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Rural Urbanite vs Citified Country Boy

I’m kinda stuck in a funny place in terms of my worldview and politics and that kind of thing. I’m noticing a greater and greater divide between rural and urban belief systems, and I’m in the funny place because I can kind of understand both. I’ve been feeling this way for awhile, as I’ve watched the political landscape in the US and Canada change over the last few years, and as I’ve had conversations with lots of people from all parts of the spectrum. We also had a really important election in my home province of Alberta recently, and that made it even more powerfully apparent to me that there are some pretty deep chasms between rural and urban ways of thinking.

I grew up in a very rural setting, in the countryside outside Taber, a small Albertan oil/agriculture town. Both sides of my family are cattle people for many generations, and I got a lot of my basic ideas about life from my rancher grandfathers, my country school teacher grandmas, and from my parents. When I left the farm to go to university, and later started a music career in the city, I was exposed to an entirely different way of life, and way of thinking. I’ve learned a lot from that over the last twenty years, too, and it’s formed a big part of my personality and outlook. I know a few friends in similar positions; I have a Hollywood screenwriter/rancher friend who splits his time between LA and Montana, and there’s my cowboy buddy from Taber who is very well read and travels a lot. We’ve discussed the fact that we feel like political chameleons. When I’m at home with my friends from rural Alberta, I come off like a hippie. When I’m with my left wing musician friends in the city, I sound like a conservative. Depends on the issue, too. Maybe everyone feels this to some extent, I don’t know. I guess your beliefs are always relative to your surroundings.

My particular situation is amplified by the fact that my musical audience is split between country and city people. I have friends in bands who have a much easier time expressing their opinions because they’re always preaching to the choir. Some of my buddies in urban based music, whose opinions tend to be pretty left wing, can spout all the lefty stuff they want, and their fans love it. Likewise, guys I know who play straight country music can go off on redneck rants, because it’s right up their audience’s alley. Me, every time I open my mouth it seems like I piss somebody off, because my people are so diverse. I used to think this was a plus, and I thought maybe I could use my position as an artist to bridge the gap a little. That was probably naive.

I’m left in the position of having a pretty good understanding of both ways of thinking, and frankly, depending on the issue, both sides make good points sometimes. Unfortunately, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just about impossible for city people to fully grasp the way country people think about certain issues, and the perspective they have. And vice versa. City people often view rural people as backward cousins, when in reality, many people from the country have very wise views about certain things, and can be much more sophisticated than they’re given credit for. They just have a much different perspective. And in exactly the same way, country people often view urbanites with suspicion, and don’t like their citified approach to things. There are a lot of good ideas that come out of the city, that rural people would do well to embrace, but it’s nearly impossible for them to see things the way urban people do. I’ve watched so many arguments over this stuff, and have felt that deep down, both people wanted roughly the same thing, they just couldn’t overcome the cultural divide between them. Very frustrating.

I know already, from observing the tone of modern public discourse, that this little essay probably isn’t going to bring people together, it’s likely just going to start more arguments. And I’m probably going to come off like some pompous jerk suggesting that I know better than everybody. I don’t. But I do know that there are good ideas all around us, and that we should listen to each other more, if we’re going to sort our shit out. And circumstances are dictating that it needs to be sorted pretty quickly.

– Corb Lund

26 Comments

  • dony o Says

    Are you really you man?

  • Terry Says

    Great post Corb, I agree that Alberta is experiencing an ever-widing divide between the Urban and Rural perspectives and if demographics continue on their present course the urban voice will only get louder (not necessarily stronger, clearer or wiser mind you).

    I think one thing that you bring to the table is legitimacy in the eyes of both groups…so even though you will piss 50% of the people off 100% of the time when you make a strong point. At least they are listening and maybe you’ll be covertly broadening their perspective.

  • Chaserio Says

    I completely understand what your talking about. Ive got kind of the same thing you have going, from a small ag town of 800 people, livin in a small city of 65,000. People flat think different, i side with the conservatives most of the time but the liberals bring interesting shit to the table every now and then that makes a guy stop and think. But im a big fan of yours, keep the tunes comin… There the best.

  • Bill Studley Says

    I know exactly what you’re feeling here. I’ve been wrestling with the same thoughts for years already. It seems to me that there are a few of us who are blessed/cursed with the ability to see both sides of an argument. It may be just me, but I find that Canadian politics have become much more polarized than they used to be. People who used to identify as Conservative would sometimes strategically vote Liberal and vice versa. Now it seems that everyone is rabidly one way or the other, and the politicians work to perpetuate this dichotomy. When adamant partisanism (is that a real word?) appears, common sense tends to lose out…or at least, that’s my take on it. Good post Corb, you’re not alone.

