ing when he lost his self-restraint lastnAugust and led police on a chasenthrough Wilson County, North Carolina,nthat covered 50 miles in half annhour. (That’s an average of 100 mph,nfor those of you who are computationallynchallenged.) The chase endednafter a cross-country run through annumber of fences and a police car. Annimage worthy of The Dukes of Hazzard:nat one point Lee’s El Camino gotnstuck in a ditch, but it was knocked freenwhen a police car struck it from behind.nLee told trooper Cecil Mercer thatnhe’d always wondered what a highspeednchase was like, had enjoyed himself,nand had no regrets. I’ll be disappointednif nobody’s immortalizing Leenin song right now; the outlaw ballad is anstandard genre, after all.nSpeaking of desperadoes, the RoanokenTimes reported the arrest of fivenof them for catching bass with dynamitenin Smith Mountain Lake. Thenarrests reportedly came after a “twoyearnundercover investigation.” Thisnled columnist Dave Barry to wondernhow an undercover agent penetrates anfish dynamiting ring. “Does he justnshow up at the lake one day, pokenthrough his tackle box for a while, andnthen announce in a loud voice: ‘Darn!nI forgot my dynamite!’?” If Jerry Reedncan sing a courtroom song about alimonyn(“You Got the Coldmine, I Gotnthe Shaft”), surely someone can donsomething with a fish dynamiting trial.nBy the way, don’t get the idea thatnthe drama in country music is all in thenlyrics. Consider Grand Ole Opry starnLittle Jimmy Dickens, who was havingnhis breakfast one morning last yearnwhen his wife read him an article in thenNashville Tennessean about LydianRoberts. Mrs. Roberts had been in jailnfor 99 days because she had no moneynto post $2,500 bail on a bad-checkncharge. Jimmy turned to his wife andndelivered this great line in iambic tetrameter:n”Go get that woman out ofnjail.” She did.nIn yet another Nashville court lastnyear, bluegrass music legend Bill Monroe,n77, stood accused of hitting Ms.nWanda Huff, 51, in the mouth with anBible and trying to kill her with firewood.n(That’s all the newspaper said.)nMr. Monroe countercharged that Ms.nHuff had harassed him by letter andntelephone, made numerous threats.n48/CHRONICLESnthrown her glasses on the roof of hisnhouse, and let his dogs out of thenkennel. Charges against Mr. Monroenwere dismissed when Ms. Huff wasnfound to have brought a loaded pistolnto court.nWhile we’re on the subject of guns,nand potential country-music lyrics, thenNorth Carolina Independent claims tonhave overheard this one at the DixienGun and Knife Show in Raleigh: “Inonly aimed a gun at one human being,nand then I married her.”nEnough odds and ends. The point isnjust that, to coin a phrase, life imitatesnart, and country songwriters have a lotnof raw material to work with — withoutneven leaving Nashville, for that matter.nCountry music still has a specialnrelation to the American South, ofncourse, but it now has fans, no doubtnthanks in part to U.S. Armed ForcesnRadio, around the world. I have nevernpersonally heard the music at an establishmentnin Manila called the HobbittnHouse, where all the staff are midgetsn(my informant caught a show thatnfeatured a midget Elvis impersonator),nbut I have heard Buck Owens asnrendered by a Filipino band at thenIntercontinental Hotel in Jakarta.nMore interesting than slavish imitationnof American singers singing Americannsongs, though, are what seem to benemerging indigenous country-musicntraditions. Some unlikely places arenassimilating country music and makingnit their own. Let me close this overlongnletter by telling you about the ThainCountry Music Hall of Fame.nThe Bangkok Post for last Septembern15 just recently made its way to thenWest, at least to my part of it, and annotice in the “Outlook” sectionnannounced that “the biggest event evernin Thai music history” was to takenplace the next day. Get this: over anhundred singers and composers werengathering for a festival to celebraten”Half a Century of Thai CountrynMusic” and to name 50 of the all-timengreatest songs to the newly establishednHall of Fame.nNow, I had no idea that there wasnsuch a thing as Thai country music,nmuch less that it had been around fornfifty years. But the very first Thaincountry song, O Chao Sao Chao Rain(“The Farm Gid” —I’ll just give thentranslated titles from now on), wasnsung in 1939 by Kamron Samboon-nnnnanond (whose gilded guitar was to bendisplayed at the. festival). Obviously,n”The Farm Girl” was one of the songsndestined for the Hall of Fame.nChoosing the other 49 was harder.nNot only did a song have to havenstaying power, but both its tune and itsnsinger’s style had to be original, whichnruled out a number of well-knownnsongs, including the ever-popularn”Love Faded at Bangpakong.” Thisnfestival was a government undertaking,nsponsored by the minister of education,na fact that would have causednproblems in the U.S., but if you’rengoing to have government patronage ofnthe arts there’s a lot to be said fornmonarchy. The Thai Cultural Commissionnsimply required that the languagenof Hall of Fame songs be “inngood taste,” and so (I quote from thenPost) “Lop Burirat’s Diew Kor MumnSia Rok (I’ll Eat You Now), thoughnvery popular, failed in this category.”nSimilarly, a number called “Still LookingnGood at Thirty” was excluded asnnot “in tune with the morale andnculture of society.” No Thai CivilnLiberties Union stepped forward tonargue about the commission’s right tonimpose that criterion or the selectionncommittee’s interpretation of it — evennthough it might seem to leave a goodndeal of latitude. Bangkok may benworld-renowned for what is sometimesncalled its “sex tourism industry,” but atnleast a Thai Mapplethorpe or Serranonwill get no recognition or support fromnhis government.nTo judge from their tides, Thaincountry songs deal with pretty muchnthe same themes as American ones.n”Still Looking Good at Thirty,” forninstance, could be put up against JerrynLee Lewis’s “Thirty-nine and Holding.”nBut one of the Hall of Fame titlesnshows that the East can still be mysterious,nand that maybe Kipling was rightnabout when the twain would meet.nAmong seven songs “chosen to benspecially honoured,” and presumablynthoroughly “in tune with the moralenand culture of society,” was one whosentitle the Post translated as “The Odournof Mud and Buffalo.”nJohn Shelton Reed is an aspiringnsinger-songwriter in Chapel Hill,nNorth Carolina. Among his greatnunrecorded country songs is the classicn”My Tears Spoiled My Aim.”n