Tonight, when David Allan Coe takes the stage at Manor, he may play a couple songs from Underground Album, his infamous 1982 LP that was sold exclusively through the pages of a biker magazine. Featuring proudly, colorfully titled tunes like "N***er F**ker" and "F**kin' in the Butt," the album has long been a sticking point for Coe's many critics, who accuse him of racism, misogyny and worse. Check the NSFW "If That Ain't Country," one of Coe's most popular songs, above, wherein he recalls "workin' like a n***er for my room and board." (Also, check the YouTube comments if you're feeling too optimistic about the state of humanity and need to be brought down to Earth a bit.)
Indeed, though throughout his career Coe has been responsible for radio-friendly hits like "You Never Even Called Me By My Name" and "Mona Lisa Lost Her Smile," his reputation has long been that of a rabble-rouser, outlaw country's baddest bad boy, a singer who never shied away from a dirty word, no matter whom the target.
As Coe hits Athens, it must be asked: what is his place in music in 2013? He tours often, playing mostly college towns, attracting a frat-centric audience unconcerned with political correctness—or, more probably, directly opposed to it—a crowd that just wants to party, folks who more than likely aren't willing to concede that a white dude with a guitar tossing around ethnic slurs is necessarily a bad thing. (Freedom of expression, and all that.)
But there is something grossly outdated about Coe's brand of country. Many of his contemporaries—Willie Nelson chief among them—have shown a willingness to adapt to the times even while maintaining the rebellious spirit that characterized their early work. But, though he has disavowed accusations of bigotry (he had a black drummer in the '70s, you see, so saying the n-word was no big deal), Coe continues to perform the most offensive songs in his catalog with a tone-deaf disregard to the realities of our modern world.
Whether this attitude is a truthful, admirable demonstration of self or a sad and ignominious display of an old man refusing to adapt to the times is up for debate. I suspect Coe and his fans will argue the former, will say that a bad boy is a bad boy, and we shouldn't try to tame him. I admire an outlaw, to a degree, but in this case, in this century, I'm not so sure.
David Allan Coe plays Manor tonight, Thursday, Feb. 7, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $14.