Leads a Lonely 2 Unlimited Ma Baker Country Music Life

It’s fair to say, although I’m loath to admit it, what little sanity I have left is a direct result country music.

Because my Peace Corps batch arrived in Albania only a few months after the country’s first free election, and because that election was preceded by six months of anarchy in which almost everything that could be smashed ended up smashed, there wasn’t much to choose from on the radio and not a wide variety of music to be found in the market. (Because that’s the most important thing when you’ve been sent to a country to help in its development. Well, it is.)

Partly because of this, and partly because the Albanians were interested in trying out non-Communist media, and partly because, apparently, someone copied the same mix tape ten thousand times, there seemed to be only three songs played in constant rotation.

(Note to people under a certain age: music used to be recorded on magnetic tape that was contained in a small cassette and then inserted in a device called a boombox which is larger and heavier, and had better batteries than most Priuses–Prii?)

The songs, unfortunately, even the one that was kind of good at first, soon wore on the nerves after you heard  them in every coffee shop, restaurant, bar, taxi and bus in the country, usually on an endless loop, every day for months and months.

Coming in at number three, and at most inexplicable, was Boney M’s Ma Baker, which is, well, unique. But it wasn’t played as much as number two, 2 Unlimited’s No Limit. Turns out, that yes, in fact, there is a limit. Usually more than seven times in one day. (Yeah, I know, that’s an easy and obvious joke. So what?) However, topping the chart at number one was Ace of Base with All That She Wants. (My apologies to any fellow Albania 001 batch members currently suffering flash backs.)

To make matters worse, foreign radio was also limited, unless you understood/could tolerate Italian radio. We got BBC–We will now say something full of wit but in a rather dry and droll tone that conveys no sense of excitement or energy. You’re eyelids are getting heavy. Send money. Pay your licensing fee. This is BBC. We are watching. (Something like that.) Then there was Voice of America, which featured such standards as Casey’s Top 40 and American Country Countdown.

After a few months, although I’m not a huge fan of country music–I don’t hate it; I’m just ambivalent about it–I found myself listening to the country countdown more often than Casey’s Top 40.  The rock/pop top 40 seems set in stone. You hear the same songs constantly and, after a while, the titles begin to program you. Just in 1992 the message was: Tears in Heaven End of the Road Jump Under the Bridge Baby Got Back To Be With You.

Mind you, country music isn’t always happy with its songs about how my dog stole my pick up truck and crashed into my favorite fishing hole while driving drunk with my ex who lived in Texas (Oh, don’t act like you’ve never heard that song) and it did give titles that when strung together sent the message No One Else On Earth Past the Point of Rescue Straight Tequila Night, but the country charts are volatile which means a song spends a few weeks at number one and then quickly begins to fade. The chart is always changing and crap song will be gone soon. This means you don’t have to listen to “I Will Always Love You” for 14 weeks at number one and then for another seventeen years as it slides down the top 40.

My friends, of course, were very supportive. During the dead of winter one fraternity brother sent a mix tape that included such uplifting groups as Depeche Mode and the always cheerful Morrissey with his lyrics “I will live my life as I will undoubtedly die, alone.” Exactly what you need to hear on a cold February when the power’s out and the batteries in your music player are slowly dying.

Had to listen to “Achy Breaky Heart” just to stay sane, which gives you an idea of how bad things could get.


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