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The raving thoughts of a misanthropic academic

May 4, 2010

Song of the Week: The Streets of Bakersfield

The Pax Plena Song of the Week comes to you courtesy of country music, and the the late 1980s.

Doubtless, few will remember what they were doing during the hot and dusty summer of 1988. Yours truly was roughly five years old (almost six!). President Reagan appointed Judge Anthony M. Kennedy to the United States Supreme Court that spring. Microsoft had just released Windows 2.1. And, perhaps most memorably, later that December, Pan Am Flight 103 would explode over Lockerbie, Scotland.

But sometime, during the lowly month of August, Capitol Records would release the third album of country music upstart Dwight Yoakam titled Buenos Noches from a Lonely Room.

The album, by most accounts, had little promise.

To many in southern Oklahoma, a genuine citadel of country music, Dwight Yoakam was a shtick performer – an ugly cross between an epileptic Elvis Presley, and a skinny Vince Gill. Regardless, Yoakam’s album skyrocketed to the top of the Country Music billboards. And, leading the way was our song of the week, The Streets of Bakersfield. Little promise, indeed.

Aside from its underdog appeal, what makes our song unique is its obvious Southwest influence. From the accordion, to the guitars, to the subject matter, The Streets of Bakersfield is rife with the music and energy of the Southwest. In no other region of the world would one expect to find the imagery of the working man so seamlessly melded with the hope of a better life and the reality of bad luck. As a result of this vivid narrative of the American west, it is not difficult to imagine the plight of a drunk, staggering down Chester Avenue in sunny Bakersfield, CA.

Even more than this, the song hearkens back to a musical era, not so long ago, that our society has already forgotten. Country music in the style of Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens is all but gone, replaced with the pop country of Lady Antebellum and Taylor Swift. Nearly three years ago, I described Dwight Yoakam’s style as a rare deviation from the “kitsch of Nashville.” And even though Nashville is underwater tonight, the statement remains mostly true.

With that, while the song remains up for posterity and the ad revenue of YouTube, please enjoy our Pax Plena Song of the Week, The Streets of Bakersfield. If nothing else, enjoy the traditional country music of the 1980s, and memories of what was a much simpler life.

The Streets of Bakersfield by Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens

I came here looking for something
I couldn't find anywhere else
Hey, I'm not trying to be nobody
I just want a chance to be myself

I've spent a thousand miles of thumbin'
Yes I've worn blisters on my heels
Trying to find me something better
Here on the streets of Bakersfield

Hey you don't know me but you don't like me
You say you care less how I feel
But how many of you that sit and judge me
Have ever walked the streets of Bakersfield?

I spent sometime in San Francisco
I spent a night there in the can
They threw this drunk man in my jail cell
I took fifteen dollars from that man

Left him my watch and my old house key
Don't want folks thinkin' that I'd steal
Then I thanked him as I was leaving
And I headed out for Bakersfield

Hey you don't know me but you don't like me
You say you care less how I feel
But how many of you that sit and judge me
Have ever walked the streets of Bakersfield?

Hey you don't know me but you don't like me
You say you care less how I feel
But how many of you that sit and judge me
Have ever walked the streets of Bakersfield?

How many of you that sit and judge me
Have ever walked the streets of Bakersfield?

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for featuring song. I am a die hard rock and roller, but because of the integrity of Dwight's return to the roots of Country -- I became a diehard country fan. And I am sorry to it disappearing into "soft rock" the way it has been.

Tory said...

No problem! Glad you enjoyed the post. As you note, Dwight Yoakam is a true rarity among Country artists these days. Much of what made country music popular, early on, was its authenticity. The industry seems to be losing that more and more each year.

I'm also a big fan of George Strait, and Brad Paisley because I feel like they've tried to keep the roots of country pure. Artists like these give me hope that traditional country music will make a comeback. Guess we'll have to wait and see. Thanks for commenting.

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Organic, free-range thought courtesy of your average, coffee-addicted, American Indian, academic. Program Manager @IGPatUA.


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