A few nights past some friends and I traipsed over the Idaho border into the occupied territory that is Spokane, Washington. Because Sturgill Simpson was playing there. If you haven’t heard Sturgill, his skills warrant a listen. Not only does the guy look like Waylon, he sounds uncannily like him too. And further walking in Waylon’s shoes, he has bucked the Nashville system. That’s why, despite being a manifold bigger talent than the present chart-toppers, he doesn’t make it on radio. He doesn’t allow the Nashville moguls to write his music, so as far as Country Inc. is concerned, the guy doesn’t exist. He’s doing it the hardscrabble way through social media, the concert circuit, and word of mouth. And he is apparently leading the meager resurgence of Outlaw Country. Hey, “Life Ain’t Fair and the World Is Mean.”
On these accounts and by way of comparison to all the tattooed and mascara’d “Bro Country” rap stars whom Nashville insists on churning out these days as the foremost ambassadors of the genre, it’s no wonder Sturgill has been heralded as “the savior of Country music.” Needless to say, I went into this event with high expectations.
The first thing of note was the demographics of the crowd. It was, as you’d expect, entirely White. There was not a solitary non-White face amid the fifteen hundred in attendance. While there were a few hipster types milling about, the vast majority of the assembly were cornpone country folk, just as you’d expect. And a happy lot, they: unsolicited, folks occasionally sidled up and introduced themselves to me. The atmosphere was easy.
Albeit, the security at this event was mostly Black; but they didn’t detract from the sense of what was a very strong implicit Whiteness. Because, c’mon, beyond the White crowd, the musical-cultural forms of which we’re speaking are entirely frowned upon by the multicult. Music like that, liberals assure us, is inherently threatening to non-Whites; it’s the soundtrack to all the cross-lightings and lynchings in American history, after all.
The opening act was the comedian Billy Wayne Davis. I’d never heard of the fellow before, but his Tennesseean accent was ingratiating from the start. However, all the preceding good was to be undone in his brief stand-up routine: his act ran the gamut from mocking the Northwest for being racially segregated, to openly blaspheming God and the Bible. The audience was caught so flatfooted by this act that only sparse and half-hearted nervous chuckles were heard from the audience of 1,500. I wasn’t alone in yelling denouncements of the man as a blaspheming ass. Had it gone any longer, many standing near me swore they would have begun throwing things at him. Mercifully, his set was short.
But this unexpected tirade of anti-Whiteness and blasphemy sullied the whole event. Even when Sturgill took the stage and wowed everyone with his vocals, those blasphemies still hung a grim pall over all.
Under my previous assumptions about Sturgill – that he was a traditionalist bucking the Leftist stranglehold on Nashville with songs like “A Little Light Within” – it was reminiscent of the old children’s gospel song, “This Little Light of Mine.” His hit, “Long White Line,” rang to my ear as a dirge of dispossession – something with which Conservatives will presently identify reflexively. “Voices” comes across as nothing less than a frank rebuke of modernity as a movement at war with God. “It Ain’t All Flowers” portrays a soul wrestling against sin. The truth is, his music is consistently autobiographical and replete with Christian language and assumptions.
But his having hitched his wagon to a blasphemous anti-White like Davis compelled me afterward to examine Sturgill’s lyrics more closely.
“Some Days” turns out to be his ruminations on suicide resulting from not getting the recognition he thinks he deserves. Yeah, a tantrum nigh unto death. “You Can Have the Crown” is written as a prayer, but it is irreverent in the extreme, even going so far as to issue ultimatums to God: that if the Almighty won’t bow to ol’ Sturgill, the crooner would have no choice but to make off with the Devil – for whatever advantage he imagines that to afford.
