Notes from a Small Town Called Rock ‘n’ Roll

Why Jason Aldean’s small town is not my small town

Jason Aldean (Image: Macon Music)

Jason Aldean’s small town is not my small town. My small town is called rock ‘n’ roll.

We recognize that rock ‘n’ roll is the most beautiful thing to happen in our lives.

It gave words to our hopes, feelings, fears, and dreams, when we did not have the words. 

It invented and described love for us when we were unloved, and was the soundtrack for love when we were loved. 

It found us friends when we were friendless, and it was the fuel for friendship when we found it.

(Do you remember that moment of grace and excitement when you spotted a strange but familiar picture on a locker, or the corner of a T-shirt across a hallway?)

It told us stories of freedom when we the world was small and square.

It comforted us on nights scarred with rejection, fear and acne.

It was big when we felt small, and it was intimate when the world was too big.

And some of us even plugged in and marched across the world’s stages like an army of happy conquerors, and it made our dreams come true, and every night, we waved this banner: I just want to give you the same feeling rock ‘n’ roll gave to me. 

And even if you never played a note, it inspired you, and distracted you, and was the landmark for all the remarkable and trivial moments of your life. And we recognized that banner; and we ran to that banner; and we wrapped ourselves in that banner; and it felt like home. And it was our friend. And it created a town without borders, where all over America, we could recognize a friend, just because we shared rock ‘n’ roll. Once we were outside. Now we had friends. Welcome to our dream of inclusion, our dream made by the outsider, for the outsider, to bring them inside our tent. Now you have a friend. 

Rock ‘n’ roll is our small town. We carry it in our hearts wherever we go. 

We recognize that rock ‘n’ roll is the sound of America’s disenfranchised, made electric. 

We recognize that rock ‘n’ roll was created by Americas unwilling and willing immigrants, and their children and grandchildren; by the sons and daughters of sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and freed slaves; by the sons and daughters of coal miners and hard rocks; by the sons and daughters of the great northern migration, and the sons and daughters of the veterans of Johnston’s 1st Mississippi Infantry; by the sons and daughters of Pullman porters and those who grew up under the 3rd Avenue El; by the sons and daughters of those who played the bent blues on Rampart Street and those who sang celebratory schottisches in dusty west Texas towns.  

Find the names of those who were meant to be excluded from the American dream, and you will find the names of those who invented your music, your rock ‘n’ roll, your country, your pop. 

They were in every small town, and every city, and every place in between: the outsiders, the excluded, who found a forever voice in music, who turned their experience and their suffering into the beat and melody of work and play, and who live in every guitar chord played yesterday, today, tomorrow. Do not keep them from your town, because they built your town. They are the bricks and mortar, the heart and tears, of your town. 

And in our times, in the cathode ray dust of the last century and the buzz-less ether of this one, we were also the other, the excluded: We were the greasers and the stoners, the geeks and the sullen and brilliant; we were those who were called faggot and dyke and who learned to wear those labels proudly, and we called it rock ‘n’ roll. We recognize each other, because we love rock ‘n’ roll, and how it made us all princes and princesses in the Kingdom of Outsiders. 

Everywhere you look, there is a small town that is a cloud kingdom, and it is a kingdom of outsiders. Everywhere you look, rock ‘n’ roll is a town call inclusion.

Rock ‘n’ roll is inclusion, and rock ‘n’ roll is our small town. 

We recognize that rock ‘n’ roll not only celebrates our differences, but it is also a creation of our differences. It was made by those who sat in the back of the bus because they had to, and those who sat in the back of the bus because they wanted to. It was made by those who had no choice but to be different, and those who were told over and over they were different; and who used rock ‘n’ roll to find the door to a world that welcomed them, a town of the spirit where they could fly a flag which said, “Freaks, geeks, you are welcome here; those who love noise that is too quiet or too loud, you are welcome here; those who have more questions than answers, you are welcome here; the beautiful refused of high school hallway cliques, you are welcome here: I am rock ‘n’ roll, I am inclusive, I welcome you, Skynyrd fan and Bauhaus fan alike, you are home.” 

We found our small town under that flag. It was a land scattered with pretty boys and handsome girls, the strange who seemed instantly familiar, those within whom we finally recognized ourselves, who sang in a language which we instantly recognized. We carry the Freedom of that Small Town with us, wherever we go. We really do. My feet are on this floor, in this zip code, but my heart will always be in a small town called rock ‘n’ roll. 

We recognize that Jason Aldean can say and sing whatever he wants. This is important. We celebrate freedom and inclusivity, even the freedom to state an opinion that we find distasteful. Freedom of speech is ours; we share it. But your fear of the outsider, your fear of the other, that is something we do not share. We adamantly do not censor it, but we are compelled and committed to announce that we reject it. Your idea of a small town is not ours. We believe the foundation and framework of the music of our lives was built on the lives and the creative invention of the outsider–the other. That is our small town. 

We choose to say our house is inclusive. In fact, it is not a choice. It is a fact. It was built by outcasts, the disenfranchised, the bullied, by those economically and socially disenfranchised from the American dream, who claimed a stake in the dream via sound, rhythm, melody, and art. Our house, our dream was built out of wood scarred by prejudice and rejection, made into something so powerful we gathered within it, and found a home. 

