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Thursday, December 3, 2009

THE SOUND OF MUSIC

"I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don't want to know. Some things are better left unsaid. I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can't be expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was as if some beautiful bird had flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free."

………from the movie Shawshank Redemption


I grew up with a lot of sweet sounds in my life: bacon frying, window units, Paul Harvey, crop dusters, fireworks, school bells, oven timers, power tools, attic fans, and country music.


Today the multi-talented, naturally beautiful, and totally transparent Taylor Swift rules the radio and directs the dreams of young men (I have both her Cds), but in 1980 it was a woman named Dolly.


Dolly Parton grew up in a dirt-poor town called Locust Ridge nestled in the hills of the Smokey Mountains. She was one of twelve siblings who lived in a rustic one-room cabin. She met her husband, Carl, at the Wishy Washy in downtown Nashville at the age of twenty while pursuing her music career. His first words to her were, “You’re going to get sunburned out there little lady.” My first words to Taylor Swift would be, “If I was twenty years younger, you wouldn’t be single.”


The first song I remember hearing Dolly sing on the radio was I Will Always Love You.” I heard it on a portable transistor radio swinging as high as possible with a grape Popsicle dripping down my bare chest. I don’t recall exactly what had upset me, but I was feeling lonely. I was trying to fight back the tears but ended up letting them go, making sure my sisters didn’t see me turning into a puddle. It was as if God put on a blonde wig and sang me a song. That song was like a tender kiss, and thus my love affair with country music was underway.


My favorite childhood memories come with a soundtrack of country music, a soundtrack created via am radio, occasional vinyl 45s, and low quality speakers. But in the spite of the fact it flew to me on broken wings, it was always strong enough to lift my spirits. Eddie Arnold’s “Make the World Go Away” has never sounded better than it did while riding in a green Dodge pickup truck with a chainsaw under my feet on the way to cut firewood with my father on a Fall Saturday morning. I miss hearing Tanya Tucker’s “Delta Dawn” crackling through an antique radio on hot, humid summer nights while lying on my back watching fireflies with the smell of strawberries still on my lips. And I still dream of those magical spring campfires where Jimmy Dean’s story of “Big Bad John” came to life on a portable hand held transistor radio when the smoke gave me an excuse to cry. Even though I now listen to all of these songs in high quality on my I-phone, I wish I could push a distort, crackle button to make it sound like they were singing in a cereal box again.


What I loved then is what I love now: the story telling of country music. A good song is like a mini movie for those of us with attention deficit. Depending on when and where I first heard a song, determined how it changed my life.


Inspired by the song “Convoy” there was a time in my life when I wanted to be a truck driver hauling logs and hogs, running from “bears” and “smokies.” Thanks to the song “Patches” I believed I too would lose my father to fever, take over the farm, but stay in school because it was “Daddy’s strictest rule.” The Coward of the County” got me ready to fight for my girl even if my dad was giving me bad advice from prison. And “Teddy Bear” inspired me to search on my hand me down CB for crippled, fatherless children who needed money and a ride in a truck. I lived my life under the influence, not of drugs or alcohol, but the influence of good music.


Country music taught me about love. “The Rose” taught me love is a river and razor, a hunger and a need, a dance and a dream, and a flower and seed. Ring of Fire” taught me love is a burning thing that makes a fiery ring, and eventually I would fall into this fire, and the flames would go higher and higher. “The End of the World” taught me when I fell under it’s spell, the world would go right on turning, even though my heart was burning. And “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World” taught me love comes and goes like the wind and all good things must end, but just to see her smile would make it worth my while.


It would be years later in college before I went to my first country music concert. My college friend Bill dragged me to a post prime John Conlee show at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds. John showed up about three hours late, which gave the three hundred people waiting nothing to do but drink. One of these three hundred people decided it would be fun to roll down three sections of concrete stairs and had to be carried out in an ambulance (the guy almost made me spill my hot chocolate). Once the concert started I sat and watched about ten forty year old women climb an eight-foot chain link fence to get to a pair of rose- colored glasses John was wearing. He sat there and sang the whole song watching them trying to get to the top. It reminded me a lot of Saturday morning wrestling.


Every music genre has it’s own unique set of fans. But country music has children, and I was one of them. Like a mother it sang me to sleep; taught me about love; and mended my wounds. Like a father it showed me how to do things; pushed me to try hard; and made me believe in myself. And like a grandfather it helped me laugh, inspired me to dream; and, when it was time, showed me the healing power of tears.


I have come to believe all of our lives are set to music, and sometimes, when we are lucky, we hear it; and sometimes yet, when we are blessed, we get to share these songs with the world. Once we hear it, we are ready to love ourselves. Once we are ready to share it, we are ready to love others.

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