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Is Sturgill Simpson Country Music's Savior? Not If He Can Help It

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Sturgill Simpson
Sturgill Simpson
The Washington Post

Simpson grew up the son of a former undercover narcotics officer whose commitment to the drug war — "There were times he was gone for months and he'd show back up, his hair is long, he's got a beard, driving a black Mustang, and I was like, 'Who the fuck is that guy?'" Simpson recalls of his father — contributed to his parents divorcing.

"[His] job led to a pretty tumultuous childhood. My mother, she spent most of her early life living in this prefab trailer home off the highway in eastern Kentucky. I think at one point, she basically told him it's the job or us," he says. "From what I remember, it wasn't a very stable environment. How could it be?"

Despite his father's anti-drug profession and worldview, Simpson conducted his own hallucinogenic experiments. One of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music's most analyzed lyrics is the litany of mind-alterers — marijuana, LSD, psilocybin and DMT — in "Turtles All the Way Down."

Country's 15 Highest Drug Odes

"I had some pretty introspective, therapeutic, healing [experiences]," Simpson states matter-of-factly. "You see the fabric of reality ripping apart in front of your eyes, and you're staring at the ocean and breathing along with the tide, and all of a sudden you understand that you react to things this way because of something that happened to you when you were four, that you'd buried. You come out of that, and if it doesn't give you a little pause for trying to be a better human being, then you missed the point."

Even so, his tripping days are over. "It's been years… and I don’t really feel the need to ever do it again, honestly."

Instead, he's just trying to make sense of his newfound notoriety. A recent Americana Music Association award nomination for Emerging Artist of the Year, opposite acts like soul band St. Paul & the Broken Bones and folkie Hurray for the Riff Raff, has left him feeling befuddled, perhaps even shackled. He rolls his eyes when congratulated on the honor, and will offer little more than a "no comment" when asked if he'll appear at the Americana Honors & Awards ceremony in Nashville in September.

"I don't know where I fit in," he says, looking conflicted, "but I do know that when I figure it out, it ain't going to be because somebody else did it for me."

Nor does he want to be fitted for that country savior crown.

"I don’t need that pressure," Simpson says. "And what does that even really mean? It’s not like Clear Channel is going to wake up tomorrow and be like, 'Oh, let's play this guy for a while and see what happens.' No. There are no delusions of the tide shifting. I just try to do what I believe in and, more importantly, wake up in 20 or 30 years and still feel proud. These records may be the only semblance of who I actually was someday. To anybody that gives a shit."

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