But the more elaborate summation of his worldview is seen in his most popular, if unlikely named, song, “Turtles All the Way Down“:
I’ve seen Jesus play with flames in a lake of fire that I was standing in
Met the devil in Seattle and spent 9 months inside the lions den
Met Buddha yet another time and he showed me a glowing light within
But I swear that God is there every time I glare in the eyes of my best friend
Says my son it’s all been done and someday yer gonna wake up old and gray
So go and try to have some fun showing warmth to everyone
You meet and greet and cheat along the way
There’s a gateway in our mind that leads somewhere out there beyond this plane
Where reptile aliens made of light cut you open and pull out all your pain
Tell me how you make illegal something that we all make in our brain
Some say you might go crazy but then again it might make you go sane
Every time I take a look inside inside that old and fabled book
I’m blinded and reminded of the pain caused by some old man in the sky
Marijuana, LSD, psilocybin, and DMT they all changed the way I see
But love’s the only thing that ever saved my life
So don’t waste your mind on nursery rhymes
Or fairy tales of blood and wine
It’s turtles all the way down the line
So to each their own til’ we go home
To other realms our souls must roam
To and through the myth that we all call space and time
This is a forthright religious testimony. Though the body of his work is brimming with Christian language and tropes, the creed he ultimately professes is anti-Christian. Even the first stanza of this song in its mention of ‘the glowing light within’ being a revelation imparted to him by Buddha entirely recontextualizes his piece entitled “A Little Light Within”: even if communicated in Christianese, it’s clear that the ‘light’ of which he speaks is not the Light of the World, the Lord Christ.
When asked about the title of that particular track in an interview, he said, [PROFANITY WARNING] “It’s this old myth that the earth is like a giant flat disc that sits on the back of this giant cosmic turtle that carries it through space. Which is another way of saying that no matter what you believe, they’re all just theories and nobody really knows shit. So we might as well just be nice and don’t be a dick, and love everybody.”
Nobody knows the truth of metaphysical matters. He knows that for certain. Need I do more than roll my eyes to refute that argument? If truth were unknowable, as he alleges, whence comes his overriding imperative to ‘be nice’ and ‘love everybody’? If we grant his philosophy, we scuttle any justification for his ethics entirely.
Amid all his self-contradictions, however, one looms large over the rest: while he fancies himself equidistant from and hovering aloof over all organized systems of religion, he only overtly denounces and mocks one – the religion of ‘that old and fabled book,’ the religion of ‘some old man in the sky’ who has caused him pain. In his most affable molasses drawl he commends his fans to put away ‘fairy tales of blood and wine.’ Clearly, he is not the impartial arbiter he bills himself to be. From the scope of his lyrics it is plain that while pursuing a tone of reverence for every pagan absurdity, he reserves his scorn for his cradle faith – the very faith which he cannot help but speak in terms of – Christianity alone.
The reasons for his unique animus against the faith of his fathers is hinted at in songs like “Old King Coal,” wherein he laments the fall of his own Kentuckian fathers to generations in the coal mines. To his mind their sad fates were causally entwined with a stultifying Christian worldview. Christianity connotes to him barren hills and black lung death. He has imbibed deeply from the horn of our enemies, and embraced their narrative of his people’s privation. It is an alien harmatiology, a foreign theodicy. He has been indoctrinated in the temples of the state to regard the gospel not as the washing of our sins by God, but as original sin itself, resulting in bleak generational curses of squalor – the closest thing to damnation in the secular mind. Or as Paul phrased it, “the stench of death.” Escaping the fates of his fathers was to him synonymous with a departure from their world- and life-view. He sees apostasy as his salvation.
While Sturgill may be redeeming the hill-born musical forms of his fathers, he is haunted by all that underlies them. Like old Judas, he kisses the Son, but only as he betrays Him.
He credits drug use as the sacrament of his conversion to this anti-Christian perspective:
Marijuana, LSD, psilocybin, and DMT they all changed the way I see
Marijuana is an inert substance next to the three which follow it in that tally. DMT in particular is the strongest psychedelic drug known to man. Occurring naturally in the brain at very low amounts throughout one’s life, it is otherwise produced in large volume only at the moment of death and is believed to account for all the near-death experiences of bright white lights and talks with angels, devils, deceased relatives, and other spirits which people report upon resuscitation. All of which has won it the moniker “the death drug.”
