Kenny Loggins is in a country band. If you don't believe me, watch the Today Show until they've cycled through all the other people who are promoting big 30th-anniversary tours and new country albums on the Today Show. It's called the Blue Sky Riders, and they're playing SXSW on March 13, and while this may or may not disappoint those of you (like me) secretly waiting for Kenny Loggins to do more transcendent, yacht-infused movie-soundtrack singles, it shouldn't surprise anyone.
Because if you're a pop star like Kenny Loggins is a pop star, the only move left is to go country. Really, we should be surprised that Jon Bon Jovi did it first.
Imagine, for a moment, that Kenny Loggins actually was 30, instead of just looking perpetually like he was 30. He is a white, guitar-centric professional songwriter who is not in a band -- who is, in fact, coming off a brief tenure in a folk-pop duo of some repute -- he is not even a little threatening, confessional or youth-oriented, and the significant majority of his record-buying audience is old enough to economically rent a car, at least. At least half of them have mortgages, and are paying more than the minimum on them. His nearest connection to soul or R&B is that he is sometimes mistaken for Daryl Hall on Napster.
Now try to figure out where that Kenny Loggins would fit in contemporary pop music. Since he's too old to win American Idol, the answer is nowhere. Dance's pop hegemony and guitar music's self-defeating integrity shibboleths -- this is where I cross-promote John Roderick's transcendent punk takedown at another Village Voice paper -- have sucked the air out of the room for uncool professionals who write vague, impossibly hooky songs to order.
Except! Imagine, now, that you are a star musician over 50 who answers to this description. You spent the better part of the '90s and the aughts trying to be yourself, but nobody liked that very much -- your audience was satisfied listening to the old stuff, and the people who hated the old stuff hated you for making it, for even existing.
Now imagine that still, small, steel guitar whispered this in your ear: Kenny. Kenny. There is still a place where white males who are over 19 years old and secretly hope someone will call them "The Hitmaker" at a sexy LA party can find lasting success.
It's crossover country music. And all your old fans are listening to it. And they love you still.
The strangest thing about bands and artists that go country is that the country aesthetic -- the part of it they take on -- has almost nothing to do with their previous success. "Livin' on a Prayer" is hyper-produced and safe, a metal-as-wedding-reception-jam, but played at the proper volume its weird, talk-boxy guitars and aggressively anthemic chorus will cow you into singing along and air-talk-box-guitaring, because that's the point of "Livin' on a Prayer."
"Who Says You Can't Go Home" will not do that, and that is the point of "Who Says You Can't Go Home."
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SHOW ME HOW
What country music shares with the aging pop stars it shelters -- besides a demographic, and a distrust of every pop innovation between Nirvana and LMFAO -- isn't anything onstage. It's what's backstage -- a total lack of embarrassment about the idea of professionalism.
Today's pop pros, the Dr. Lukes and Max Martins of the world, write enormous hits and then gracefully recede into the background so that their proteges can talk about how intimate, how personally meaningful the two or three lines they wrote were. They write the songs, and then the stars insist winkingly that really they wrote the songs, because even the most manufactured artist--artist!--must stake out a claim to integrity and sincerity by her second album.
Country -- popular country, at least -- is different. Country's stars are old enough to worry about how their song will play on satellite radio, and they're realistic enough about their livelihood to care. They're singers and songwriters who are willing to stipulate that not every song they perform or write is about the most important, intense moment of their lives. They're selling out state fairs and truckloads of actual physical discs with music on them.
They're Kenny Loggins, basically, and I'm happy they exist still, somewhere. Don't nobody worry about them.