#992: ‘Copperhead Road’ – Steve Earle

You know those songs that you listen to as a kid, and you just hate them? What about those songs that your parents just adore, forcing you to suffer in silence for the next few minutes, only to have yourself realise that you’re not actually suffering in silence because they’ve turned up the damn radio one notch above deafening since the song is so rocking? Or what about those songs that made you feel that way as a youngster, except now, you love them? Yeah, what I just described was my experience with ‘Copperhead Road’.

Let me preface this though, ‘Copperhead Road’ isn’t a bad song, and it’s probably not an amazing song, but it’s a good song that I never fully appreciated when I was younger. I guess it’s sort of hard to appreciate a song when your father has the stock-standard radio in his burgundy Mitsubishi Magna wagon turned up as far as it will go to the point that the only thing keeping the windows from cracking is their combined will to survive another ‘Copperhead Roading’, as they’ve no doubt named it.

‘Copperhead Road’ though is one of the fond musical memories I have of my father. As a youngster, the introductory bagpipes would signal the fact that I am not to talk for a few minutes, no, it’s Earle Time, not Talk Time. Of course, after about the third time hearing the song, my father explained to me the song’s meaning; “It’s about a guy whose family makes moonshine.” Of course, at age six, I took things at face value and thought that sounded pretty cool. After the fourth listen, a further explanation was given. “Moonshine is home made beer,” he offered, crushing my childhood fantasy dreams in the process.

Of course, I didn’t see why the song was that good. I appreciated Steve Earle had a message about making liquor in the song, and something about his grandfather whose name might have been Charlie? (Of course, this explanation turns a blind eye to the opening lyrics of “Well my name’s John Lee Pettimore, same as my daddy and his daddy before”, and includes an ignorance towards what a ‘Charlie’ was.) I also wasn’t a huge fan of country music at the time, nor any genre of music that derives any sort of sound from it, so I was bound to hate the song.

As I got older though, I realised that this song had somewhat of a deeper meaning, sharing common traits with a lot of the old western ‘outlaw’ songs, before featuring an ending that sees our hero make it out alive, rather than being shot by the usually dastardly lawmen.

These days though, I think I finally see in this song what my father did. It’s slick, anthemic, and sounds pretty goddamn good coming from the speakers of a ’90s family car. Maybe it means I’m starting to follow the tradition of my daddy and his daddy before and starting to get into country music? Either way, before I face that hayseed inevitability, I guess I better develop a taste for moonshine, because it seems like the thing to do.

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