One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor!

I don’t like country music, but I don’t mean to denigrate those who do. And for those who like country music, denigrate means ‘put down’

BOB NEWHART

The convergence of new technology with an outmoded form of music has created quite a stir in the Irish entertainment business recently. A band playing an Irish version of country music (referred to as country & western) has gone from being a household name in rural Cork to national infamy in the space of a few short weeks. Crystal Swing is the name of a family trio featuring teenage siblings Derek and Dervla Burke and their mother Mary. Bands containing two or more close relations are not uncommon in the music world, although it is quite rare to come across a group that counts successive generations among its membership. Teenagers tend to form bands to rebel against their parents, but Derek and Dervla don’t seem to have any of those rebellious urges. In contrast, they possess an abundance of youthful exuberance, provincial naiveté and kitschy glamour. Their rapid rise to fame in Ireland has been facilitated by advances in modern communication instead of such traditional methods as practicing, rehearsing and gigging

It all started innocently enough. The band were offered a slot on Rural TV, proudly billed as ‘the world’s rural channel’ on its website. The song Crystal Swing chose to perform was an American country number named He Drinks Tequila that was originally recorded as a duet by Lorrie Morgan and Sammy Kershaw. The song appears on their 2001 album I Finally Found Someone and made it all the way up to number 39 on the US country charts when it was released as a single. Unlike Bob Newhart (quoted above) I do not dislike country music. I will admit that I dislike a lot of it, just as I dislike a lot of pop music and lots of rock music and so on. In my opinion, there are only two kinds of music anyway: good music and bad music. Therefore, I would consider country music performed by the likes of Johnny Cash, John Prine, Gram Parsons, Hank Williams Sr and their ilk to be “good” music

For me, Lorrie and Sammy’s song falls into what I would consider to be “bad” music. There is nothing particularly original about its tale of two lovers named José and Rosa who live in a trailer park and whose names suggest that they may be Mexican immigrants. Their possible Mexican heritage is further emphasised by the use of words like ‘sombero’ and ‘mariachis’ as well as a couplet in the Spanish tongue. The biggest hint is in the repeated use of the line, ‘He drinks tequila, and she talks dirty in Spanish’. The only thing less original than the song’s lyric is its clichéd musical style and accompaniment. It is most likely that this version was targeted at a particular US musical demographic: its large Hispanic community. The single’s lowly chart position would suggest that this community didn’t buy what Lorrie and Sammy were selling. Still, the appropriation of Hispanic culture by Morgan and Kershaw for commercial purposes may have been cynical, but at least they appropriated an aspect of their own American culture

Lorrie and Sammy might have just about got away with singing He Drinks Tequila, but it would not seem the most obvious choice for an Irish mother-daughter-son combination to record. True, Ireland has become a more multicultural place and Irish people have become more worldly, but most of our cultural influences still come from England and the United States. I like to think I’m pretty clued into what’s going on in my country and I would think that there aren’t too many Josés and Rosas living in trailer parks in Ireland, drinking tequila and wearing sombreros. Of course, this hasn’t stopped Irish country and western bands in the past from covering American country songs without adapting the lyrics for an Irish audience. They do, however, adapt these songs musically so that the particular twang and swing of American country is transformed into the bastardised monstrosity that is Irish country and western music

Crystal Swing continue this tradition in their peculiar take on He Drinks Tequila by adopting American country accents, while the prominent guitar line of the original has been replaced by an annoying, repetitive keyboard sound played with musical abandon by mother Mary. There is also something problematic about the singing duo’s particular relationship to each other. The original version of the song is sung as a duet by a heterosexual couple who were married at the time. Even though they are singing in the third person about a couple of younger lovers, it is more likely that they are flirting with each other in the song. This takes on a more disturbing meaning when two siblings flirt with each other, particularly when Dervla utters Rosa’s desire to have her body kissed

These unsavoury undertones are made overt in their “music video” for the song. It begins with an over-rehearsed and contrived introduction straight to camera by the trio and follows with close shots of the family in action. The thin confines of the screen are unable to contain Derek whose jerky movements come bursting out of the frame. His body seems to have a mind of its own and his style seems to be influenced as much by the fictional creations of Steve Coogan as by the moves of Elvis Presley. Occasionally, the camera tries to capture Dervla’s over-earnest vocal mannerisms, but Derek always strays into the shot. The most uncomfortable moments come when they attempt some “dirty dancing” and also when the camera cuts to Mom’s unsuccessful attempts at throwing some shapes

Somehow, this video of their slot on Rural TV found its way onto Youtube. It didn’t get too many hits at first, but then Graham Linehan blogged about it and, later, Ellen DeGeneres mentioned it on her Twitter page. This worldwide attention made it a viral hit and turned Crystal Swing into an “internet sensation“. They’ve since appeared on The Late Late Show and an impending appearance on Ellen surely looms. Throughout all this, the band have allowed themselves to be caught up in the moment even though they are completely oblivious to the fact that their success stems from their lack of media savvy. This lack of knowledge about modern communications is obvious from the video of He Drinks Tequila and the retro look of their website

They are aware that their newfound popularity has also brought some begrudgers, but they uncritically dismiss these naysayers as being envious of their success and fame. They prefer to remain in blissful ignorance of the reality that most of their “fans” are not interested in the group’s cutting edge style. Rather, the vast majority of visitors who click on their Youtube link are doing so because they find humour in the band’s hammy and kitschy style. There’s even a spoof Facebook page that seems to have fooled most of the band’s real fans. Crystal Swing should enjoy their moment in the spotlight, though. The individual members of the band may go on to make a career in the music business, but what they’re doing has nothing to do with music and everything to do with entertainment. And they’ve certainly brought a smile to many people’s faces. Let’s just hope they don’t inspire too many copycats

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