Before I took this class, most of the country music I had encountered had been at rodeos or the radio. These mediums traditionally play a specific type of country music, so I never really considered myself a fan based off of what I heard. This changed, however, once I was introduced to Hank Williams’ music. His music was simple, somewhat folk-sounding, and placed a lot of importance on story telling. His music was completely refreshing for me and I was instantly hooked on country music. Ironically, I was introduced to Hank Williams through a video game, something that did not even exist during Hank Williams’ time.
The aforementioned game was my brother’s (seriously) copy of The Last of Us, a 2013 game about the zombie apocalypse. It is a beautiful, cinematic game that follows two characters, a hardened survivor and a little girl, as they struggle to survive the end of society. It definitely picked up on the zombie trend of the last couple years and appeals to a younger gamer audience. In fact, The Last of Us has sold over 7 million copies since its release a year ago.
I have included a video of one of the scenes that features Hank Williams. In this scene, protagonists Ellie and Joel playfully banter during one of their few peaceful moments. After a few moments they pop a Hank Williams tape into the cassette player and Hank Williams’ song “I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive” begins to play. Joel comments that the tape is a “good one” and Ellie hopelessly remarks that it is better than nothing. Joel (the older survivor) appreciates the tape, while Ellie says that it is better than nothing.
Note: this video has some colorful language and themes, only watch if you can handle such material.
To me, this was a very telling moment for both characters, as well as Hank Williams’ music. His music is instantly recognizable to the older survivor, while sounding obnoxious and revolting to the younger girl. I believe the same goes for real life, as mature audiences will appreciate the timelessness of old country music while younger audiences will instantly dismiss the music as sounding hillbilly. In a heart-warming change of taste, however, Ellie declares that “this isn’t that bad”.
I feel like Ellie and Joel’s exchange has some relevance to country music. Younger audiences (like Ellie) usually haven’t been exposed to very much country music, at least not classics like Hank Williams. After listening to the tape for just a few moments, she has already developed a taste for country music. I feel like this is true for most people: they say that they don’t like country music, but once you show them the “right” artist or song, their taste dramatically changes. The Last of Us did this to me by simply including Hank Williams’ music in the game. Although I didn’t know of him beforehand, I liked his music once I heard it and it opened me up to more country music.
In a world dominated by technology, there are nearly an infinite number artists and songs available to listen to. Many younger audiences tend to gravitate towards music that they are familiar with, such as hip-hop or pop or even electronic. The Last of Us managed to alter my own musical preferences simply by showing me some old Hank Williams songs and letting me know of their existence. It is sort of like a gifted basketball player who has never picked up a basketball; the second he does, it will just feel right to him. Similarly, when I first heard Hank Williams I knew that I had to learn more about this type of music. In a world dominated by technology, I can at least appreciate that some forms of modern media still pay homage to old country music legends.