STURGILL SIMPSON wasn't available to talk for this story. All booked up. Sorry. We'll let you know if anything changes, they said. Nothing changed. And that's fine. He's earned the right.
His Tuesday gig in Portland has been sold out since it went on sale months ago. That's just another of those things that happens to Simpson now, ever since he released Metamodern Sounds in Country Music in May and bent time and space to fit his needs.
He's talked a ton since then, anyway: to Rolling Stone, to Oxford American, to the Washington Post, to NPR. The New York Times called him "a top-notch miserablist." He's wowed Jimmy Fallon and David Letterman. He pissed some people off on Conan, and then took to Facebook to (presumably) piss them off again: "This is America and people can say anything they want including 'goddamn' at the top of their lungs on national TV."
Amusingly, the lyric in question was: "I don't have to do a goddamn thing except sit around and wait to die." That includes apologize, for anything.
Most exhaustingly, Simpson has spent six months saving country music—despite telling everyone that's not his goal, wasn't his intention, and just leave him the fuck out of it, please.
Because no matter how good Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is—and it's every bit as wonderful as everyone says—it's not going to "save" country music. It has nothing to do with the kind of country people are thinking about when the talk turns to rescue.
Florida Georgia Line is an immensely popular country duo that writes songs about getting drunk, playing cornhole, and getting drunk playing cornhole. Their latest hit is about dirt. It's called "Dirt."
Simpson's year broke big with the release of "Turtles All the Way Down," a song inspired by Stephen Hawking. The lyrics about hallucinogens get a lot of attention, but the turtles are the key. Imagine the earth sits on the back of a turtle, which stands atop another turtle, and so on.
"So don't waste your mind on nursery rhymes, or fairy tales of blood and wine," Simpson sings. "It's turtles all the way down the line."
Simpson has joked that the album sounds like Merle Haggard on acid, but it's more like Waylon Jennings on metaphysics, and let's check in on Florida Georgia Line.
They're waxing their chests. Let's just leave them be. There have always been Florida Georgia Lines and there will always be Florida Georgia Lines, and that's fine—people like that, too.
I like Sturgill Simpson. I like that he became a star at age 36, with an inward-facing album that takes its title from Ray Charles' 1962 masterpiece Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. Charles mixed soul and country to mainstream success and did it at the height of the civil rights movement. That had to be a hell of a lot harder than saving country.
Simpson took the timeless and mixed it with the infinite—the great cosmic question: "Why?" He boxes with God: "That old man upstairs, he wears a crooked smile, staring down on the chaos he created." He wrestles with his own worst impulses: "Woke up today and decided to kill my ego."
I like that in the end, the best he can come up with is love. "So go and try and have some fun, showing warmth to everyone you meet and greet and cheat along the way."