Author Archives: Dustin Hixenbaugh

About Dustin Hixenbaugh

Dustin Hixenbaugh teaches writing courses at the University of Texas. He is a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature and is completing a dissertation on Cuban, Mexican, and United States historical novels. Before moving to Austin, he taught English at La Joya High School, which is located on the Texas-Mexico border. When he was four, his parents bought him a Fisher Price tape recorder and a couple Dolly Parton cassettes, and he has loved country music ever since. Recently, Dusty has also become an avid podcaster, co-hosting LitWit with his friend Carly Sweder and contributing to UT’s Zeugma series.

Merle Haggard for the Win

merle-haggard_capitol-edit-dlA couple of weeks ago, I wrote this post about the list CMT has been releasing of the 40 artists who have been the most influential to country music. At that time, the organization had just announced its #4 choice, Dolly Parton. I predicted that the final three would be Merle Haggard, Elvis Presley, and Hank Williams.

Turns out, I was right about the names but wrong about the order. In the end, it was Elvis at #3, Hank Williams at #2, and Merle Haggard at #1. I am surprised that Hank wasn’t the final list-topper, but I will chalk it up to the fact that he’s been dead for 60 years. It’s hard to get too caught up in exact placements on lists like this one because they’re so crowded with talent and importance.

Also, I like Haggard. He’s been performing consistently for half a century, and in that time he’s helped country music both progress and stay true to its roots. On one hand, he is a true country music fan, recording songs by up-and-coming writers like Iris Dement (back in the ’90s). On the other hand, he also respects his elders, paying tribute to greats such as Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills. (You can download the Rodgers album here, for free).

We haven’t talked about him much in class, but in case you’re interested, here are two of my favorite Haggard songs:

“Mama Tried” topped the country charts in 1968 and is probably Haggard’s signature song. Don’t ask me why he’s performing on a carousel in this video.

Another chart-topper, “If We Make It Through December” (1974) was the song that made me a Haggard fan. Technically, it’s a Christmas song, but I think the story about a dad having to explain to his daughter why he can’t afford to give her a fancy holiday is worth listening to year-round.

Well, what do you think about CMT’s final list? Who was snubbed?


Filed under Bakersfield Sound, Classic Country, Lists, Song Analysis

Student-Made Music Videos

If you’re joining the Country Music Project for the first time, welcome! The students enrolled in the “Rhetoric of Country Music” course at the University of Texas have spent the last couple of class periods preparing music videos for some of their favorite country songs. The purpose of the activity was to give them an inside look at the process of making a video to accompany a song, and to practice their skills at bringing their favorite songs’ stories to life. Please note that these videos were created for entirely educational purposes and do mean to infringe upon the rights of any of the artists involved in the original recordings.

Miranda Lambert’s “Dry Town” (2007). Video by Gerrit Cook, Brittany Fietsam, and Lejla Pracic.

Kacey Musgraves’s “Follow Your Arrow” (2013). Video by Mikey Casarez, Carilu Martinez, and Elizabeth Stack. [Note: The video includes footage from Burning Man (Nevada) and Austin’s Zilker Park.]

Taylor Swift’s “Jump Then Fall” (2008). Video by Alyssa Hazen, Minsu Kim, Dena Lipper. and Tamar Oren.

George Strait’s “Here for a Good Time” (2011). Video by Amy Burt, Hannah Parmer, and Ramie Payne.

George Strait’s “I Saw God Today” (2008). Video by Holly Kern, Zane Gurwitz, and MaKayla Markey.

Carrie Underwood’s “Starts with Goodbye” (2005). Video by Tori Horvath, Jessica Jakobeit, and Alina Monzón.

Hank Williams’s “I Won’t Be Home No More” (1953). Video by Mark Anderson, Brent Borman, and William Glass.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Class work, Music Videos

9/11 and Country Music

474085--50f947f8-f83a-4834-923b-94bc8ea26558-posterWhere were you on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, when terrorists associated with the al-Qaeda group flew commercial aircraft into the World Trade Center and Pentagon in what became one of the deadliest and costliest attacks on United States soil? This is the question Alan Jackson asks in one of many country songs that appeared in the years just after the attack (“Where Were You [When the World Stopped Turning]”). As Jackson argues, wherever you were, you probably remember how you received the news. You probably remember feeling torn about how you and the United States should respond.

The early 2000s were an exciting time for country music. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, older songs such as Hank Williams, Jr’s “A Country Boy Can Survive” (1982) and Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” (1984) returned to radio stations, helping Americans through their grief. Artists such as Jackson, Dolly Parton, and Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote songs about reflection and healing, while others such as Toby Keith and Darryl Worley wrote songs that gave vent to the nation’s anger and called for a violent reckoning.

"Fuck You, Toby Keith"

“Fuck You, Toby Keith”

The Dixie Chicks’ “Travelin’ Soldier” (2002), which relates a simple story about a girl waiting for her boyfriend to come home from Vietnam, gained new resonance as President George W. Bush led the country into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to drive a wedge between al-Qaeda and its political supporters. After the Dixie Chicks’ lead singer, Natalie Maines, criticized the war while performing in London, listeners turned against her, pulling “Travelin’ Soldier” off the radio and essentially ending the band’s short time at the front of the country music industry. Scholars have still not fully assessed the ways that 9/11 and country music interacted in the first decade of this new century—how we learned more about each of them during the process.

