(Full disclosure: I am disinclined to agree with anyone who goes hatin' on Tom Petty.)
In a column titled "Tom Petty's Country Criticism Flawed," Cooper takes on Petty's slight of modern country music, saying in part that Petty is confusing "formats with genres and art forms, and these are very different things."
For reference, at a live show Tom Petty referred to modern country as "bad rock with a fiddle" (which is, frankly, being generous), and in a Rolling Stone interview, elaborated:
Well, yeah I mean, I hate to generalize on a whole genre of music, but it does seem to be missing that magic element that it used to have. I'm sure there are people playing country that are doing it well, but they're just not getting the attention that the shittier stuff gets. But that's the way it always is, isn't it? But I hope that kind of swings around back to where it should be. But I don't really see a George Jones or a Buck Owens or any anything that fresh coming up. I'm sure there must be somebody doing it, but most of that music reminds me of rock in the middle Eighties where it became incredibly generic and relied on videos. I don't want to rail on about country because I don't really know much about it, but that's what it seems like to me.
This is, for the record, the entire quote. You will note that he bracketed his comments with disclaimers--something Cooper either failed to not to notice or just ignored--but it's pretty damning all the same. Particularly as he is correct.
Cooper's take? Petty is wrong because he is referring to terrestrial radio:
I’m just saying that defining country music by whatever’s playing on the radio at the moment is both maddening and ridiculous.
There is life-changingly great country music being made today. It is heard every night in Nashville clubs, and it is distributed around the world, via this newfangled thing known as the Internet. It is often not on terrestrial radio, but what does that matter to us? Do we not have access to the Internet? If not, shouldn’t we see about gaining such access? In Nashville, can’t we go to The Station Inn, Douglas Corner, the Bluebird Cafe, The Stone Fox and dozens of other venues? If not, shouldn’t we check into getting transportation, money to pay a slight cover charge, fake IDs or whatever surmountable hurdle is in our way?
Why are we complaining about music we don’t like? Why aren’t we finding music we do like?
And this is where what might be a great point goes sharply off the rails.
What Cooper fails to realize is this: terrestrial radio is IT for much of the US.
Satellite radio currently has just over 24 million subscribers. There are 117 million households in the US. This means that 80% of households in the United States don't have satellite radio. Fifty-six percent of adults have a smartphone. This is a majority, but a fairly small one. How many of those folks listen to music on their phones is beyond me, but I'm going to guess not too many--only a quarter of the "music listening time" of 13-35-year-olds is devoted to streaming music on the Internet. Among older people, the article I just linked says that "Internet radio accounted for just 13 percent of music listening, while AM/FM radio dominated listening methods with a 41 percent share." Which is a tl;dr way of saying that I'm far from a Luddite freak for turning on my AM/FM radio when I get in the truck.
And then let's address this bit about "slight cover charge, fake IDs or whatever surmountable hurdle is in our way?" This, to me, is really what makes him sound clueless and wrapped in a bubble. I'm not questioning that the good music is out there. Not at all. But in order to go to, say, the Eleven Hundred Springs/Tejas Brothers concert at Gruene Hall last Saturday, I'd have had to have money for the tickets, money for gas, money for a babysitter, a babysitter at all, and most likely money for dinner somewhere. Now, could I swing that sometimes? Sure. But money and time away from my kids are both pretty fucking precious commodities, and this is true for a lot of people my age, if not most of them, and it's sure as hell not a way to discover new music. If I'm going to wrestle into place all the various things that need to be wrestled into place to go to a concert, it's going to be for someone I absolutely love and adore, like the Lost Immigrants or Steve Earle. (LI keeps only coming near me when I'm flat broke, more's the pity.)
I'd like to think Peter Cooper really isn't as clueless as he comes off in that article, but he would have been well served to actually think through what Tom Petty was saying before flapping his gums. Someone certainly is "confused about music", but it's not whom Cooper seems to think. Maybe for my own sanity, I should assume the entire column was satire which flew right over my head, and Cooper was only highlighting and reinforcing Petty's point that you can't get the good stuff on the radio. I'd be happy to have missed the boat here, believe me.