It's Who You Know 

Gretchen Wilson

It was during one of those particularly long road trips through the Midwest--the kind whose tedium invariably leads its participants into feats of ridiculous patience and strength--that I first discovered the unpolished diamond of Gretchen Wilson. The radio spewed a marathon of hours of contemporary country music--an experience that left me questioning how the glorification of infidelity and the subtle downplay of domestic violence fit so comfortably into the hyper-religious ideology of its fanbase. All of my textbook preconceptions were sadly confirmed, the cowboys with cell phones set forever condemned to the deeper regions of my indifference. That is, of course, with the exception of Gretch.

What stood out about the Illinois-born eighth-grade drop-out--besides the fact that hers were the only singles that didn't sound like they were produced in 1987--was the strangeness of it all. Clearly not the toothy, corn festival princess archetype so synonymous with Nü-Country's female celebs, Gretch celebrates her insurmountable trashiness as her chief selling point. As with all successful contemporary country, she's hit big with two songs that any other genre would consider novelties: the tremendously successful "Redneck Woman" (sample lyric: "Some people look down on me/But I don't give a rip/I'll stand barefooted in my own front yard with a baby on my hip"), and its carbon-copy follow-up "Here For the Party" ("I may not be a 10 but the boys say I clean up good/and if I gave em half a chance for some rowdy romance you know they would"). Gretch's charm, in part, comes from her brash acceptance of her shortcomings--being the first to understand that though she is painfully undesirable by all standards of 21st century beauty, she's still convinced that you'd maybe fuck her if you were drunk enough. Heroically drunk. Cowboy drunk.

Sure, she's monumentally more Kid Rock than punk rock, and we are still talking about young country here--but her strangely refreshing attitude was enough to muster a muted excitement amongst a carload of fickle music assholes anytime one of her identical singles came through the car stereo. Gretchen Wilson should be an example to us all. Playing this Friday at the Rose Garden with Mr. Rene Zellweger.

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