Blue Bird, Kill County and the Joy of Alternative Country | Cultural Criticism

from Blue Bird's "Give Me Light" Love Drunk video, in which HN contributor Andrew Roger proposes to Jillian Liesemeyer

Nebraska’s music scene is no stranger to music oriented around endless suffering.

Sure, there’s hope to be found, but no one listens to I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning to celebrate the joys of social life. I’ve listened to The Good Life’s “Under a Honeymoon” more times than I’d like to admit. And these days, at age 27, the listening experience always ends with a vague sense of shame — just general dirtiness. How could someone my age feel such immature suffering?

On the other hand, there are bands like Blue Bird. Blue Bird’s music is unapologetically joyous. As Andrew Roger writes, Blue Bird’s Marta Fiedler “weaves her past angst into an upward gaze toward the light.” Indeed, Blue Bird believes. They believe in things like second chances. And love. And it all bursts through in their music. As Fiedler says in the live video for “Perfect Day,” even the band’s name is meant to symbolize “rebirth and second chances.”

Take “Everything Can Change,” the second track from the Metamorphosis EP. Granted, generally melancholic lyrics characterize the song, such as these early lyrics: “If you tell yourself that you are fine / They say you will feel it eventually inside / But I did, Lord knows I tried / But still something’s not right.” However, the final lines are equally hopeful and reassuring. They remind the listener that his or her “luck can always change.”

Their Love Drunk video for “Give Me Light” even includes a couple engaged in a marriage proposal. And, you know, it is OK. It’s nice. It makes you happy.

Blue Bird’s rare status in pop music, even and perhaps particularly in the state of Nebraska, requires a critical consideration: Where is the joy in music (remember the philosophical question posed at the beginning of High Fidelity)? Moreover, Blue Bird’s occasional forays into the alt country genre beg an even more specific consideration: Where is the joy in alternative country music, an entire genre built around the brute reality of suffering?

Go no further than the Trampled by Turtles line in “Whiskey” to find evidence of this point: “Whiskey won’t you come and take my sorrows? ‘Cause I can’t seem to do it on my own.” Alt country is a genre that is, and has been for some time, quite good in Nebraska. Where does that leave local music in terms of joyousness?

Burach Spinoza, the 18th century philosopher who maintained notions that God and Nature were one and the same physical entity, believed that joy was the measure of a life well lived (here is a rather old man sitting on a couch talking about Spinoza). Joy represented that moment when the physical forces of nature (God), which compose our bodies and its surrounding environments, are all in harmony. An individual feels joy when living in pure harmony with the physical forces of life. Joy, therefore, is the external manifestation of harmonious living.