  • Robin Arthur Says

    I’m living what you just wrote, having recently moved from Denton, TX to Malvern, Arkansas. The situations/feelings that you describe in this blog entry are happening right under my roof with my fiancee and me. City vs. country. Left vs. right. Neither is wrong. Neither is right. Differences are good. Differences suck. Stress. Curiosity. All of it. Thanks for putting my thoughts down on paper for me. Haha! And puhlease try to book a gig in Arkansas! I am having withdrawals from Dan’s Silverleaf in Denton. Both my fiancee and I fans of yours on Facebook and on the lookout for shows in our area.

    Take care,

    Robin

  • Charmaine Says

    This is fascinating to read as a ‘city person’ who just enjoyed your performance the other night. You’re right – Alberta seems to be about opposites and I do worry about the gap growing in terms of our understanding and appreciation of others. The election (or/and the media) really seemed to amplify the differences.
    Have to disagree with this statement though: “I used to think this was a plus, and I thought maybe I could use my position as an artist to bridge the gap a little.That was probably naive.” I think your music brings people together. For our family, it’s a way for us to talk to our kids about other ways of thinking and living. We often find something, like the environment, to talk about in a different way which is really valuable. In that way, your music can be a bridge. If understanding comes from knowing more about others and their perspectives, then I think you – by living in both worlds – do have an influence.
    Love the new stuff, btw.

  • Laura Machala Says

    I love you Corb! Just keep being yourself…I know your music has generated much thought on these subjects in my own heart/mind, and I have watched it shape the ways in which my boys think too. You are making a difference, and bridging gaps I’d you will. Keep it up my friend! You are doing a great job! L

  • Dave Kyle Says

    nicely written Corb…my comment is less about the blog than it is about the layout of the site – please remove the .gif of you chopping wood beside the text, it makes it extremely distracting to read while this quick, jittery gif is in the corner of my eye the whole time…keep losing my place!

  • Cody Girling Says

    I relate to this fully. I’m a cattle rancher but I also work for the Government of AB, so you can imagine how differently those two groups of people vote. At work I had a wildrose smear campaign, fear mongering, lies, rumors, grandiose stories and delusions of grandeur of what would happen to us if the wildrose got in… And then I leave there and go to a land rights and landowners debate and everyone is screaming that they would vote anything but PC after the corruption and scandal and underhanded shady deals that have been going on. You’re from southern AB and so am I and you saw as well as I did that the south all voted Wildrose. Now, I’ve been fending off the backlash from that because I’ve heard everything from bigoted racist rednecks to inbred hillbillies, but I know that some of the smartest people I’ve ever met live down here and I know how they voted. The biggest thing to me I think is the idea that there always has to be an enemy, a protagonist and an antagonist and it seems that when we have an election all of a sudden a nice person like Danielle smith or Alison Redford gets painted and branded as the next Adolfo hitler. I’ve met Steve earle and Fred eaglesmith and while I dont agree with a lot of their politics I do love to hear what they say because they have strong educated viewpOints and theyre cool with debating until their faces turn blue. The pc party was doing nothing for us down here and we needed to send a message that we weren’t happy and we did. But now all of a sudden we are branded as backwoods bigots who want to do all sorts of mean nasty things to the rest of Alberta… That’s just not so. You played a show to support flood relief here, I’m sure you remember, and we were budgeted 200 million bucks for disaster relief… So far those people have seen 35, most haven’t been paid, and the cpany they hired to oversee it all has made 20 million… There was no way we were going to vote PC again. I live around cattlemen and oilmen, cattle prices have never been higher with the dollar at par and the oilpatch is booming again with oil prices through the roof so do you think any cattlemen or oilman is going to understand a deficit budget?? No. But how many of those peope live in town?? Not many. Which related directly back to what you are saying, urban issues and rural issues and the differing perspectives. For my urban friends, they want social progress and change and they see wildrose as very little social progress and very little change. They see cuts and less spending and that doesn’t appeal to them at all. Lots of my urban friends figure we should just jack up the royalties and make more money off of industry. None of them work in that industry though. It’s hard. I have heard you say before how much you like Nevada because it’s such a “hands off” state. I have a house down in Pahrump and I love it down there as well, I love the people and the attitude, they’re a great cross section of democrat/republican. I didn’t like redford because she’s a very hands on leader and I dont really agree with what her moral compass says sometimes. It’s going to be interesting to watch how things go and how things pan out. Whether our rural concerns will actually come to fruition or whether it’s not going to be as bad as we thought. And on the commercial and business sector as well, are we really going to see the death of commercial business in Alberta? I guess all we can do now is watch and wait and speak up when we see something wrong. I guess no matter what happens, I get lots of time off and Havre is only an hour and half away and flights to nevada are cheap out of great falls, I can always holiday down south for 1.50 a beer. Final thought, when we have issues with our neighbouta fence in the country we deal with that ourselves, when you have issue with your neighbors fence in the city, worst comes to worst, you can always call the cops… Rural vs Urban… Yup.

