One of the most common themes in country music is the pride of growing up in a small town.
These songs talk about football games, good ol’ boys, high school, and pretty girls.
It’s all nice and fun and, frankly, romanticized.
I grew up in the most stereotypical Friday Night Lights southern small town.
We had a big homecoming festival and parade for the football team. The high school I went to had a Death Day Pep Rally complete with the Grim Reaper and zombie cheerleaders when our team played our big rivals.
I lived in the town of all of these songs.
The problem is that those songs are only truly accurate on the days of the pep rallies and parades, and even then, if you go just around the corner, you’re smelling weed and seeing the real town.
When I first heard Ashley McBryde’s “Livin’ Next to Leroy,” I thought that it was the most real and authentic song about a small town that I’ve ever heard.
This song about Leroy and drugs and high school reminded me of people I grew up with.
The “Susie Highschool” from McBryde’s song was probably the girl who smoked so much in the girls’ bathroom that every classroom around smelled sickly sweet during 6th period.
Leroy could be the person who had a seizure after ODing on ecstasy (at least that’s what rumors say happened) in the cafeteria on my first day of freshman year.
I grew up with a mother who is an elementary school teacher, a father who was a football coach, and a grandpa who owned the only hardware store in the town.
And each one of them worked in a different small Florida town. It made me realize how alike all of the dirty laundry was in each town.
How each OD or school lockdown or football team was not that different than one two towns over.
But that also means that all of those country songs about the beauty of small towns feel inauthentic.
I mean, yes, there are empty fields and diners and hair salons that I will forever have fond memories of, but that’s not all.
“Livin’ Next to Leroy” is real and honest and the experience of so many people in the town I grew up in. There are drugs and alcohol and death.
And at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to get by and live our lives.
All of us love sad country songs because they speak to the authenticity of human emotions and are beautiful in the way that darkness and tragedy can be beautiful.
I think Ashley McBryde has created a beautiful song because the less appealing parts of small towns, the “dark side of the country” are just like sad country songs.
I want more songs about the ugliness of the south but not necessarily in a way that is criticizing it. Small southern towns are awesome, but they can be dark and gritty and ugly.
McBryde is able to deliver authenticity without malice or negativity, and honestly, we need more of that in country music.