"Oh, beat the drum slowly…"

Recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of Cowboy/Western music. I never used to have any interest in the genre, but having heard some of it in the game Fallout: New Vegas, I became intrigued enough to sample some more of it. In general, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I like it. I particularly like the song “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky“.

One interesting idea came to me while reading about the genre. According to the Wiki article on Western music, “by the 1960s, Western music was in decline“. Now, I don’t like to politicize everything, and this really is reaching to make a connection, but I wonder if this is related to the changing role of nationalism as a force in this country at that time.

Most Western music is based on a relationship to the landscape and the romanticizing of times past. It is hardly a coincidence, either, that it has become associated with “country” music, which is probably the type of music most favored by the politically conservative today. Also, there is a strong “law and order” element in many of them; for example, Marty Robbins had at least three songs about an outlaw being gunned down by lawmen.

Since the 1960s, the nationalistic elements of society have been simultaneously more vocal and less powerful. And it is perhaps not surprising that the Cowboy song’s fortunes have waned along with them, for the cowboy is probably the primary symbol for American nationalists. (That’s probably also why their favorite President strove to create a “cowboy” image.)

But still, it would be too easy to read too much into all this, and find ourselves making absurd generalizations. Even though country and Western songs may have underlying nationalistic elements, it does nothing to prevent liberals like me from enjoying them.


  1. OK, so, two things.1. If you're into odd country music murder ballads, Elvis Costello did a whole album of them for you.2. Goddamn, but Fallout: New Vegas doesn't have enough music. There's like 50 years of public-domain songs out there, and Fallout can only find about two dozen songs? Jeezus, GTA: Vice City had a dozen radio stations!

What's your stake in this, cowboy?