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Country Convert

Justin Tardiff | Thursday, September 15, 2005

Country music is an acquired taste. For novices it takes gradual but regular exposure to learn to appreciate it as a viable music genre.

My conversion to a country music fan was like wading into the ocean on the first beach day of summer – slow and hesitant.

As a high schooler in southern California I was busy rocking out with classmates to alternative punk bands and dancing to the pre-Fergie Black Eyed Peas. In fact, it wasn’t until I started at Saint Mary’s that I was introduced to names like Garth Brooks and Tobey Keith by my Iowanian roommate.

During those first experiences with country I found it to be corny and unoriginal. All the songs seemed to have the same tempo and the same instrumentals. And the lyrics – does a track have to contain the words “truck,” “blue jeans” and “whiskey” a specific number of times to qualify for the Country Music Awards (CMAs)?

Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock’s “Picture” – which at best is a pseudo-country song – was about as far as I got on my figurative road to Memphis freshman year.

Still, country music quietly crept into my regular music repertoire. Despite my aversion to everything related to the genre – Nascar, President Bush, red neckedness – I had to admit some of it was pretty catchy.

I’ve seen even the preppiest of the preppy Chicago suburbanite Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students – complete with sear sucker shorts, pastel pinked popped collar polos and top sider slip-ons – singing “Save a horse, ride a cowboy” at Linebacker.

The country music get-up is a draw too. Most of America confines its cowboy hat days to just one a year – Oct. 31 to be exact. But there is a certain mysterious appeal to those Stetson shaded faces. I’m not going to lie, I was a little jealous of Renee Zellweger when weddings photos of her husband Kenny Chesney appeared, white cowboy hat included.

Further, there simply seem to be occasions when only country music will do. I remember traveling boarder to boarder across Illinois once with friends and being given the all important responsibility of manning the stereo. Combing through several cd cases I finally settled, much to my own surprise, on Tim McGraw. But really, you couldn’t drive through all those fields listening to say, U2, could you? It just wouldn’t be appropriate.

It wasn’t until a few months ago, however, that I could truly call my self a fan. The christening moment came when I set one of my car radio preset buttons on Kat Country 99.9. Now you can see and hear me singing “I ain’t as good as I once was …” as I drive around South Bend.