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JANSON’S “DRUNK GIRL”: CHIVALRY IN THE #METOO AGE

In this piece, which originally ran in January, Holly Gleason delves into the unanticipated awareness and humanity that elevate Chris Janson's single, which has just entered the Top 10 at Country radio after picking up CMA Song and Video of the Year noms, while Janson is also up for New Artist of the Year.  

The left hand keeps pecking, down, and down, and down on the grand piano, occasionally moving to another chord, but it’s steady in the wide open, like posts dropping for a fence to be built. Those triads unfurl and drift out, with a few single higher notes falling like raindrops from the right hand. Evoking innocence, the playing suggests an almost-beginner finding their way.

Guileless, it wistfully echoes with yearning. The voice, though, is porous, slightly knowing, even a little resigned. With the timber of a youngish man, still with wild oats inside, Chris Janson sighs, “Couple cover-charge stamps got her hand…looking like a rainbow…”

With that subtly tugging moment, the study in humanity comes into focus, becomes specific and somehow also universal. More importantly, at a moment when “Me Too” is a stunning ammonia popper of what passes—or doesn’t—for consensual sex, the hushed song draws a pretty clear line for “the difference between a boy and a man.”

Chris Janson looks like Huck Finn’s slightly more adorable kid brother, the kind of guy who could have a frog hanging out of his back pocket. Rakish grin that promises nine kinds of fun, his hits “Buy Me a Boat,” “Fix Me a Drink,” “Redneck Life” and “White Trash” speak to a certain je ne sais something—and that something might not be awareness.

As chunks of America rear up in the wake of #MeToo, “Time’s Up” and Oprah’s speech at The Golden Globes, unable to do the math on how casually women’s bodies are violated, then blamed, here comes a young man—31—not that far from his hell-raising days offering a lullaby to the sort of sobriety and respect our culture seems to have lost touch with.

Equal parts James Taylor, Alan Jackson and the wildly underappreciated Mac McAnally, “Drunk Girl” paints a beautiful picture of a kamikaze woman pounding drinks—either high-times celebrating or crushing heartache-drowning—who’s a menace to anyone else in the bar. So consumed by euphoria or agony, she’s “Dancing with her eyes closed like she's the only one in the room/Her hair's a perfect mess, falling out of that dress…”

And that’s the moment a certain kind of guy moves in. But in this song, that certain kind of guy recognizes the (young) woman at risk and gathers her up, gets that address and delivers the quite-possibly blacked-out girl to her bed. Rather than having that moment of carnal free-for-all, the song’s hero tucks her in, leaves the keys where she will find them and a note so she knows who the person who got her home is.

What could’ve been an easy piece—something too many late-night revelers scoop up without thinking—becomes a bridge. To bad food in an all-night diner, to sitting alone in his apartment listening to the neighbor’s wheezy cough, to watching terrible tv’s arctic blue glow. But the occasion also bridges to a higher way of being, a deeper connection to a stranger and the self-induced-realization what being our sister’s keeper means.

All three writers—Janson, Country Music Association Song of the Year winner Tom Douglas and Scooter Carusoe—have daughters. They understand in “whistling by the graveyard” ways how urgent elevating the conversation around when “yes” really means “yes” needs to be. They want to believe their little girls will be safe in this party-hearty, 24/7 porn-on-demand world. It’s binge-drinking, partying like the boys, throwing down and throwing up. And as the room spins, it’s more than just a hangover that may lie in the balance.

For Janson, the song signals a level of artistry that’s been hinted at for years. His willingness to scrape the marrow from the bones of the stuff no one wants to talk about, he breaks from the pack of today’s country males. With a tender series of tableaus, he makes the reality very real.

And with a song that’s decidedly quieter than what’s on Country radio, he makes doing the right thing resoundingly the only choice.  When the girl spins off her axis, there’s no thought to what can happen; the narrator sees it, recognizes, and acts.

Better angels, we all need ’em. In the song, the girl is saved from being a cautionary tale in a chorus that speaks decency to temptation, “’Cause you picked up her life she threw on the floor You left the hall lights on walked out and locked the door.”

Not since Miranda Lambert’s sobering depiction of domestic violence “Gunpowder & Lead” has radio been quite this real. And in this place and time, what better voice—a wild-eyed young man—to deliver the message?

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