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Bocephus Lives

In Kelefa Sanneh's 2012 New Yorker profile about Kid Rock's transition from rock star to country bad ass, there is an anecdote about Rock and Hank Williams, Jr., meeting for the first time: "When [Rock] turned up for the video shoot in Nashville, held in one of the city's less pretentious strip clubs, he was wearing a gold 'K.R.' ring. Williams walked up to him, looked at the ring, and said, 'You like that nigger flash?'" Rock told the interviewer he was worried about Williams' racism, and that he felt he was in a difficult position. But they went back to Williams' tour bus. Williams displayed—with, one imagines, a shit-eating grin—some of his own jewelry. He said, "Me too."

There is a Snopes entry on whether Rock is the literal bastard son of Williams, but these younger country performers are as much Williams' symbolic bastard sons: Justin Moore (with his odes to backwoods and guns), Lee Brice (who covers "Old Habits" in concert), Jerrod Niemann (who has appeared in concert with Williams), and even people slightly older, like Blake Shelton (who regularly goes hunting with him). Not only bastard sons, but bastard sons who have created an entire subgenre from just one song—1982's "A Country Boy Can Survive."

Luke Bryan regularly plays "Country Boy Can Survive" at concerts. Justin Moore wrote a song about Williams ("Hank It"). Lee Brice talks in interviews about getting drunk on the Williams tour bus, and all these figures, in addition to Brantley Gilbert, Justin Moore, and Jason Aldean, perform as if they're boys in the woods.

This dichotomy of reputation and performance hovers over Blake Shelton's 2013 hit "Boys 'Round Here." Amid the faux hip-hop chorus about chewing tobacco and the layers of fashionable voices, Blake Shelton's references to Hank Jr. emerge with relatively subtlety. There are only two—a mention of "Bocephus" pumping through the jukebox, and the whispered lyric, "the country boys will survive"—but they imply the ubiq...