by: Leslie Hale
When Editor-in-Chief Thomas D. Mooney sent me a link to Josh Abbott’s interview in Maxim, my response was a single-word reply:
And when he asked if I would like to write a response to be a two-part column for New Slang (First Part here), I said I’d be glad to. I already had a rant forming in my head; I might as well put it down on paper.
Before I get started, though, let me say that I am approaching this whole thing from a biased perspective, for two reasons:
1. I’m a man-hating feminist killjoy.
2. I think Josh Abbott is one of the worst things to ever happen to Texas music.
I understand that I’m not likely to gain friends or fans with either of those statements, but I felt, in the interest of transparency, I should let you know where I’m coming from. Consider yourself warned.
Now, I understand that Maxim is a certain type of publication targeted to a certain demographic. I wasn’t expecting exceptional journalism, and I don’t begrudge them their angle.
Similarly, I understand that Abbott makes a certain type of music for a certain type of fan. I don’t necessarily begrudge him that, either. My resentment for him really doesn’t have a lot to do with him as a person or even a musician, I guess, so much as the attention he gets.
For a long time, I thought the mania was just because he was a local boy (and even then, I couldn’t understand why he got so much attention when there were so many better musicians in Lubbock being ignored). But then I moved to Austin, and people here loved him too. It blew my mind. It still does.
Let me tell you something. I still vividly remember the first time I heard Abbott on the radio. I’d say it was 2010-ish. I was driving, and “Taste” came on the radio. My initial thought was, “This guy has a really awful voice.” Then, “This is some really awful production.” Then, “Wow, I cannot believe someone wrote these lyrics and was cruel enough to subject other human beings to them.” This song literally contains the line, “I want to touch you there.” It sounds like it was written by a 6th grade boy who has never actually kissed a girl.
Not long after, “She’s Like Texas” came out, and it was inescapable. We were all doomed. Abbott had found his wheelhouse. A sad fact of Texas country music is that all it really takes to write a popular song is to mention a pretty girl and name-drop a couple of Texas cities so that when you play those towns, all the Daisy-Dukes-clad girls and their cowbro boyfriends can yell and throw beer around when you say their town’s name. It’s a formula that Josh and several others have mastered, and it’s served them well.
But I’m not here to critique Abbott’s music. That’s just the inevitable result every time I begin talking about him, because wow, he really is awful.
Anyway, what I am here to talk about is the wider implications of his recent interview with Maxim. I thought about it and decided that the best way to approach this would be to pull out the specific quotes that got me riled up and respond to them one by one. So, here we go.
“It’s a learning curve for people to figure out the balance act in terms of partaking in the partying and constant drinking and drugs and everything else goes on because all that stuff goes on in country music. I think you just have to be grounded to figure out who you are and not get lost in all that. But I think the partying is just a part of it. When we go to play, it’s not at a sit-down theatre where people just want to listen to these life- changing songs. We’re there to promote a party atmosphere. We’re there to make sure everyone has a great time, drinks, dances, meets somebody and maybe get laid that night.”
I get where Abbott is coming from here. I do. My favorite band in the world is the Turnpike Troubadours, and while their lyrics are amazing, they’re incredible musicians, and they have all the chops to be a legendary act in Texas/Red Dirt music, they’re also a party band. Their shows get crazy. People get drunk. People dance. It’s part of the atmosphere. With a few exceptions, you don’t go to a Texas country show expecting to sit quietly and enjoy a pleasant evening of music.
What I resent is the implication that you have to choose between good music and party music. What Abbott appears to be saying here is that you can’t be a band with substance and still have that rowdy party atmosphere at your shows. Turnpike, Rodney Parker, Dirty River Boys and others have proven otherwise. What Abbott really means is that he can get that atmosphere without even going to the trouble of writing decent songs, so why bother?
Let’s think for a moment about what this tells the world about Texas music. Abbott–one of red dirt’s biggest stars–is using a widely read national magazine as a platform to tell the world “Texas music isn’t meant to be taken seriously. It’s not real art. All we care about is that everyone at our shows buys beer and gets laid.” This quote solidifies what I’ve been saying about Josh Abbott for years: he’s giving a bad name to one of the few remaining musical genres with any dignity.
But what I especially love about this quote is Abbott’s condescending attitude toward these unnamed “people” who just get carried away with the booze and drugs and sex, the poor things. It’s a good thing Abbott is “grounded” so he doesn’t “get lost in all that.” Pretty rich coming from the guy who, six months ago, had a very public meltdown on Twitter about drinking too much, doing drugs, and cheating on his wife with girls he met at shows.
