eye WEEKLY                                              December 16 1993
Toronto's arts newspaper                          ...free every Thursday
[photo here]

Garth Brooks More Dangerous Than Ozzy Osbourne!


Every rutting season or three, the wife of Yanqui vice-president Al Gore -- Tipper Gore, The First Lady of Vice -- hops on her trusty stead and rides out to battle the Devil Music that stalks the innocent children of Planet Earth.

You know the stuff. Zappa. Ice T. Type-O Negative.

The stuff that rots your brain, corrupts your soul, sends you screaming into the night. In short: the Record Peddler catalogue.

Tipper and her Washington-wife cronies in the PMRC (which stands for Parents Music Resource Commissariat) want to slap warning stickers all over that nasty noise.

Whenever the prudes mount a censorship offensive, their favorite line of attack is suicide. Modern music encourages suicide. Modern music encourages kids to blow their brains all over Mom's nice, new bathroom wallpaper.

Wellll... listen here...

Next time some Tipster-like ayatollah tries to squat her love down on you, you ram the following report up her... attention span. This report, called "The Effect of Country Music on Suicide", is by two American sociologists -- Steven Stack (Wayne State) and Jim Gundlach (Auburn).

It's a first-ever academic study comparing country music and suicide rates. And it concludes... The greater the volume of country airplay in a city, the higher the white suicide rate.

The danger ain't Judas Priest, Tipper -- it's Willie Nelson!


"For our sample of 49 major U.S. cities, we found that the greater the percentage of radio time devoted to country music, the higher the incidence of white suicide; black suicide was unrelated to country music," the report reads.

Stack and Gundlach, being social scientists, do not come to this conclusion lightly. They use mathematical formulae and sexy jargonese: significant zero-order correlations, crude variance inflation factors, multicollinearity, ordinary-least-squares-regression-techniques. These tools are used to determine if maybe it's just a fluke. Maybe some other factor is causing country listeners to cash in their chips.

But, nope. Makes no difference: wherever country music twangs, the white suicide rate jumps, "independent of divorce, southerness, poverty, and gun availability," Stack and Gundlach write.

The stuff just plain kills.

Country music encourages suicidal moods through its constant whining about "booze, broads, and bosses".

MARITAL DISCORD: Research is unanimous, relationship troubles dominate in suicide risks. A 1989 content analysis of 1,400 hit country tunes found that almost 75 per cent deal with relationship problems.

ALCOHOL ABUSE: Alcohol has long been associated with suicide risk. Country songs continually portrays booze as just a natural a part of life.

ALIENATION FROM WORK: Exploitation. Financial hopelessness. True, country fans are no longer hardworking, no-life sharecroppers; today, they are hardworking, no-life corporate cogs. Economic powerlessness remains constant.

Country tunes rarely talk about actual suicide, no characters contemplating the "big plunge" -- like, say, Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper".

Instead, it "nurtures" a suicidal mood.

While, country songs, largely fictional, are associated with listener suicide, the study notes that TV soap operas, also fictional, and loaded with overt suicidal activity, do not seem to encourage viewer suicide.

What's the difference? Stack believes it comes down to "subcultures". TV-soap-zombies, while certainly pathetic, are not connected to a true subculture. Country listeners are.

A music subculture is defined by special values and beliefs held commonly by members, and where members socially interact to reinforce behavior. You change your style of dress. You befriend fellow-listeners. You go to the same bars. Any streetwise Torontonian can walk down Queen West and pick out a slew of subcultures -- rather like a kid walks through the dinosaur section of the Royal Ontario Museum, effortlessly pointing out species after species: metalhead... goth... neo-punk... stegosaurus... deadhead... techno-dweeb... etc.

And country forms its own subculture.

Incidentally: Even though (what them hipster sociologists call) "rock" mentions suicide far, far more often than country, there's no evidence "rock" encourages suicide. Quite the opposite, the Journal of Popular Culture wrote in 1990. What little survey research exists indicates "rock" elicits feelings of euphoria, of "happiness, delight, and love."

Country music has left its Southern cradle and is gaining popularity with even northern middle class audiences, according to Richard Peterson. Peterson presented a report entitled "Changing Class Consciousness in Country Music Lyrics" to a 1991 meeting of American Sociological Association.

It may indeed have been hatched in the white, rural-poor backwaters of the American South -- white man's blues -- but them days are gone. Country is spreading cross the continent.

So don't you be trying to pass the country-suicide-craze off on some stereo-typical image of the drawling Southern hick. The facts are in: wherever country music goes, the white self-snuff rate rises.

Blacks generally don't listen to country. Smart move.

American whites have a suicide rate double that of blacks, and that has long puzzled sociologists. They've spent years wracking their brains, seeking the answer. But maybe, as with most of life's great mysteries, the answer is simple: just flip to country-music CISS-FM, 92.5, and find out.