MAY
2009

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

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05-14-09

Download the audio of On Six Legs: MP3, WMV.

Country Music Songs Can Be Somewhat Buggy

What we know today as country music began with the old-time music practiced by the early settlers of the North American Appalachian region. Such string-based "hillbilly" music gained wider acceptance during the 1930s depression through radio barn dance shows, such as the Grand Ole Opry. Today's country music is a blend of bluegrass, folk, gospel, cowboy, honky-tonk and rockabilly styles.

In general, country music tends to focus on life's problems. That is the basis for a country song written by Steve Goodman and recorded by David Allen Coe. According to the lyrics, the song--"You Never Even Called Me By My Name"--was purported to be the perfect country song. At least until Goodman and Coe realized that they had omitted a few negative things commonly found in country music. Nothing was said about alcohol, rain, pickup trucks, prisons, death, trains or Mom! Or, as it turns out, insects.

Goodman and Coe apparently didn't consider insects to be one of the negative themes found in country music. But insects haven't been left out of all country songs. In fact, these six-legged creatures do have a part in a country song or two, but not in a negative way.

For example, The Country Gentleman Chet Atkins teamed up with Earl Klugh on "Cricket Ballet," a guitar instrumental inspired by, as you might have guessed, the sound of crickets. In keeping with the country music roots, the Burr Oak Ensemble included catching fireflies and putting the insects in a jar in their song "Firefly Light."

No insect shows up more often in music than butterflies and, as you might imagine, country music is no exception. Folk musician and songwriter Bob Lind wrote and recorded "Elusive Butterfly" in 1965. The song is about searching for romance, a true country theme, and finding it as elusive as trying to capture butterflies. Lind's song became a transatlantic, hit but ultimately the singer became a one-hit wonder. Many artists, including Rhinestone Cowboy Glen Campbell, covered the song.

 Dolly Parton did a cover version of "Elusive Butterfly" as well, but she also wrote and performed her own butterfly song with a similar theme. "Love is Like a Butterfly" begins with the lines, "Love is like a butterfly, As soft and gentle as a sigh," and concludes with the line, "Love is like a butterfly, a rare and gentle thing."

Gospel singer Bob Carlisle won a Grammy in 1997 for "Best Country Song" with "Butterfly Kisses." Carlisle's song is about fathers and daughters. It not only rose to the top of the popular charts but also became widely used in weddings. And it was sure to bring a tear to every father's eye as he remembered his daughter growing up.

Fireflies are almost as popular in music as are butterflies. Faith Hill recounts capturing fireflies in her song of that title by saying, "I found mayonnaise bottles and poked holes on top, to capture Tinker Bell, and they were just fireflies to the untrained eye." Alan Jackson uses fireflies in "The Firefly's Song" as an analogy for the passage of time with the line, "And life goes by like the fireflies."

Brad Paisley has a popular country song called "Ticks." I know ticks aren't insects, but they are arthropods and, besides, there is a line in the song that is insect-related. It is "Your jeans are playing peek-a-boo, I'd like to see the other half of your butterfly tattoo." The song title is based on the line, "And I'd like to check you for ticks." And that, folks, might be a good idea, especially if you have just gone hiking in an area where ticks that carry Lyme disease are present!

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band sums up the essence of the use of insects in country music in their song "Fishin' in The Dark." The song begins with the lines, "Lazy yellow moon comin' up tonight, shinin' through the trees, crickets are singin' and lightning bugs are floatin' on the breeze." Now that's a true country song--going fishing at night with a girlfriend, being serenaded by crickets, watching fireflies, and not worrying about catching fish or being bitten my mosquitoes! Who says country music is always gloom and doom?

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox