Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.
It was on a trip home to Albuquerque with my ex-boyfriend a few years ago that my music worlds first collided. We drove cross-country that year, from New York to New Mexico with our basset hound, Joni Mitchell, in the back seat. In between hanging out in front of the fireplace and taking him to old-school South Valley cafes to test his palate for super spicy food, we wandered to the couple-block stretch of Route 66, now called Central Avenue, which constitutes Albuquerque’s only attempt at real urbanity. There are a few cool cafes, a good vintage clothing spot and there used to be a fantastic record store, Natural Sound.
I bought all kinds of stuff for the first time at Natural Sound. When I cycle back in my head I can see the album covers laid out by era: Bjork’s Post, Mazzy Star’s So Tonight That I Might See, Dre’s The Chronic. And on breaks from college, by which time I had become more of a real music nerd, I would troll the used section for discarded treasures. In the same way that thrifting in unhip cities is so much better than in the big splashy ones, where everything is picked over, used record shopping in Albuquerque always unearthed stunning finds. That year the big score was the legendary Pavement bootleg Stray Slack.
"It’s the sound of sincerity and instant nostalgia, so emotionally basic it’s embarrassing, like seeing someone cry in public, but irresistible."
My ex was handing over our haul to the clerk, no doubt looking forward to a ride home on the freeway playing “Box Elder” at top volume (it wasn’t a harbinger, we’d stay together for quite a while after that) when he noticed I’d snuck another CD into our pile: The Judds Greatest Hits. “We bought all this wicked cool indie shit but you made me listen to that,” he recently recalled. “I prefer Judd Nelson.”
I have a secret fetish for country music. And honestly, The Judds are on the upstanding side of my taste spectrum. I love Taylor Swift. I know all the words to Reba McIntire’s “Fancy.” And the other day, when they played Miranda Lambert’s cover of Gillian Welch's “Look at Miss Ohio” over the speakers during savasana at my hot yoga class (it’s Albuquerque, they do that here) I almost started crying. She wants to do right but not right now!
Growing up, my parents tried to steer me straight. They bought me Rubber Soul for Christmas when I was like eight, and when I brought home Appetite For Destruction from a friend’s older sister the next year, my dad listened to it on headphones in the living room them promptly put it away in a drawer “until I was older,” immediately ensuring that I became obsessed with the record, which had initially scared me. But none of that good influence could combat the impact made by horseback riding and the culture that came with it.
I was a horsey girl. Summer camp was hanging out the barn, cleaning stalls and going for pony rides on the mesa and subsisting entirely on Big Gulps and Doritos and listening to the local pop country station, 92.3 KRST, all day, every day. As much as Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins and B-lister '90s rock bands like Stone Temple Pilots (those elegant bachelors) it was Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks and Sawyer Brown that constituted the soundtrack to my childhood and early adolescence.
As a result, today, I don’t feel like I’ve really come home until I’ve spent a day driving around listening to country radio. Because I never listen in New York, I never know the new singles but usually within the time it takes to drive through Sonic on my way to Target, I’ve got the top ten choruses down. The theme never changes. He’s lost his girl his job, been written off as a night school educated white trash loser but his faith in god and his truck will resurrect him. She’s been cheated on and abused and misunderstood but a good margarita and an open road is all she needs to redeem herself. It’s the sound of sincerity and instant nostalgia, so emotionally basic it’s embarrassing, like seeing someone cry in public, but irresistible.
“Is it the New Mexico thing, does this music remind you of home, or is it the purity, the basics of life stripped down and unadorned?” I asked one of my friends from home who is now based in New York and has of-the-city glamour you’d think was incompatible with pop country but who went to see Brad Paisley at Madison Square Garden. “YES!!,” she wrote back, attaching a photo of the artist’s butt. “It’s all of that.” There’s just no accounting for taste.