Many people don't realize it, but some of the best, most literate, honest and wise songwriting is in country music. You just have to wade through a sea of rural American cliches to get to the good stuff.
And this might turn into my favorite country song ever. Pay attention, people who say they don't like country music. You'll love this one.
The song is disarming. Musgraves delivers "Merry Go Round" witha straight forward, calm, sweet but not saccharine voice. Further setting you up for the kill, the song plays on the variety of homonyms and themes associated with the word "Mary," And there's references to childrens' fables.
Then you pay attention to the lyrics and get this:
"Mama's hooked on Mary Kay
Brother's hooked on Mary Jane
And daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down.
Mary, Mary, quite contrary
We get bored so we get married
And just like dust we settle in this town
On this broken merry-go-round and round and round we go
Where it stops, nobody knows
And it ain't slowing down, this merry go round."
FWIW, here's the music video for the song. Love the old footage of suburbia. More thoughts below that:
It's brilliant how the lyrics describe the generations of ennui in small rural towns. Boy, have I seen it here in Vermont. People thing we're all a bunch of merry (that play on words again) hippies, eating our organic vegetables while grooving to Phish and being so loving and liberal and so damned sustainable.
But like probably other rural small town in the nation, we have our sad little towns, sad little neighborhoods of broken mobile homes, where people live their lives by rote, by habit, because some of them don't know any other way.
Many, maybe most of the people who live in these small towns without much money are genuinely happy, fulfilled and active. But certainly not everybody.
And Musgraves bluntly calls attention to that slice of life. Or existence. It's sad, of course, but it's also refreshing to hear a country song that diverges from the usual theme of how honest, faithful, perfect and wonderful everyone in rural America supposedly is.
A lot of people are comparing Musgraves to the awesome Miranda Lambert, who's probably country music's most accurate and creative chronicler of American life.
Sometimes this works out OK, and sometimes, as Musgraves knows, it does not. She ends the song with this killer lyric:
Jack and Jill went up the hill
Jack burned out on booze and pills
And Mary had a little lamb
Mary just don't give a damn no more.