Ted Cruz's "country music" drivel: What's really behind his musical conversion

After 9/11, the 2016 contender explains, he ditched classic rock for country music. Here's why he's full of it

By Heather Digby Parton


Published March 25, 2015 6:32PM (EDT)

  (AP/Jim Cole)
(AP/Jim Cole)

So Texas firebrand Ted Cruz explained that 9/11 changed him so much that he lost his former taste in music and found another He said:

Music is interesting. I grew up listening to classic rock. And I’ll tell you sort of an odd story: My music tastes changed on 9/11. I actually intellectually find this very curious, but on 9/11, I didn’t like how rock music responded. And country music — collectively — the way they responded, it resonated with me. And I have to say just at a gut level, I had an emotional reaction that says, ‘These are my people. And ever since 2001, I listen to country music. But I’m an odd country music fan because I didn’t listen to it prior to 2001.

I'm going to guess he figures Mike Huckabee has the Nugent vote all sewn up.

He "intellectually finds it very curious" that on 9/11 he didn't like how rock responded? What is that supposed to mean? Apparently when they held all those concerts and fundraisers like the Concert for New York City he thought they were trashing America. Sure, the Dixie Chicks were famous for saying that they were ashamed George Bush was from Texas during the run up to the Iraq war, but they're as country as they come. (And I think we can be fairly confident that Cruz endorsed the abusive treatment they received from radio stations for saying it. President Bush certainly did.)

But I'm hard-pressed to think of any rockers, classic or otherwise, who were disrespectful in the aftermath of 9/11. Certainly it wasn't Bruce Springsteen or Paul McCartney or Neil Young or Fleetwood Mac or literally dozens of other rock and pop artists who penned heartfelt songs about the event. But then Cruz undoubtedly didn't want to hear poetic songs about loss and pain. He wanted songs of revenge and killing, like Toby Keith's famous anthem, "The Angry American" which featured the kind of language that gets Cruz and his voters very, very excited:

Now this nation that I love

Has fallen under attack

A mighty sucker punch came flyin’ in

From somewhere in the back

Soon as we could see clearly

Through our big black eye

Man, we lit up your world

Like the 4th of July

Hey Uncle Sam

Put your name at the top of his list

And the Statue of Liberty

Started shakin’ her fist

And the eagle will fly

Man, it’s gonna be hell

When you hear Mother Freedom

Start ringin’ her bell

And it feels like the whole wide world is raining down on you

Brought to you Courtesy of the Red White and Blue

Now that's some real All-American vengeance. But even that was unusual. Most of the other famous country songs of the period were also about love and loss and pain (a country music specialty) like Alan Jackson's haunting ballad called "Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)" and Darryl Worley's maudlin "Have You Forgotten?" The swashbuckling Toby Keith was actually an anomaly even in country music.

But it's interesting nonetheless that Cruz now considers himself a country fan because country music is different than it used to be. And you can trace the change to right about that time. It has traditionally valued "authenticity" giving high praise to those who know how to keep their country real. It's debatable as to how sincere that commitment has been but the musicians and the fans used to truly believe in the small town ethos, religion and patriotism which have always been fundamental to the genre.

There is a rebellious streak as well, some of it coming from an unlikely source for such a traditional form: women. Back in the 1960s when southern culture was resisting the changes wrought by the counter culture, singers like Loretta Lynn sang about being freed from non-stop pregnancies by the invention of the pill and Jeannie C. Reilly "socked it to" the uptight conservative hypocrites of the Harper Valley PTA. Ted Cruz is probably too young to even know about those songs, but I think we can be sure he wouldn't approve of them even today. They displayed a shocking irreverence toward family values.

But if the transformed Cruz is a fan of the modern stuff it's a good bet that a conservative fellow like him (albeit one who once refused to associate with anyone who didn't go to an Ivy League college) is into what they call "bro-country." (The dudes who sing those songs like to think of themselves as "outlaws" but their juvenile commercial tropes bear as much resemblance to the original country outlaws like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash as they do to Mozart and Beethoven.)

Bro-country is defined by its lyrical devotion to driving drunk down country roads in a truck with a faceless blond in daisy dukes gyrating in the seat next to him while he reminisces about fights he used to have. Here's one of the best examples, a song called "Dirt Road Anthem" by Jason Aldean:

Yeah I'm chillin' on a dirt road

Laid back swervin' like I'm George Jones

Smoke rollin' out the window

An ice cold beer sittin' in the console

Memory lane up in the headlights

It's got me reminiscing on them good times

I'm turnin' off a real life drive and that's right

I'm hittin' easy street on mud tires

Back in the day Potts farm was the place to go

Load the truck up, hit the dirt road

Jump the barbed wire, spread the word

Light the bonfire then call the girls

King in the can and the Marlboro man

Jack n' Jim were a few good men

Where you learned how to kiss and cuss and fight too

Better watch out for the boys in blue

And all this small town he said, she said

Ain't it funny how rumors spread?

