The Heartfelt Satire of Jonny Fritz
A lot of popular country music has nothing to do with the West as it is today. Instead, most songs praise the myth of the West–PBR, girls, and cowboys–and I admit that I am a sucker for these songs. But one of my favorite country artists, instead of lauding this myth, explores and satirizes it with his music: Jonny Fritz. He released Sweet Creep (2016) last October, an album of eleven short songs that still makes me laugh and cry at the same time as it engages with the irony of the contemporary West–and America itself.
Fritz, who once went by the cornier moniker Jonny Corndawg, croons in a high-pitched, whimsical voice that floats above the guitar of Taylor Goldsmith (from Dawes). He doesn’t even try for the booming, masculine twang of traditional country. In fact, he draws attention to the irony of the typically masculine concept of the West in his first song “Are You Thirsty.” Here, he sings about the typical Western–or should I say American– man who drinks his sorrows away. Are you harboring resentment for everyone you know? he asks. And does addiction run through your blood like your father’s before?... Are you thirsty?
Fritz titles his next song “Happy in Hindsight” and, of course, he sings about the irony of being happy only in the the past. Fritz follows that song with “I love Leaving,” where he is self-aware of his boyish avoidance of commitment, singing I guess I’m getting that age, when turning the page is easier than learning my lines. And Fritz continues, gently singing with humor about our attachment to the American myth: a lonely Florida girl who moved out West (“Cries After Making Love”), a lost love whose address he can’t find (“Forever Whatever”), a one-star hotel in Nashville (“Stadium Inn”), his own traveling band (“Fifteen Passenger Van”), and more. Finally, he ends with a big-hearted song, “Chihuahua Rescue,” about wanting to buy a hotel and create a resort for homeless dogs, further demonstrating the love and hope that lies behind his light irony.
While I love the album Sweet Creep, Jonny created my favorite of his songs when he still went by Jonny Corndawg, titled “Night Rider.” But it’s not about the type of “rider” that you might expect. It’s about a truck driver, not a cowboy.
Ride on night rider/ roll your iron steed/ jamming gears and kicking tires/ have always been your dream/ so fill your stomach with garbage/ and sit down for days on end/ drinking gallons of coffee/ and wishing that you only had a friend. –Sage Marshall
Sage Marshall '19 studies English at Wesleyan University. He is co-founder and editor of Reverberations.
Sweet Creep (2016)
Produced by Jim James
Label: ATO Records