On behalf of Leeann, Blake and myself, I‘m thrilled to welcome our newest writer, Dan Milliken. For many of you, he will need no introduction, as Squinty Dan’s is a popular blog among our readers.

Dan’s mixture of knowledge, humor and personal reflection, along with his strong writing voice, make him a perfect fit here. I know that all of you will enjoy his contributions as much as we will! – Kevin

Hey there, everybody! My name’s Dan, and I’m pleased to be formally making all of your cyber-acquaintances. I currently live in Nashville, Tennessee, where I’m working toward my Bachelor’s of Business Administration in Music Business, and I like to spend my non-blogging free time working out, vegging with a good video game, or trying not to suck at guitar. Sometimes I go outside, too.

Kevin originally contacted me to design a banner for the newly pimped-out site layout, and at some point in that conversation I rather cleverly bamboozled him into letting me join up as a writer, as well. Poor guy.

But in all seriousness, I’m thrilled to have been offered this opportunity to share my thoughts on what I consider the greatest music on Earth, and humbled to be doing so for this community, which I happen to hold in similarly high regard. Kevin’s incisive work has already taught me more about the breadth and history of country music than I ever knew I wanted to know, and the site has only flourished in depth and personality thanks to the brilliant additions of Leeann and Blake. Throw in the passionate, diverse readership, and it all amounts to a very addictive experience for the burgeoning country fan like myself!

Country Universe is also personally meaningful to me in that its stellar example was part of what inspired me to revive my own blogging habit. My personal site, Squinty Dan’s, is the fruit of that decison, and I’ve loved packing it with country music content from the get-go. Ultimately, though, I felt that the blog needed a bit more topical balance, and was already looking for someplace else to dump my country music spillage when Kevin mentioned the possibility of my contributing here. So the timing of the offer really couldn’t have been better.

But enough about blogplay. This entry is supposed to be about my personal connection to country music, though frankly there are few topics I find harder to discuss. My “thing” with country music is almost too intrinsic for me to really describe it as a “connection,” hokey as that might sound. I don’t appreciate country music from a distance, as some sort of entertainment-hungry spectator looking for some excuse to have an opinion; I appreciate country music from the inside-out, because I see myself in it.

That’s what gives merit to any art form, I think. There’s no difference between the post-grunge fan and me, except that we happen to prefer different mediums, different sonic windows on the world and our places in it. I prefer my window rusty and raw, I prefer it with vocal trimmings that sound dead-tired from heat or heartache, that slur words and speak only in simple poetry because they can’t afford to waste breath on B.S. Because that’s what makes sense to me.

I appreciate country music because it’s terse and witty and honest and all of those other adjectives people throw around that only begin to skim the emotional impact of it. I appreciate country music because, at its best, it reminds me of who I am and who I’d like to be. And most of all, I appreciate country music because it appreciates me back, even when the rest of the world doesn’t seem to follow suit.

But that’s putting it all very broadly, and like anyone else, the way I arrived at these sentiments was more concrete. I’ve debated with myself as to how in-depth (read: long) I really want to make this post, given that this is a public forum, but ultimately I don’t think there’s any other way I can really explain myself.

When I look back on my childhood, I mostly remember feeling alone a lot of the time. I was terribly eccentric as a young boy, and had difficulty making friends. My parents spent the first eight years of my life fighting before they finally divorced. I took to walking alone outside either of their houses, singing to myself, enjoying nature, sort of living in my own imagination. I became very attached to the environment of Hawaii (it lends itself to that, really), where we lived for ten years thanks to my father’s enviable military assignment there.

Then we moved, and it was like the last bit of carpet had been pulled out from under me. I recall the ensuing few years as a collective haze of unpleasantness. I cared about nothing, I did poorly in school, I still struggled to maintain any sort of relationship with anyone – and worst of all, I was acutely aware of all that.

Country music finally “found” me the summer before I began high school. I remember downloading Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” off of some illegal Peer-to-Peer file-sharing network and being intrigued by the voice and the sentiment, but the song that really hooked me was Keith Urban’s then-hit “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me.”

It was those first few lines: “I got no money in my pockets / And I got a hole in my jeans / I had a job and I lost it / But it won’t get to me.” It was that idea that you could have nothing to your name and still be happy. I didn’t notice it at the time, but I think it really struck a big chord in me.

As I delved deeper into country music, backwards in time and forwards in traditionalism, I discovered that it was full of such ideas. The music seemed to come from a place of loneliness, and yet, there was always this sense of progress about it. Country music isn’t just about bemoaning that something is wrong or missing; it’s about finding some way to make everything better. It’s about acknowledging mistakes, swallowing pride, dealing with circumstances honestly, if not always amicably. It’s about real people dealing with real stuff. And that’s what I needed: to learn how to deal.

When all is said and done, I think country music is a lot of what restored my faith in everything I felt was wrong or missing in my own life. It taught me to believe in home, in family, in lasting truths, in real friendships, in finding humor in sadness. And it taught me to believe in myself. And that’s why I’m here; that’s why I’ve decided to try my hand at writing about the music (and maybe even writing some music myself, though that’s a secret, shhh).

When I think about the bulk of today’s mainstream country, it’s not just the un-country sound that bugs me; it’s the lack of emotional desperation, the lack of reckless creativity. The radio is wonderful if you want to chill out and listen to whole human lives get compressed into a string of easygoing cliches, but I want to hear about people who actually have things going on and aren’t afraid to talk about them. It’s not about drama; it’s about honesty.

And that’s what I’m going to be humbly shooting for in my contributions here – and more importantly, that’s what I’m looking forward to hearing from all you. Once again, I’d like to thank the staff for advocating my efforts thus far and for welcoming me aboard here. Let’s get crackin’, homies!

(And I didn’t mention it, but the new banner is also on its way!)