Like I know somethin' y'all don't know,

man that talk is gettin' old

you better mind your business man,

watch your mouth

Before I have to knock that loud mouth out

I'm tired of talkin' man y'all ain't listenin'

Them ol' dirt roads, is what y'all missin'

I sit back and think about them good old days

They way we were raised in our southern ways

And we like cornbread and biscuits

And if it's broke 'round here we fix it

I can take y'all where you need to go

Down to my hood, back in them woods

We do it different 'round here that's right

But we sure do it good and we do it all night

So if you really want to know how it feels

To get off the road with trucks and four wheels

Jump on in and man tell your friends

We'll raise some hell where the black top ends

Basically, it's a puerile country road frat party with all the drinkin', fightin' and screwin' you can handle. And a truck. That's been the theme of dozens of country songs over the past few years. They aren't waving flags and talking about God and family, they are celebrating faceless sex and drunken beat-downs.

Last summer a Keith Urban concert in Boston was called a "mass casualty event" when nearly 50 people were treated for injuries and alcohol poisoning and police made numerous arrests for a variety of infractions one of which was the crime of rape.

Murphy allegedly took the girl's hand and led her away from her friends to another section of the lawn, promising to bring her back. Assistant District Attorney Melissa Tafe said the girl told police she went with the defendant because "she was afraid of what would happen" if she didn't go.

Police say several onlookers videotaped or took photos of the incident, some of which have been obtained by investigators for evidence.

The incident was stopped only after a woman intervened and asked the girl if she was consenting. When the girl said no, the woman allegedly pulled the suspect off the girl, according to police.

Tail-gaters trashed the venue at a Luke Bryan concert. Kenny Chesney and Eric Church concerts frequently feature drunken brawls.

Obviously, these songs are no more responsible for the behavior of the goons who are doing it than rap music is responsible for gang violence. They reflect the culture, they don't create it. But let's just say it ain't the Grand Ole Opry.

And once again, just as they did in the 1960s, it's the women who are the real rebels in the bunch. This song by a young duo named Maddie and Tae called "Girl in a Country Song" takes on this creepy ethos:

Well, I wish I had some shoes on my two bare feet

And it's gettin' kinda cold in these painted on cut-off jeans

I hate the way this bikini top chafes

Do I really have to wear it all day? (Yeah, baby)

I hear you over there on your tailgate whistlin' [whistle]

Sayin', "Hey girl." ("Hey, girl.")

But you know I ain't listenin'

'Cause I got a name

And to you it ain't "pretty little thing", "hottie" or "baby"

Yeah it's drivin' me red-red-red-red-red-red-redneck crazy

Well, shakin' my moneymaker ain’t ever made me a dime

And there ain't no sugar for you in this shaker of mine

Tell me one more time, "you gotta get you some of that"

Sure I'll slide on over, but you’re gonna get slapped (Hah!)

These days it ain't easy being that


Bein' the girl in a country song

How in the world did it go so wrong?

Like all we're good for

Is looking good for you and your friends on the weekend

Nothing more

We used to get a little respect

Now we're lucky if we even get

To climb up in your truck, keep our mouth shut and ride along

And be the girl in a country song

When country loving social conservatives like Cruz and Huckabee complain about violent rap lyrics or get upset about the sexual impropriety of pop music they either aren't listening to modern country or they're unaware that the traditional values many of "their people" are celebrating in song these days aren't about family, God and and the red, white and blue. They're about crude, drunken jerks treating women like whores. I suspect that's not the image to which Senator Cruz was trying to relate when he confessed to converting to country at the age of 31.

This whole thing is silly, obviously. Ted Cruz's musical tastes are only interesting to the extent they make him seem like a regular guy. But come on -- nobody changes what music they like for political reasons. That pandering comment is so awkward and calculated it makes him sound like an automaton.  In fact, it's very hard to believe that Ted Cruz has any interest in music at all. The image that comes to mind when you see him isn't some guy rocking out to the Stones or singing along to "The Angry American." It's Richard Nixon walking on the beach in his black socks and wing tips.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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2016 Election 9/11 Country Music Gop Music President Republican Senate Ted Cruz Texas The Right