Hear the testimony of Terence McKenna, the man who popularized the recreational use of this heady substance:
You smoke DMT: you are immediately plunged into an alien universe. But if you can keep your wits about you, and actually notice how you feel, you don’t feel any different! You’re not smarter, stupider; you’re not more excited, or – once you get the initial panic under control, you realise – My God, it didn’t lay a finger on me! I’m me, I’m entirely intact! What has happened is that the world has been completely replaced by something completely unrecognisable and alien that I have no words for, that’s blowing my mind, that’s ripping apart my philosophical machinery as I gaze upon it; but when I bring my attention back into my body, I discover – I’m fine! I’m OK! It didn’t change my mind, you could almost say, it changes 100% the reality around you.
That’s powerful, because it appears objective. I mean, the impression you have when you smoke DMT is, This isn’t a drug, that’s ridiculous. Drugs, you know, make you smarter, make you stupider, make you fall down, make you stay awake… we know what drugs are; this is no drug, this is something else hiding under the label “drug”. This is a doorway into another modality that exists all the time, independent of my thoughts or feelings about it.
The residual and long-term effects of drugs in the psychedelic/hallucinogenic spectrum are lessened aspects of the high. Among these are an ineffable sense of enlightenment, feelings of epiphany apart from any train of rational thought, and a profound blurring of categories. This blurring of category is typified not so much by an inability to distinguish things as a persistent conviction that all seeming distinctions are illusory. Yes, these categories of pharmakeia – the word whence we derive “pharmaceutical” and “pharmacy,” and otherwise translated in Galatians 5:20 and Revelation 18:23 as “sorcery” – actually impose a prolonged sense that “all is one,” and for that reason are deeply associated with both Buddhism and Hinduism. Or as doctor and researcher Greg Strassman has put it,
One of the things that got me interested in doing research with these psychedelics is because of how much overlap or similarity seem to exist between the stories that you hear from experienced meditators within the Eastern meditative traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism, and those reports that you hear from people who take these psychedelic drugs. And actually, it always seemed to me there must be some way of combining the two fields, that perhaps you can maybe be inspired to become a Buddhist or a Hindu through the psychedelic experience. And there are a handful of papers that have described that, that quite a few people got their start as Buddhists or Hindus from a big LSD flash. . . .
I went to a Zen temple in my early 20s, and, ever the scientist, every chance I got to speak to a monk one-on-one, I asked every one of them if they had tripped on psychedelics and how important their trips were in their decision to become a monk. And I’d say 99% of these junior monks in their 20s all got their start on LSD.
Sturgill himself connects his ‘light within’ with both psychedelics and Buddhism, so his experience is far less indicative of a genuine Country culture than a cliche of the 60s counter-culture. He may pantomime our traditional music well, and based on his own history and language, he in some degree confirms Flannery O’Connor’s description of the modern South as ‘Christ-haunted,’ but he cannot redeem Country music. Because he repudiates all its underlying content, especially the Loadstone – Christ Almighty.
In fact, because he fancies himself as enlightened beyond good and evil, his ultimate ‘Left-Hand’ metaphysic would seem most closely to align with Laveyan Satanism. This places his worldview and ethics to the extreme Left, and reveals his music ultimately more satanic than that of Black Sabbath and the array of metal bands which caused a panic amongst Christians in the 70s and 80s. Because even as those bands emphasized the darkness of evil, and called out, as it were, from the pit for God to rescue them, they reinforced the Christian paradigm of good and evil. Sturgill meanwhile calls the darkness light, and the light darkness.
I relish none of this. I really wish it were otherwise. I long to see our Christian aesthetics revived and preserved, but the outward forms stripped of their inward substance and significance, filling those wineskins with gall, is not a redemption. It is a damned mockery.