We are rock ‘n’ roll. Rock ‘n’ roll is inclusion, and rock ‘n’ roll is our small town. 


 You May Also Like

Tim Sommer

Tim Sommer is a musician, record producer, former Atlantic Records A&R representative, WNYU DJ, MTV News correspondent, VH1 VJ, and founding member of the band Hugo Largo. He is the author of Only Wanna Be with You: The Inside Story of Hootie & the Blowfish and has written for publications such as Trouser Press, the Observer and The Village Voice. Learn more at Tim Sommer Writing.

14 thoughts on “Notes from a Small Town Called Rock ‘n’ Roll

  • July 25, 2023 at 2:45 pm

    Love this. Thank-you Tim Sommer.

      • July 30, 2023 at 11:20 am

        So much you you can’t even spell his name right?

        You stand with hatred and ignorance. Congratulations, doofus.

        • August 4, 2023 at 7:47 am

          You don’t know what you are talking about. Play the song and really listen to the words. Nothing about hatred, racism or ignorance. You are the doofus. You must be a sleepy Joe Biden fan. That in itself is ignorance. He has torn this country apart. He and his whole administration should be in prison. Let’s go Brandon

          • August 4, 2023 at 1:27 pm

            LGB FJB AND I stand with Aldean!!! This “author” is the problem. What a moron.

    • August 4, 2023 at 7:09 am

      I am a firm believer of Jason Aldean’s song and I believe that every town should be that way, cause look at all of the violence and crime that is going on today. Why can’t everyone just get along and stop all of the crime and violence.

  • July 26, 2023 at 9:23 am

    Well, Tim, what you wrote may be eloquent and poetic and profound and true – and Aldean’s song may be corny and simplistic and kind of tone-deaf positive, as Pop Country tends to be. But somehow I agree with both.

    No, I have not seen the video, and that probably adds a different context to it. But just based on the song and lyrics alone, what exactly is he saying that isn’t true? He’s describing acts of violence against innocent people. He’s saying that those acts of violence wouldn’t be tolerated in the romanticized version of the small town he paints.

    Aldean’s song and his “town” are not unlike the Small Town John Mellencamp sang about in a more endearing way 30 years ago. John’s poetry may be more akin to your own, but the town is the same one.

    But if you just listen to Aldean’s lyrics and somehow you place those acts of violence in the hands of one particular race… then that was you doing so, not the song.

    Violent riots are bad. Period. I don’t care if the perpetrators are attacking the storefronts of innocent shop owners or if they’re attacking the Capital building.

    The way to protest a wrongdoing, whether real or perceived, should rarely be through violence, and certainly never against innocent people. The things that happen during a riot often cross the line of what is in any way appropriate and I’m sure you know they do.

    Whether Tucker Carlson’s defending or downplaying the Capital insurrection, or whether MSNBC is downplaying or ignoring Kenosha. Both takes are convoluted and both have an agenda. And both are wrong.

    What you wrote in your article above is beautiful and true and I really liked it. But I think you are as well a little misguided and I think your take on the situation is incomplete.

    • July 30, 2023 at 11:22 am

      Aldean is a small-minded, ignorant fool. His slant is clear. He is misguided, and so are you.

      • August 4, 2023 at 6:50 am

        So I see where people can leave comments but if the comments don’t say what you like then people are idiots? I really liked the article and grew up on rock n roll and country. I believe that anyplace can be a small town and you make your small town what you want it to be. I also believe that this has been so blow out of proportion and I have said there are rap songs that talk about killing cops but do you see all this constant talk abut it everyday no i don’t and also Jason Aldean did not write the song he is doing his job to make a living and singing the song. So to you idiot Guy have a good day

      • August 4, 2023 at 7:48 am

        You sound like a sleepy Joe Biden fan, full of shit and lies. Ignorance on top of ignorance. Let’s go Brandon

    • August 4, 2023 at 9:45 am

      Totally agree, I don’t care for the video, but I don’t find the lyrics racist, as you say, the person listening puts that there. So well said 👏

  • August 4, 2023 at 3:48 am

    I believe the point of Jason’s song and the video’s graphic violent depictions are that NONE of us want these hoodlums breaking into jewelery stores and making off with thousands of dollars of items or others stomping into department stores and shoplifting what ever they please and getting away with it! NONE of us want rioters or so called protestors who don’t even know what they are protesting against, setting fires on the street, breaking windows and looting products from the very hard earned livelihood of small-time business owners! What the hell has happened in America?! Jason Aldean was sounding a WAKE UP CALL! I applaud him! Small town…Big Cities. Even a portion of my once beautiful hometown of Seattle became “Occupied” preventing home and store owners from entering their buildings for a length of time while police officers were prevented from any action. We need to take back our streets! We do that by returning respect, funding and empowerment to our law enforcement with the accompaniment of citizen vigilance.

  • August 4, 2023 at 5:35 am

    What does ur diatribe have to do with the topic addressed in Aldean’s song? Rock and roll is big city and everything in between that and a small town. It’s lots of other things too. But one thing it is NOT is anything that stands for violently slapping an old lady across the face as she loads her groceries into the trunk of her car. You have smoked too much crack.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *