Monday, January 31, 2011

"Chunk Style"

Song: "Fit to Kill and Going Out in Style"
Artist: Billy Joe Shaver
Search Term: "Chunk Style" [This song is from Shaver's album I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal]

I'm hardly the first person to observe that in the past 20 years, the country music genre has become sodden with millionaires writing pandering swill about how blue-collar Americans are the real Americans. (Trace Adkins's execrable "Ladies Love Country Boys," for one, is lazy enough to rhyme the word "subdivision" with the word "chicken," while clucking his tongue at those who live in the former and have never fried the latter.) So it's kind of refreshing to hear a song like this otherwise nondescript 1981 honkytonker, in which Billy Joe Shaver basically spends three minutes in character, boasting, "Get me! I'm rich!" Specifically, he crows that he's "got a wad of bills that'd choke a whooping crane," and he goes on with some pride about how he and his special lady are the toast of the town, all delivered with a Roger Miller-style wink.

It's an endearing little number that one might play while getting ready for a night out: An unserious fantasy of living high on the hog for an evening. (The fact that it reminds me of a less exaggerated version of "Weird Al" Yankovic's celebration of wealth "This Is the Life" probably tells you more about my frame of reference than about the song itself, but that's what occurred to me.) As I said, there's really nothing about the tune to distinguish it from a billion other upbeat country songs, but I think "Fit to Kill and Going Out in Style" is valuable as an artifact of an era when country singers shared their typical listeners' financial aspirations and--oftentimes--frustrations in a way that came across as authentic, rather than condescendingly chuckling, "Aw, ain't you lucky to be living hand-to-mouth like that? Seeing as we're kindred spirits and all, perhaps you'd like to help a fella out by purchasing an item from my clothing line? I call it Alan Jackson's Running Through Thunder."

Incidentally, I visited Shaver's page on Wikipedia to double-check his album title and found the following information about a 2007 incident at a Texas saloon: "Shaver shot a man, Billy Bryant Coker, in the face with a handgun. Coker's injuries were reported as not life-threatening. Witnesses interviewed by police report hearing Shaver saying, 'Where do you want it?' and then, after the shot was fired, 'Tell me you are sorry,' and 'No one tells me to shut up.'"

I include this material just because I think it adds a little unintended color to the song title.

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