In your final projects, you will explore the ways that country music has been used (and continues to be used) to give artists a voice in times of crisis and circumstances of controversy. As the guidelines indicate, you are welcome either to write a new song or compile a list of 8+ already-existing songs that intervene in a present debate. As you undertake this work, I hope you will keep the example of these 9/11 songs in mind. Even country artists who are known for singing about girls, trucks, and booze sometimes take advantage of the rich opportunity the genre provides them to make political statements.

Below, I have linked several songs that (re)appeared after 9/11 and that relate to that topic. Your job in class today is to give three of these songs a close listen and then post a comment identifying some similarities and differences that you notice. Overall, what do you think characterizes songs that responded effectively to the crisis? What lessons, if any, have these examples taught you about writing songs that respond to an issue of intense social importance?

When you have completed this activity, please resume work on your music video. When you have completed the video, export and post it either to YouTube or the class website (using the “media” button). Email Dusty the link to the completed video before class begins next Tuesday, November 25.

Note that the comment you leave today does not count as one of the ten that you are required to make for credit.

“God Bless the U.S.A” (1984) by Lee Greenwood

“America Will Survive” (2001) by Hank Williams, Jr.

“Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” (2001) by Alan Jackson [Read Brittany Fietsam’s song analysis]

“The Angry American (Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue)” (2002) by Toby Keith [read Will Glass’s post about the song]

“The Rising” (2002) by Bruce Springsteen [Read MaKayla Markey’s song analysis]

“Hello God” (2002) by Dolly Parton

“Travelin’ Solder” (2002) by the Dixie Chicks [read Ramie Payne’s song analysis]

“Have You Forgotten?” (2003) by Darryl Worley

“Grand Central Station” (2004) by Mary Chapin Carpenter


Filed under Class work

CMT’s 40 Most Influential Artists

CMT_logoThe folks at CMT are releasing the names in their list of country music’s 40 most influential artists of all time. So far, the list includes some obvious names, with George Strait at #5, Johnny Cash at #8, and George Jones at #10. Surprisingly, it also includes a number of performers who are not country themselves, but who have nevertheless influenced the genre in notable ways, including Michael Jackson (#12), The Beatles (#14), and Led Zeppelin (#32).

Yesterday, the site revealed its entry for #4 — Dolly Parton. (Great choice.) Now, the question is, what artists will claim the top 3 spots?

It’s not an easy question to answer. There are a lot of classic country performers whose names haven’t appeared yet–Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, Gene Autry, Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, Ernest Tubb, Chet Atkins, Lefty Frizzell, Webb Pierce, Kitty Wells, Marty Robbins, Waylon Jennings, and Tammy Wynette to name just a few. Despite Dolly’s high ranking, the list is shy on female performers, and Wells–the first woman to truly crack country music’s “men’s club” wide open–would be a deserving contender. Given the list’s overall modern bias, I guess it’s also possible that Shania Twain, the Dixie Chicks, or even Blake Shelton could find a place in the top 3, but I doubt it.

Here are my off-the-cuff predictions for the last names to be revealed:

Stagecoach: California's Country Music Festival 2010 - Day 1#3. Merle Haggard. Like Dolly, Merle’s been on the scene since the 1960s and has become one of the genre’s most respected elder statesmen. I think #3 is a little high (not a diss — I think he’s great), but it’s hard to imagine CMT leaving Bakersfield’s favorite ex-convict hanging.

Elvis-Presley#2. Elvis Presley. Like I mentioned, the list includes several artists who are more associated with rock/pop than country. Realistically, Elvis probably deserves the #1 spot, as country music has never quite recovered from “Heartbreak Hotel,” which topped all the charts in 1956. But he just can’t win this fight because…

bestcountry-hanksplash#1. Hank Williams. More than 60 years after his death, ole Hank remains one of country music’s favorite inspirations and most recognizable icons. It will be a complete and utter rebellion if any other artist claims the top spot.

So there you have it. It’s not clear when #3 and #2 will be announced, but #1 will be revealed on December 1. What performers do you think might make the final 3? Who are you surprised to see on (or omitted from) this list?

(P.S. Yes, you’ll get credit for commenting on my post. I want love, too, y’all.)


Filed under Awards, Lists

Couldn’t Miss the Dance

A while back, MaKayla posted about Scotty McCreery’s charitable contributions. Since that post received a lot of love from y’all, I thought I would share this story about Garth Brooks stopping a concert to recognize a fan who is undergoing treatment for cancer. Also, incredibly, he gave her his guitar. Here’s the video:

I ran across this news this morning on my bus ride to campus and, I’ll be honest, I teared up a bit. Fortunately, I don’t think any of the other passengers noticed. It has to be one of the hardest and most rewarding parts of being a celebrity, this being called on to help people who are hurting or dying. Props to Brooks, though.


Filed under Charity, Live Music, New Country, Reflection