As discussed on a recent episode of Whiskey Riff Raff, there are a lot of mainstream country songs about living in small towns. And for the most part, they’re all bullshit. If you believe all these songs you hear on the radio, everybody in town goes to the football game on Friday night, goes to church on Sunday, and the rest of the time they’re just chillin’ on a dirt road with their girl riding shotgun in their pickup truck.
But if you really grew up in a small town, you know it’s not quite that glamorous. I’m originally from a small town in southern West Virginia. Small as in, I remember when we got our first stop light and the only restaurant in town is a Dairy Queen that opened up when I was in high school. There’s no water tower, no Friday night bonfires, and nobody sitting on the porch to wave at you as you walk by.
What there is, is meth.
For some reason, all these “small town” country songs just ignore all of the terrible shit that comes along with living in a small town. The poverty, the hopelessness, the drug addiction…I guess the record labels don’t want their artists singing about meth and heroin on the radio. But that’s the reality of living in a small town – a reality that’s largely ignored in mainstream country music.
On “Livin’ Next to Leroy,” from her album Girl Goin’ Nowhere, Ashley tells the story of a man who ran a safehouse for addicts “in a town where people go to die.” And THAT’S the fucking reality of living in a small town. The prom queen snorting pills in the parking lot, people stealing shit to get money for drugs, and the actual fucking death and despair that comes along with poverty and addiction. At the same time, though, Ashley manages address these issues not in a negative way that demonizes people for their addictions, but in a way that addresses the reality of living next to these people and interacting with them like they’re your friends and your neighbors – because most of the time in small towns, they ARE your friends and your neighbors.
It’s not hard to see why so many artists choose not to discuss this side of small-town living in their songs. It’s an uncomfortable topic to address because it’s not the glamorous beer and bonfire life that you hear about in most mainstream songs about small towns. But it’s also a conversation that needs to be had, so thank God there are artists like Ashley McBryde who are willing to address it with their music.