  • Kaity Says

    I couldn’t agree more Corb,
    I grew up on a farm east of Strathmore and have spent my share of time in the city. Right now I’m living in Saskatoon, attending agriculture college.
    I don’t wat to put too fine a point on this but I feel sometimes like there is a kind of situational awareness that is innate to rural people but not to city people.
    I also feel like the urban view of country people really varies within and between cities, and personally I think the size of the city has a lot to do with it. Calgary and Edmonton have a slightly more backwards view of their country cousins than do smaller cities like Saskatoon, Regina and even Winnipeg. While in super large cities, country life is romanticized as something quaint and old timey. (Ha! Come drive one of Massey Ferguson’s new tractors and tell me that’s old timey!).
    However, it is my hope that the increasing importance and power of the internet, coupled with the availability of knowledge, will lead to a shortening of the gap between city and country people. I am encouraged by the relatively new desire of city people to know where their food comes from. I’m heartened by the increasing popularity of farmers markets and the fashionable trend of “knowing a farmer” (even though it seems totally ridiculous to me since my whole family farms). I feel like reliable fast internet access allows farmers and ranchers to get information easily to their customers in the city as well as differentiate their products (Hooray for farm blogs!). I hope that if this trend continues farming and ranching will be professions as respected, and well payed as doctors and lawyers, after all, as Joel Salatin who wants a bunch of backwards hillbillies handling their food? This will not be achieved through farmers markets alone, but every movement has to start somewhere.
    Anyway, thanks for the article, and nice website! Thanks for reading my comment and see you at Stampede!
    Take care.

  • Kaity Says

    sorry, line 18 should have said
    “…after all, as Joel Salatin put it…”

  • Chap Says

    Well, Corb, I’ll tell ya. First 35 years were spent in the city. The last 20+ years on a farm in the bluegrass. Love both but I get white knuckles going back home. Not that I don’t like home, it’s just people overload.

    On your politics and stuff, I appreciate where you’re coming from. I’m there myself. Figure I can’t change or convince anyone, not a single soul, that my way of thinking is better, so I just let it ride. I surely don’t mind a good discussion. But people don’t want to have a discussion any more. No matter what they tell you. So I take it all with a grain of salt and satisfied in my mind about it. As a wise cowpoke once said “the words that soak in are the ones whispered, not yelled.”

    Best to you,

    Chap

  • Townie Says

    The rural-urban divide is amplified by the political system, where sets of ideas get lumped together when they shouldn’t be. For example, I agree with the farmers and ranchers when they say the government shouldn’t be able to appropriate their land without compensation, but I also agree with the lefties who say we shouldn’t be selling the oilsands for a song (no offence to those who write songs for a living). So, eliminating political parties might help, at least a bit.

  • Jet jones Says

    The problem is not solely canadian one or even a North Amercian one. I’m an Aussie we have the same problem here, worse if anything, norway is the same again. The devide between rural and urban people has gone missunderstanding to no understanding at all. Now days rural industry has a far better undestanding of urban thinking but urban people have none of rural. Here we are copping it from all different sectors, innercity “greenies” who think that farting cows are ruining the environment, coal seem gas miners who drain aquifers and pollute water supplies, governments who want to build dams on our best farmland to give cities more water, fanatical groups like p.e.t.a who want all farm live stock “fazed out” (destroyed), the list goes on and on. The main factor is a deruralisation of the workforce and the dictaotrship by majority (the only flaw in a democratic system). We simply don’t have the population living in country areas, so none of our issues are that important to politicians. There is an urban view that “farmers” are ruining the environment and nothing we can show then will convince them otherwise. Also being brought up without ever seeing animals butchered has given them a “meat comes from shop” mentality. More recently we’ve seen a generational change in the rural industry, who suffer from to much time in the classroom not enough in the saddle sindrome. They can speek alot of fancy sounding business ideas but have lost there understanding of the land and stock. High land prices and low wages have caused most of the rural workforce to seek out higher paying jobs in the coal industry (myself being one of them). Leaving the rural industry workforce increasingly made up of backpackers and urban dregs who can’t find a better job. With all these factors it’s a tinder box, no wonder it’s hard to say any thing with out offending someone. But don’t let it get to you, Dylan never had as strong of political oppinions as alot of people think, he just told stories. So just keep telling your stories because your one of the few around who can still write a lyric that tells a story.