“I think part of trying to identify and market your music isn’t to pander it. It’s to figure out who your demographic is. And it just so happened that the music I enjoyed writing and perhaps the vocal delivery I have was more attractive too [sic] younger college females. So that’s the direction we marketed. I think it helps when we write these songs for girls about not letting their spirits get down or overcoming obstacles. On our last album, we had a song called “She Will Be Free” and on this new EP we have one called “She Don’t Break.” It’s all about this girl who gets down, maybe her and her most recent love interest are on the rocks but at the end of the day her and her friends aren’t gonna let her break.”
Again, I would like to point out just how condescending Abbott is being here. Newsflash, fellas: women don’t need you to tell them that they’re strong. Why would a man write a song celebrating female independence and the power of female relationships for any reason other than pandering? Why would a man write a song about a breakup from a woman’s point of view, or with the woman as the central protagonist? These songs are nothing more than the lament of the “friendzoned” crybaby who says he’s celebrating a woman’s strength but is really just happy that another guy didn’t get the girl, because maybe now he has a chance. He’s the nice guy who’s going to save you from all those other guys, the one who’s going to build you up by using empty words to tell you how amazing and powerful you are…just before he gets wasted and cheats on you with a groupie.
And let’s not act like “She Will Be Free” is some sort of anthem of female empowerment. This song contains quite possibly the dumbest lyric in the history of music: “Her heart is a river in my blood.” I will personally give Abbott one of those big checks for $100,000,000 if he can explain to me what that lyric means. He can’t, because it doesn’t mean anything. It literally doesn’t make any sense. He just thought it sounded like something an empowered woman would like to hear, which shows just how little he actually knows about empowered women.
Bottom line: men, let women write about their own experiences, because frankly, you don’t know what you’re talking about. To paraphrase a song written by Adam Hood and Brian Keane and butchered by Abbott, let them sing about their own lives–and you sing about yours.
“Every now and then, depending on where your exit is on stage, you can run into those situations where there’s fans and beautiful girls that are there to say, “Hello.” But it’s not like the movie where I’d go “Okay you, you and you, we’re about to rock.” I mean you can definitely have your fun. And now that I’m single I do.”
“And now that I’m single I do.”
I know I keep dragging this out, but remember, this dude admitted to cheating on his wife for years. What does being single have to do with anything?
And while we’re on the topic, I’d like to say a couple of things about Abbott’s Twitter meltdown.
I know I don’t know Abbott or his ex-wife. I know I wasn’t there. I don’t know what was said behind closed doors. This is simply an outsider’s perspective.
But if I were his (now ex) wife, I would be humiliated and angry that he made my pain public. The whole thing seemed like him trying to save face, to portray himself as a reformed sinner ready to right his wrongs. And at one point, he went so far as to portray himself as a victim, saying his cheating and debauchery was a result of “the temptations we as artists and celebrities face” that are “unreal to many of you”.
Abbott’s multi-tweet rant went on and on about his struggles with drugs, alcohol and sexual temptation, the burdens of “celebrity”, his trying to get right with God and be transparent with his fans. In other words, it was all about him. In the entire debacle, he devoted exactly one tweet to the pain he caused his wife. It wasn’t his focus, it was an afterthought.
A person who is truly sorry doesn’t make excuses. Someone who is aiming to become “an accountable human being” doesn’t place the blame on the temptations that come with being a celebrity. And a person who loves and respects his wife, who he cheated on multiple times and hurt in unfathomable ways, doesn’t drag her pain out in the open and beg forgiveness from his fans. The only person’s forgiveness he should have cared about was hers. Evidently, he didn’t get it.
The last quote is from the interviewer herself:
“A few minutes after Josh (politely) hung up, he called back to admonish me for not telling him I was a “pretty blonde girl.” He then invited me on tour. Talk about rockstar.”
This woman is a professional writer for a
major publication. She is gracious enough to provide you a platform to spew your idiocy and promote your crappy music. And when your interviewer is over, you (I assume) Google her name, find a picture, figure out that she’s a “pretty blonde girl,” and you feel the need to call her back ask her why she didn’t tell you? Why would she tell you? What does it have to do with anything? Why should her appearance factor into your interaction with her?
What did you expect her to do? Quit her job and come on tour with you? Of course not. Because just like all men who feel the need to comment on the looks of women they don’t know, it isn’t about her. It’s about you making some sort of macho point about how you are the final arbiter of what is attractive in a woman.
It’s gross, Josh Abbott, and so are you.