“Before Everything Became Automatic”

I’m working on my next magazine issue, but I wanted to share Miranda Lambert’s new song, which speaks to some of my preoccupations here at God and the Machine.

One of the constants in country music–both classic and Top 40–is nostalgia: a yearning for a lost past. It’s a profoundly conservative, deeply Christian sensibility. It’s not sentimentality, mind you, although it can devolve into cheap and empty sentiment with ease. It’s a sense that there are permanent things, and these are, if not always missed, at least worth remembering. We lost something glorious in the fall, and we go on losing things in life, and thus there is an aching inscribed in each heart for a past we can never recapture.

For us, living our time forward from birth to death, it involves a looking-back, usually at what we’ve lost. I doubt Miranda Lambert–who likely recorded this song on a digital deck, and will sell it online, and has a cellphone and a Twitter account and all the other fixtures of modern life–wants to chuck it all and go back to plugging a coin into a pay phone. But like so many of us, she senses that we left something valuable behind as we moved into the future.

I always ask the same two questions about progress: What have we gained? What have we lost?

Hey, whatever happened to waitin’ your turn
Doing it all by hand,
‘Cause when everything is handed to you
It’s only worth as much as the time put in
It all just seemed so good the way we had it
Back before everything became automatic

And then there’s this:

Boys would call the girls
And girls would turn them down
Staying married was the only way to work your problems out

File that one under “Things You Don’t Hear in Beyonce Songs.”

And here’s another recent take on holding firm to the past, this time from Dierks Bentley.

Faith, love, freedom: country’s about the last place you’ll find these words used without irony.