  • Esther Says

    Dave’s crazy. I could watch you chop wood all day!

  • Clay Says

    Having grew up in rural Alberta, and then spent the last 15 years or so in Calgary, I too see this chasm growing. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not so much rural versus urban, as it is Albertan versus non- Albertan. Thanks to our prosperity our province has attracted a lot of folks from other provinces and countries, and they have brought their own belief systems with them. No problem with that, but it has… especially politically… changed the mindset of urban Alberta.

  • Brett Maggs Says

    Good piece Corb. I too have my roots in the country, live in the country but work in the city. It always amazes when urbanites call the farmers inbred hillbillys etc. My farmer friends are putting a half million dollars worth of seed and fertilizers in the ground every spring with $300,000 tractors in hopes it may grow. These comments are usually coming from the dweeb whose biggest responsibility is making sure there is paper in the photocopier. Anyways as far as your views go you will never make everyone happy. Too be honest I just like your music and I am not looking for any political guidance from it. Keep on doing what you.

  • Ron Says

    just keep on keepin on, Corbie
    Re: that country wisdom…my grandfather (gotta call him Paw-Paw in Texas) explains the socialist movement in the US the best.
    “If everybody’s on the tit, who’s making the milk?”
    You once told me after a show in Tomball that people from Alberta and people from Texas have three basic things in common. Oil, cows and a general distrust of the federal government.

  • mary Says

    Same thematic problems for generations and across most western cultures. Answers are certainly harder to generate than questions/observations. Btw does there need to be a bridge or is diversity s healthy thing?

  • isyllabeth Says

    Great post Mr.Lund!

  • Amanda Says

    So true. Being half city half country, and part white part native makes the divide seem like No Man’s Land. There’s a song title for ya! Have at ‘er! —Good post, Corb.

  • Canady Anna Says

    I’m another one who’s grown up straddling both the country and urban fences – and it’s the broad view that it gives you that is a lot of your appeal for me. A musician friend from about 40+ years ago once told me he felt if you didn’t piss people off and make them think once in a while, you weren’t really successful as an artist. I for one am so glad you are who you are and you do what you do so well. Keep it up, my man. Can hardly wait for the new album.

  • Rob Says

    I was distracted by the wood chopping Corb as well, but thought it was funny and was excited when I realized there is a new album coming out.

    As the son of an outfitter who now works in a city I feel the same way as Corb. There are a lot of good ideas coming from both sides, but sadly ignorance on both parts as well.

  • Fantastic post.
    I grew up 40 miles from paved roads, only went to school in town through the 5th grade and then homeschooled the rest. Being both rural, and a non-religious homeschooler, I grew up pretty alien to a lot of the available community. I was involved with this or that with city kids, and always felt a stranger. The (damn few) other rural kids either got driven to school every day, or had this strange imaginary friend who was going to set me on fire when I died if I didn’t believe in him too. So when I headed out for college, I was pretty ready for being the odd-man-out. What I wasn’t ready for, was being a curiosity.
    I went through that stumbling period, of thinking I could bring disparate worlds together, because people wanted to hear the country boy and his ideas on the world. But, I realized, only because it was a free show. Eventually, I found the few friends who, despite their citified upbringings, could get beyond their native worldview and really connect on the basis of ideas and actually doing work, and after that, I pretty much quit trying to bridge any gaps. I enjoyed what the city had to offer, often even more so because I could sit back and feel like I was seeing it in a way no one else could.
    Now, a few years (a number that’s more surprising every time I look at it) down the road, I find myself in Santa Fe 50% of the time, and out on the ranch 50% of the time, and running a business that exists in both places. From here, there is little I can do to deny the truth of some of what the city folks bring to the table, and little else I can do to make what some of “my people” bring be good or right, and vice versa. It continues to be a balancing act. I think it’s one step at a time, one person, one idea, one conversation where different cultures and values meet, exchange, overlap, or somehow share and inform one another – If I have one of those a month, I feel pretty good about doing my part to keep the world from going plumb to hell. Ain’t ever much, but every drop of rain counts.

  • Peter Griffith Says

    Amen. Great show in Atlanta.

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