The AmericanMusical taste, like taste in general, is a funny thing. We live in an age where the reigning cultural paradigm is an enervating relativism, where all views are allegedly equal, when of course we know they’re not. I could give way too many examples of the judgmental non-judgmental and the intolerant tolerant, or the illiberalism of modern liberals. For what seems like eons, the West’s cultural elite have embraced the subjective as superior to the objective, if that even exists.

Forget the law of non-contradiction, two opposite things can be true, no problem, whatever floats your boat is great. And who are you to say what is good, or true or beautiful or right? Forget for the moment the raging hypocrisy and inconsistency of the postmodern fashionistas who people the world around us, and the sheer impossibility of all subjective impressions being true. Because actual thinking is in such short supply, most people think they can live this way, one subway stop from solipsism.

What in the world has this to do with music, you ask? Unfortunately everything, as it does with anything to do with any work of art, or philosophy, or religion, or morals. If relativism is true (which, as noted above, it simply cannot be, according to any coherent rules of logic), then opinion is sovereign and there can be no objective basis for claims of excellence or greatness. If you get lots of opinions together, then maybe something can be declared good, whatever that might be. Of course, this gets us quickly to the lowest common denominator, and there is rarely anything of much value down there.

So we here at The American Culture are part of the new counterculture, which should make us cool and hip anytime now; or maybe not. We believe that there are objective standards of good, truth, beauty, and excellence, that some works of art can faithfully be declared trash and others excellent and praiseworthy. This doesn’t mean we all agree on our evaluations of individual works, given that funny thing called taste, but we declare and take hold of a reality where there really is a there, there; it is objective, rooted in the nature of things, and even though your favorite color may be blue and mine red, we both know blueness and redness exist, that reality is more than just a bunch of impressions on our senses.

So here in this little blog post I want to declare the greatness that is Martin Sexton, objectively. Quite a few years ago I came across a Wall Street Journal article about Mr. Sexton (I can’t believe it was over 10 years ago! Boy do I love Google and this Internet thing), of whom I had never heard. It was quite a flattering portrait of this traveling musician who couldn’t make a whole lot of money selling records so decided to take his show on the road, where he spends a ridiculous number of nights each year. One of those nights my wife and I caught some years ago was spectacular. The article speaks of “Mr. Sexton as an impassioned performer who can bring women and men to tears when they see him live.” I can attest that this is true. The song I remember most, one that produced chills and moist eyes was “My Maria.” The purity of his voice in that setting was truly God-breathed.

Martin+Sexton+sexton3Notice in the article why he had to go on the road: he couldn’t sell enough records! Well I had to see for myself, so I got “The American.”  As I ran through listen after listen, my opinion of the record-buying public’s opinion was not elevated by the experience, to say the least. As I popped the CD on the other night I was again floored by this man’s obvious greatness and talent and musical writing ability, not to mention the purity of his voice. It still gives me chills.

If you listen to “The American,” where he had studio money from Atlantic Records to produce it, and compare it to those on his independent label, you’ll notice the lush production of the former and the sparseness of the latter. Some of our Amazon reviewers think it is over-produced; I think they’re nuts. There is genius in this music, and in my mind the production only enhances it. What you’ll notice when you listen is not only Sexton’s evident talent at building tunes and creatively catchy melodies, but also his engaging, erudite and often funny lyrics.

When you listen to “The American” the scent of the road is strewn throughout the album. Take the lyrics from the title song:

I will always love you
Uncertainty I love you
Spacious skies I love you
I’ll find new ways to love you
All these miles of ghostly west
The Hopis lost to Spain
Now belong to me
I’m the American
I could be a cowboy
Or just a hired hand
Twisters come in April
And rearrange the land
Pick me up and throw me west
A thousand miles from home
Dreaming up my fix
I’m the American
Abilene, old New Mexico
High and dry
Flagstaff Arizone
Cool water
Sipping silver stream
This is my
American dream
I know a squaw in Winslow
Who swears by candlelight
She said she’d leave the back door
Open tonight
Three weeks pay will keep me off
The wrong side of the law
Dreaming up my fix
Getting somewhere quick
I’m the American
And I’ll always love you

And the song sounds like the “ghostly west,” like “Flagstaff, Arizone.”

He also has an uncanny understanding of human nature which mixes with this sense of the wide-open roads of America.  I don’t know what the man’s religious convictions are, but he seems to have a worldview in which the human condition is clearly what is known as “fallen” in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Here’s one of my favorite tunes, although they’re really all my favorites, called “The Beast in Me,” partly because I’m from L.A. and partly because the lyrics are pure genius and the music fits perfectly:

Every single time I come to this town
It brings out the worst in me
Decadence dries deep in the root of mine eyes
To bring out a thirst in me
Bust in to Burbank and buy a big beef jerky on Barham
Stare into the stockyard
Life in this car out on the road
Can be so easy
Then in the evening time
There’s a welcome sight
In my lazy dream
I’m still hoping to find
The best in me is the beast in me
The best in me is the beast in me
Hansel and Gretel turning tricks
For the big bad wolf on Sunset
In front of the health food store
See them lining up in their Range Rovers and their Mercedes
For some peek a boo
With the queen of hearts
And as the sun goes down
In that purple sky
What passes for stars comes out
And I’m still hoping to find
The beast in me is the best in me
The beast in me is the best in me
I dreamed I saw Jesus on the sidewalk
Of Sodom burning sage he told me
L.A. you’re my desert rose
Forgive me as I age
All done with my twenties
Yet there’s a reason to live
Swear I found it in the
Picks and pans of People magazine
It’s the best in me
It’s the beast in me
Is it the best in me
Is it the beast in me
I made good my escape in my Geo. Prism
The little red rental that could
I was praying no more hair would grow on my palms
As I drove away from the sign it said
Welcome to Hollywood
Oh it’s the beast in me coming on through
It’s the best in me shining on through
My mama told me
Watch out
For the beast in me
But mama, mama it’s okay
The beast best in me

How does one come up with a line like, “Bust in to Burbank and buy a big beef jerky on Barham.” And the way he says Bar-ham is priceless.

I would love to share every song, but since you’re going to buy the album, or download it (legally, please), you’ll get to enjoy the music and lyrics together. But the last song on the album is one of my favorite songs of any artist in any time in any genre (am I missing anything?). I call this the Romans 7 song (that’s in the Bible), especially Romans 7:14-25. Sexton calls it “The Way I Am”:

The other night I had a crazy dream
‘Bout a man in a fishing hat selling magazines
All the way from Kingston he’d worked his way down
I bought him a drink on the night they kicked him out of town
He said, “You know I don’t like the way I am.”
“No, I don’t like the way I am.”
And I saw an old fisherman out swayin’ on a dock
Swigging a jug of something and a string of fish that he had caught
His wife had left him just a week before
She packed up her bags and waltzed on out the door
She said, “You know I don’t like the way I am.”
“No, I don’t like the way I am.”
And then she cried
And you and me walked down the shores of our youth
Chasing the sunrise, challenging the truth
It’s all so distant now I’ve seen too many lies
Turning my vision into crumbling demise
Makes me wanna say
You know I don’t like the way I am
No, I don’t like the way I am
But I’m gonna change the way I am
I’m gonna change the way I am

The song is utterly powerful, especially if sometimes you don’t really like the way you are. Sexton’s voice throughout the album is ridiculously expressive, but on this song it transcends voice to become an instrument of astoundingly pure sound. And the melancholy vibe is perfect.

As you can see, I’m not too much of a fan of Martin Sexton or his one studio album, so no relativism here. This is greatness, pure and simple. Check it out; I think you’ll agree.