Released in 2002, Courtesy of Red, White and Blue (The Angry American) provoked a strong response. It was also one of Keith’s most autobiographical songs.
Toby Keith who died at the age of 62, forged his own path. As Kyle Young, executive director of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, said in a statement“Keith was big, bold and never bowed or slowed down for anyone… He loved being an outsider and doing things his way.” The 9/11 terrorist attacks sparked a succession of songs in the years that followed, but none had the divisive impact of their country’s anthem. Courtesy of Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).
The song, released in May 2002, begins with a shout-out to his father Hubert “HK” Covel Jr, a US Army veteran who had died the previous year. “I wanted my mother, my brother, my sister and I to grow up and live happily in the land of the free,” he sang.
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In interviews, Keith often noticed The song originated as a personal account of the rage he felt his father would have expressed in response to the attacks. But the song became much bigger than that, particularly because of its chorus, a revenge fantasy: “Justice will be served and the battle will rage/This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage/And you’ll regret that you made a mistake.” “. with/The US of A/Because we’ll put a boot on your ass/It’s the American way.”
The song was released during that tense time of passionate arguments between those in favor of eradicating terrorism in the Middle East and those who saw war as a reckless adventure for corporate profiteers. Having Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American) on the radio at a time when a culture war was raging in the US itself gave it greater importance than perhaps even intended. The song elevated the Oklahoma native’s career to new heights and remained one of the biggest hits of his career.
I would turn the song into an opportunity to actively participate. involved in the military charity United Service Organizations (USO), performing in 17 countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan, while battling critics such as Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines, who said that the song was “ignorant and makes country music sound ignorant.”
The dispute with Maines continued for years: he showed her photograph at a concert with Saddam Hussein; she responded by wearing a t-shirt that said “FUTK” – seen as a thinly veiled insult directed at Keith – at the Academy of Country Music Awards in 2003. “People try to make everything black and white. I didn’t start this battle. They started it with me; they came out and I just destroyed. One thing I have never done, out of jealousy or anything else, is criticize another artist and their artistic license.” he said.
He responded with other songs sympathetic to the military, such as American Soldier (2003), a gentle ballad sung in the first-person voice of an Army reservist who is asked to leave his family and fight overseas. The 2011 song Made in America is another portrait of an American citizen, this one of an old man in a small town who laments the ravages of globalization on his community: “It breaks his heart to see foreign cars/Filled with fuel that’s not ours.” “. / And wearing cotton we didn’t grow,” he sings. “Won’t buy anything you can’t fix / With WD-40 and a Craftsman wrench / Ain’t no bias, it’s just made in America.”
The “America First” concept that President Donald Trump would later use in his first campaign for the White House is hinted at in lyrics like these, but for Keith, a rare country music hitmaker who wrote or co-wrote most of His songs, the songs were not intended for the expert class or for political campaigns, but were simply documents of the common people.
Throughout his career, Keith insisted that he was not political. He performed for President George W. Bush and President Trump, but also performed at the annual Nobel Peace Prize concert in 2009 honoring President Barack Obama, whose Afghanistan policy Keith said he supported. In the past, he said he was a Democrat, but changed to become a registered independent in 2008.
“I’ve never been political. I thought it was okay to support the military.” he said. “You can’t go out and support the military in Afghanistan or get all the right-wing marks that come with it. I was like, ‘Well, I’ll just take them. Mark them. Just check me out.'” however you want to mark me.'”
Contrarianism is a well-trodden path in country music history and includes songs like Merle Haggard’s Okie from Muskogee and Johnny Cash’s The One on the Right Is on the Left, which mock both the left and the right in the political spectrum. Haggard’s lyrics criticizing marijuana smoking amid the counterculture revolution of the 1960s were considered radical, while Cash’s song is emblematic of how the singer flirted with conservative and liberal values throughout his career. .
Many of Keith’s songs ultimately align with that tradition. Yet there is no doubt that the saber-rattling he evoked in Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American) created an opening, more than two decades later, for Jason Aldean’s Try That in a Small Town. which also caused screaming headlines.
But maybe Keith’s intentions weren’t so divisive. By focusing on the plight of military members and telling their stories in his music, he struck a single note that, in the current climate of extreme partisanship, seems almost quaint.
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