Women in Trailers”). However, things such as "Whine Whine, Twang Twang," “ABC’s of Love” (which owes very much to Merle Travis’ “Divorce Me C.O.D.”) and “Just Keep Me Barefoot and Pregnant” take their act far beyond comedy, or even satire. It’s downright rude.

We can have country humor without the smear. Sarah Cannon was a sophisticated, educated woman, yet she could make audiences howl as Minnie Pearl by using subtle stereotypes that celebrated country life. Tim Wilson writes songs that make people laugh with typecasting (e.g., his NASCAR songs “Dale Darrell Waltrip Richard Petty Rusty Awesome Bill Irvin Gordon Earnhardt Smith Johnson Jr.” and “Jeff Gordon’s Gay”) but without the insult (if you have not heard the latter, the title "is what them ornery Earnhardt fans always say," not a personal accusation). However, there is a line between inspiration from country life and insult to the same, and both the late Hall of Fame comedian and the modern country singer/comic know where it lies. Doyle & Debbie could take a lesson from either.


Anonymous said...

You have clearly missed the point of The Doyle & Debbie show. Bruce Arntson's artistic statement is about the hypocrisy and self-importance of the country music business. This isn't supposed to be a "celebration" of country music or country life, or anything close to Hee Haw. The Doyle & Debbie Show is cutting-edge satire, Hee Haw was anything but. This is not an homage, it's a skewering.

In Bruce's own words from an NPR interview, "Here in Nashville we have our own distinct version of show biz that always made me laugh, always made me giddy. And they present it in such a way that it's a very big deal, that you're witnessing something important, even though frequently, it's not."

Modern country music and modern country music stars take themselves far too seriously and so do their fans. While it's really all about making money and selling records, it's sold in such a way that the fans feel it's actually coming from the heart.

So until you're in on that joke, you surely won't appreciate The Doyle & Debbie Show.

Raizor's Edge said...

You're correct. It is much like Randy Newman's song "Rednecks," where you can get so caught up with his frequent use of the "N" word or the insults to "no-neck oilmen from Texas" that you miss the fact that Newman is really blasting the people who pushed African-American slaves into ghettos then boasted that they had done something noble by liberating the slaves.

I was (and am) all too happy to admit that I certainly based my initial review on the surface presentation, not on the actual underlying comedy. I published a subsequent review, which I hope you'll take time to read.

Anonymous said...

Doyle & Debbie show + backstage video

John H. Carmichael said...

It reminds me a little bit of Donald Fagen's record Nightfly, where he does a tune called "Walk Between the Raindrops" where he is making fun of a style of music, commenting on it really -- but people who like that style of music would still like the song. It's a very fine line to walk -- simultaneous deconstruction and reverence for the form. That is perhaps why they are getting such a deservedly great response.