By Charles Aaron & Jessica Hopper
Top 40 country has never been bashful about marketing its music as only one element of a nostalgic, simpler, distressed-rural lifestyle – the equivalent of, say, any other leisure activity or gear. The easy cliché of mainstream country is that it’s just dudes shorthanding Good Ol’ Boy good times by listing cheap beers, truck parts, bonfires, dogs, farm implements, items of women’s clothing, and anything else that telegraphs nostalgia for the American South and all it values.
Superstar Eric Church, country’s reigning alt-broseph, has just released a signature line of home furnishings that is heavy on that vibe of rural distress. Highway to Home offers four collections of bedroom, dining, and living room, with occasional furniture that is a “natural extension of [Church’s] family heritage” in the furniture biz. It is also a reflection of the home as the ultimate “destination” and is inspired by Church’s life on the road. In a promotional video clip, Church states that he feels like he’s spent “the last 20 years runnin’ from the furniture business.” Evidently, he did not run fast or far enough. Nevertheless, here are our reviews of the six choicest items from the Highway to Home collection. Please note that we have not sat on a single ottoman, only judged them harshly from afar.
Aaron: Eric Church has skillfully sold his rep as the enlightened, Wilco-listening not-a-bro-not-yet-a-sexist-rodeo-clown of Nashville and it’s worked remarkably well, earning him multiple Grammys and platinum albums. He’s a total dude who indulges his rowdy, weed-puffing, southern-rock side but fully rocks in the arena of the true-blue, respectful American who loves his wife, his ball cap, his aviator shades, and his deftly scruffy facial hair. Of course, this means he walks a fine line of decorum, and some of Church’s lyrical flourishes have been less than progressive over the years, most famously in “Devil Devil,” where he railed against Music Row in the well-worn form of woman-as-evil-temptress. For example: “Like a beacon she goes seeking seed, her loins so fertile / To a free man she’s a prison, to a caged one she’s a fire” or “For she’s seen ’em come and seen ’em go / And came herself a time or two, no matter / How satisfied her scream sounds, she always wants someone new.” Classy stuff. So it’s no surprise that some of the descriptions of the Highway to Home furnishings might lean a little bit sketchy, as with this strangely feminized ottoman (“Joanna”) and its “clever double entendre” etching “Good Girls Never Miss Church” on the front in old-timey lettering. And what is the “not your grandfather’s foot stool” ad copy implying here? Is the suggestion that something besides pawpaw’s slippers might grace the “well-padded, inviting seat”? And I’m not even gonna touch the “generous storage compartment.” Eric, ain’t no two ways about it, you are one naughty son of a bitch.
Hopper: Keep your eyes peeled for my line of Feminist Clap Back Ottomans in an Etsy store near you.
Hopper: This was “inspired by the eclectic music and lifestyle of Eric Church.” I cannot imagine what kind of lifestyle I would have to be living to have it represented by a pleather-ass sectional with guitar-neck detailing that’s a foot sink shy of being a pedicure chair. Also, does each seat individually recline, or if you wanna lay back on the couch, does everyone else on it have to agree to flip it to repose as well?
Aaron: I was wondering about that too; if somebody gets too frisky with the recliner function, domestic beer bottles could go flying. But as someone who recently purchased a fairly large leather couch (thanks, Costco fam!), I can attest to the comfort side of this equation, though the Church collection’s couch and love seat are actually “embossed Microfiber” that gives “the rich look of brown leather.” Which is to say, IT AIN’T LEATHER. The only reason people buy Microfiber is if they have kids or pets who are constantly defacing every surface in the house, or if the couch is located in a “man cave” where your guests are prone to fouling the environment with beverage and nacho cheese spillage. Unfortunately, I can’t personally speak to the actual “power” of the power-recliner function, or its decadent cup holders and secret compartments for remotes and controllers (that’s some high-tone shit right there, homie). But after checking some message boards on other sites re: the leather versus Microfiber situation, I came across this gem of testimony: “Leather is more fun when you want to ... ok that part I'll skip.” Thank you, sir.
Aaron: The song lyrics on the side of this patriotic minibar are taken from “Talladega,” an excellent Church tune about a road trip from Nashville to northeast Alabama by “five best friends on four bald tires” in “daddy’s old Winnebago” to check out a NASCAR race at the fabled Talladega Superspeedway. Feel-good nostalgia abounds, with the guys shooting off Roman candles at the moon and drinking whiskey till sun-up. The closest similar reminiscence I have is of road tripping from Athens, Georgia, to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with a car full of college friends to see Grandmaster Flash and U2 open for Todd Rundgren in a football stadium in the rain. Not exactly as powerfully poetic or as “southern” a memory, I know, but FML. I suppose this item would be the “centerpiece” of either pre- or post-road trip entertaining, and what’s more patriotic than a “stemware rack and an adjustable shelf that flips over to become a bottle rack?” Not a goddamned thing, am I right? Everybody, now, together, “LOCK HER …” Woops, my bad, “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”
Hopper: This two-foot-tall home for your booze and booze cups is described as “Pure Americana.” “Americana,” as anyone who has perused Craigslist listings knows, is often used as a kind of code for “racist” home goods like lawn jockeys and Mammy dolls. I am not sure I would like the cabinet any more if it had the best line from “Talladega” on it, but “getting rowdy!” seems more fitting, and less Pinterest For Him.
Aaron: I have to admit, Jessica, I am totally baffled by this product. Why would anyone want to pedal while parked on a bar stool? I mean, are Church’s fans that restless and bored?
Hopper: There is a demure steampunk edge to half this shit, but this one really seals the deal. You know how sometimes you see a Bowflex or a NordicTrack just get tossed out on the curb — people who got overly ambitious about their commitment to fitness or just realized that having this gym equipment in their guest room was a decorative nightmare? I imagine that Church made this for those people. It’s stealthy, it’s stationary, it’s a bike stool “built for one”! Get fit while you get hammered!
Aaron: Or toss it out on the curb.
Hopper: Normally, you think of sports cars as the emblem of your divorced dad’s midlife crisis, but this accent table is so precious, such a ginger beacon of “cool.” Has a frosted glass table ever so signaled the fear that your best years are behind you?
Aaron: Honestly, I am stunned that Jack White didn’t come up with this first. In fact, this whole collection reminds me of something Jack White would hawk, if he were a just-folks country star instead of an alien indie life-form. Of course, he would make sure everything was created and assembled by hand and 45s would be embedded all over the place, but, otherwise, the vintage, curated-lifestyle vibe is very Third Man goes Cracker Barrel.
Aaron: No sexy-times description here, just a functional foot-resting place with those wistful lyrics from Church classic “Springsteen” and the same attention to good-ol’-days artisanal bullshit. On second thought, maybe you pull out this ottoman (“Melody”) after you’ve finished with “Joanna”? Ugh, this damn furniture is turning me into Brocephus.
Hopper: Church doubled down on this box — the distressed paint, the elaborate seaman-knotted rope handles, the poofy heart detailing stenciled with a worn emo vaguery that looks like someone wrote it in Sharpie. Yet! YET! It is still an empty wooden box that is 18 inches tall with a pillow on top, which costs as much as a ticket to see Church perform at The Gorge this weekend.