cowboy in LA

is it bad or is it good...its good

There’s this song that I like a lot. It’s perhaps a bit of a guilty pleasure, but I think its good and it’s called cowboy in LA and it’s by LANY.

So, why do I think it’s a good song? Well, because I think it sits at an intersection of country songwriting (which I love) and modern pop, and in this way is what I call a purple song: one that in some ways is a cultural bridge across the polarized chasm of our modern cultural-political drama. Lyrics first.

These days (maybe not just these days…) one structural way to write the lyrics to a country song is by just listing objects that evoke some sense of Americana. It happens all the time. Here’s the lyrics from Luke Combs’ Forever After All that’s at the top of the country charts right now:

A cold beer's got 12 ounces
A good truck's got maybe three hundred thousand
You only get so much until it's gone
Duracells in a Maglite
A needle drop on a 45
Are the kinda things that only last so long…

FM station on the outskirts
Blue jeans after years of shift work
All fading out like I always knew they would
The strings on this guitar
The first love lost on a young heart
Those things are gonna break after the getting's good

And here’s another chart topping hit right now, Chase Rice’s Drinkin' Beer. Talkin' God. Amen.:

Firewood crackle in the fall air
Red dirt playing on the radio
Big dipper hanging high up there
Breathe in the backwoods and let it go

And another at the top right now, Lee Brice’s Memory I Don’t Mess With:

Red leaves on the river
Footprints in the sand
Cold walk in December
Warming up your hands
Sundress on the front steps
Sun up by the lake
Blanket down in the backyard
Lying wide awake

So like, this is how you’re supposed to lyrically open a country song these days—by juxtaposing just a handful of scene setting nouns so its like a fade in from black and you’re there, wherever, in the Fall or Winter or on a backroad. The point is that in this lyrical style that’s sort of the hallmark of country music right now the actual space and time in which the song takes place is important. Good country songs need to really bring you there. And this is how they really do differ from your standard pop, which is aimed at describing situations so general that they can be accessible and thus sellable to anyone: country songs are about transcendent objects in specific places in time.

And though I think people wouldn’t call cowboy in LA a country song, lyrically speaking, in this sense it is. The song opens with a lyrical scene setting:

Palm trees, square dancing under the moon
Sunsets, they ain't got nothing on you
And the purple in the sky ain't as pretty as your eyes
Tell me what I gotta do
When you're with me, it's better than Malibu

and then later again:

Thunder, pickups and cheap gasoline
Lightning, best show that I've ever seen
And you get up every day, and you work hard for your pay
Happy in a pair of jeans
Oklahoma, it made a man out of me

So here not only is cowboy doing this country structural list-like scene setting, but also in terms of lyrical content its focused on objects of Americana—trucks, gasoline, square dancing, jeans, sunsets…

Importantly too, cowboy is a simple love song, much like the majority (not all) pop country these days. A lot of modern pop music is lyrically focused importantly on complicating romance, on reassigning roles, on redistributing power and myths and stories of our normative society. cowboy is not that. cowboy is country. it is simple love, early love, a honeymoon song, a country song. But sonically?

Well, sonically…no, not country. But I think that’s why this is interesting, why its purple. What is happening sonically in cowboy is in many ways basically your standard Gen Z electronic pop music—synths, male voice, whatever. But what makes it remarkable is that for me it seems the entire song is a really good and gigantic text painting—”composing music that reflects the literal meaning of a song's lyrics or story elements.”

cowboy, sonically, is a sunset landscape. Or perhaps, it is the sonic representation of the album cover that cowboy comes from because in many ways is about the juxtaposition between the neon of urban land with the neon of sunsets.

As the song opens it is sparse. There is a muted guitar sequence playing. Behind the muted guitar is a lot of darkness with an ethereal unchanging vocal line holding the same note. This floating vocal line for me is the red or glowing sunset in the album cover, glowing a constant red and orange.

As the opening section of the song continues we have then a lyrical grounding in space and time and simultaneously a sonic representation of the same space. A sunset, but for some reason I imagine this as an urban landscape…perhaps from atop a building in LA. Oh yeah, that’s why I imagine that…the song title! Anyway,

Palm trees, square dancing under the moon

So we’re rooted in space and time and the lyrics and sonics are unified and there’s beautiful sparseness and color (“And the purple in the sky ain't as pretty as your eyes”) and if we imagine the lead muted guitar as the male character we still have only one character until the line—

Sunsets, they ain't got nothing on you
And the purple in the sky ain't as pretty as your eyes
Tell me what I gotta do

As the repetitive male guitar and male voice introduces the presence of a love interest and asks “tell me what I gotta do?” we immediately get guitar 2 jumping into place with a higher pitched (female? is this necessarily a heterosexual thing?) response.

Anyway, I’ve already written too much. I don’t want to write complete things here y’all should just listen to at and enjoy for yourselves.

But in a moment wherein cultural conflict is the moral norm we’ve all basically bought into as the just and right way to act and be an ally and citizen, cowboy for me represents a naive sense of forgiveness that’s been forgotten—a dumb, simple, stupid solution to the cultural trench warfare of the world we’re building for future generations.

It is a naive song, one goes in circles as first and last line match. “Palm trees, square dancing under the moon.” It’s unclear whether the palm trees themselves are square dancing, or whether the human characters are, or really if the protagonists are watching other humans square dance. Regardless, the lyrical cyclicality mirrors the cyclicality of the sun. We could be watching a sunrise after a long night, or a sunset at the beginning. Who knows. It’s all reds and purples and oranges.