Meet Country Music’s Unlikely Social Conscience Post-Charlottesville
It's been four days, and most of the big names in country music have gotten back to business after violence and protests in Charlottesville, Va., left dozens injured and one dead. Most, but not all.
Wheeler Walker Jr. continues to challenge the establishment.
As per usual it's radio silence in forward-facing country music circles as right and wrong clash over issues of humanity and decency, but Wheeler Walker Jr. — a singer who lives in a murky space between real and fiction — is drawing a line.
Thoughts and prayers, strong statements against hate and bigotry, a few jokes and the occasional arrow aimed at President Trump made up most reactions on Twitter during and immediately after the August 12 clashes. It takes courage to speak up and speak out against an "ism" in country music, as the fear of losing fans who subscribe to a particular ideology is very real. A few, like Brothers Osborne (and Kip Moore, Kacey Musgraves) came with strongly-worded messages for anyone spouting hate and preaching white supremacy:
This type of response wasn't unique to one political ideology. Charlie Daniels denounced the violence with a lengthy blog post that demands respect. Tim McGraw reminded his followers on Twitter to stay humble and kind.
"These days surely MUST be behind us," he writes, later following up with a tribute created by Charlottesville radio station WCYK-FM.
Moore shared a personal story from his childhood in Georgia and ended with an uncompromising call for his readers on Facebook to not just sit idly.
The gift of kindness may start as a small ripple that has the potential of turning into a tidal wave. Don't b---h about the state of the world if youre (sic) too lazy or too much of a p--s to stand up to your friends when you hear them or see them doing racist s--t. It starts with each one of us individually if we wanna change what this world looks like. Go out of your way to take care of people and spread kindness.
Walker has been as passionate, but even more vigilant:
The singer's call to action stirred up his followers, but he didn't back down. Instead, he followed his line in the sand with this statement:
“Just to be clear: I got into music because it was my way of saying ‘f— the man.’ And when ‘the man’ is anti-American and trying to keep other men and women down, then f— him even more. I won’t stop calling it how I see it and I will continue to speak (and sing) the truth. You want uncensored country? I am uncensored country. You want to stop listening because I’m anti-racist? Good. It’s not for you anyway.”
Labeling every Donald Trump supporter a supporter of the white supremacy groups who were at the heart of Charlottesville violence is an overreach. But Walker Jr. (who is actually comedian Ben Hoffman) has less to lose in country music — songs on his Ol' Wheeler album include "Poon" and "P---y King," so radio airplay (and thus, radio politics) are of little concern. Where does his act end and truth begin? That's not clear, but his feeling are:
And who else do we have to lead us on this issue? If you're a "shut up and sing" proponent it's likely you haven't made it this deep into the article, but even "shut-up-and-sing-ers" should recognize that the time to speak up is now. Walker needed no invitation, because leadership knows no vacuum. Amidst the profanity, quasi-alter ego persona and pictures of women's private parts on his Twitter page, he's proving to be pretty fit for the gig.
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