ROWE: Hello Arkansans, this is the second piece from us, Brasher and Rowe, and we are some dudes who communicate with other people by showing them videos on the Internet. “Hey man, you see that one …” is a common way to have a conversation. Today we are going to talk about music, starting with this video for Collin Raye’s “Little Rock.”
BRASHER: As you watch the beginning of the video, you see he almost gets hit by a car in slow motion, and that pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the video. He says in his opening lyrics that he disappeared a time or two, so right off we discover we’re dealing with a powerful wizard, I’m intrigued. Continuing with the first verse, we learn: Collin quit drinking. Collin sells VCRs at Walmart. He’s down with the Church of Christ, and he cries on the phone dead sober and apologizes about it. Throw in the reckless street crossing attempt from the start of the video and you can tell this dude is possibly not like what you might call “the best and brightest”. So why pick Little Rock to come to, man? You are bringing our city down, bruh. Miss us with all that. Searcy is just right up the road. They got you.
ROWE: I feel like being the VCR salesman at Walmart is a pretty specific job. That specialization within the retailing giant would would mean that some poor soul would be working the lingerie counter at Walmart. I guess it pays good enough because this Lifetime movie of a music video shows Collin can afford to live in a wood-paneled motel in Little Rock, just waiting to get back to his family, in another town.
BRASHER: OK, so this guy is pretty obviously an economic and emotional mess but but what’s worse is, if the chorus can be believed, he is pretty sure he’s on a roll. Like he’s good with this situation. In this age of neoliberal dog-eat-dog competitiveness, I find his lack of ambition refreshing.
BRASHER: I like this kid that walks up, just looking through him in horror like “The Exorcist,” which gets me thinking:
Here’s my new pet theory about the video. The TV is on playing static in the motel. Why would he not change the channel? Come to think of it, why would he not drink that scotch? It’s because he can’t is why. He was hit by that car in the opening and he is now cursed to walk the streets of Little Rock for all eternity with his regrets. Explains a lot, huh? Didn’t see that twist coming did you? You wondered why he disappeared? It is because he is a dead ghost. Puzzle pieces all coming together.
So it turns out Collin Raye — the man, not the ghost — was actually born in De Queen. According to this site, De Queen apparently has a cemetery haunted by a baby and if you drop a rock into the well in the center of the cemetery you can hear the baby cry. The same web site says that 30 miles away in Idabel, Oklahoma, there is a McDonald’s haunted by a little girl. I don’t think there’s any connection but y’know, just saying, that’s pretty weird too.
ROWE: Real life is pretty weird. Also, this video was definitely not shot in real Little Rock, which is infinitely more interesting than this version of Little Rock. Our next musical find is prophetic.
BRASHER: In the late ’90s in Little Rock I worked at a little sandwich place called Hillcrest Cafe that previously had been occupied by a record store. One day a manilla envelope showed up addressed to the long-since-closed record store. Of course I opened it and what I found was a CD. It was titled “Let Freedom Ring” and had an American flag on the cover, maybe an eagle, I don’t exactly remember. Listening, it was over the top, overproduced, ridiculous rock country music, but the lyrics were incredible, full of jingoistic pro-military foreign policy ramblings, half-assed threats and musings on religion and country living. Most of the political stuff pertained to wars happening in the nineties: Gulf War I, Yugoslavia, Serbia, that era. I have never heard such grave material treated in such an unwittingly hilarious manner.
A SAMPLING OF LET FREEDOM RING
ROWE: You say it pertains to wars in the ’90s but “Let Freedom Ring” also correctly predicts Shock and Awe American foreign policy and country songs mainly about girls in short denim shorts. The lyrics sound pretty nuts in this format, but we’ve been living them as policy for a good chunk of my life.
These songs are known as song poems. What happens is a person writes some lyrics and sends in a couple hundred bucks to see their lyrics turned into songs. There’s a great documentary, “Off the Charts,” that deals with this phenomenon.
BRASHER: The genre is something between outsider art and a complete scam but nonetheless, it needs it’s own xm radio channel stat. Hilltop Records published “Let Freedom Ring” There’s not a lot out there in the Hilltop discography, but there is this video: It documents the other darker side of selling VCR’s at a Walmart, as if Collin Raye’s cursed afterlife wasn’t grim enough, this jam is about having to push shopping carts around.
Hilltop Records presents Rusty Stratton – Cartpusher (with words and music by Jonathan Cook and Eric Brown.)
BRASHER: Listen you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the shoplifters, the door greeters, the regional manager. I can’t even rip on this song because every lyric, every guitar lick, is perfection. It’s a labor anthem like “9 to 5”, or “Take This Job and Shove It”, but if it were written by someone who only held a job for one paycheck before being fired over “the incident,” and then they were approved for SSI five days after that and never worked again.
ROWE: There’s a real sadness in the chorus: “I’m a cartpusher, or so I’ve been told.” Rusty is singing about identity — is there more to me than my career? I don’t know.
BRASHER: Is Rusty Stratton a real guy? The name sounds like a top prospect quarterback out of Wichita Falls, Texas. I definitely found another of his tunes on a Russian website under the title Keith Scott and Friends. Is Keith Scott real? What is this Russian rabbit hole? Rusty is turning up other places on the web but I’m afraid $0.99 is worth a bit more than my curiosity at this point.
ROWE: Luckily you can catch him on Spotify. If you are Rusty Stratton or Collin Raye or the writer of “Let Freedom Ring,” please contact us so we can learn more about you.
BRASHER: I hope he makes it onto either the “Daily Lift” or “Songs To Sing in Your Car” playlist.