It started a couple of weeks ago. T and I were driving to Chicago. As we drove along, we were enjoying “Willie’s Roadhouse” on a Sirius station. We’ve never had Sirius before, never even considered it. A free trial subscription came with my new car. The subscription was only supposed to last for one month, but we kept receiving signal months after our free trial had expired. While I don’t listen to it that much during my drive back and forth to work, T and I have enjoyed it on longer car trips. This particular day was no different. We were singing along to our favorite classic country tunes. We were smiling most of the time, but every now and then our eyes would fill with tears and emotion as the lyrics, slide guitar, and pain reached out and touched our hearts. Neither of us like modern country music, but we have a deep love for the old stuff: Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Waylon, Willie, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, and so many others. On this particular day, the station was doing a tribute to the Queen of Country Music, Kitty Wells.
Suddenly as we drove through Downers Grove, or one of the other white-bread suburbs, our music stopped. T and I looked at each other, then we looked around us. Concrete, chain stores, chain restaurants, cars whizzing by, all examples of consumerism-excess run amok. The warm voices, passionate lyrics, and well-loved music from our past had stopped. The silence shook us out of our reverie, and the sites around us appeared even more harsh and sterile. “Get it back!” T said. I didn’t know what to do. The Sirius screen had gone black with only one words in the center. “Searching…” (Aren’t we all!) After a few moments “Your subscription has expired” appeared on the screen along with an 800 number to call for renewal. T said, “Do it!” as I was reaching for my cell phone. Within moments, our friends at “Willie’s Roadhouse” were once again with us on our drive.
I’m a jazz musician. I play classical piano. I love Big Band music and bluegrass, too. My favorite vocalist of all time is Billie Holiday. My favorite sax player is Ben Webster, who can bring me to my knees with the passion he blew through his horn. I like folk music, rock, and I even enjoy some of the screamo stuff that my kids have listened to over the years. My little Lola is currently a head-banger. Her favorite musician is Ozzy Osborne. She can sing a pretty awesome Crazy Train or War Pigs. There are several kinds of music that I seriously dislike. I have no tolerance for 1950’s bebop, The Beetles, or modern country music. Modern country music makes me cringe like nails being scraped across a chalkboard. When I hear it, I feel like I’m being subjected to an endlessly looping Ford F-150 commercial. YeeeeHaw! It’s not that I don’t like Ford trucks. I love trucks! In fact, I feel protectively ashamed by how trucks are portrayed by city slicker marketing agencies as redneck party barges.
Roughly once a year, the cycle of revisiting my hillbilly side begins again. It makes me happy, and I’m always glad when it reappears. These old songs bring back such wonderful memories. I love the songs of love, and God, loss and passion. I love the honest, pure voices that haven’t been altered by technology and commercialism. I see the face of my Kentucky great-grandma as she listened to the Grand Ole Opry. I remember drives home from visiting my grandparents as I lay in the backseat of my parents’ car as they tuned in WSM on the am radio. I’d listen in the dark to music being played live someplace that seemed very far away. It amazed me that someone was actually playing that music right that moment, and I’d picture in my mind what they must look like on stage. The old country music makes me remember the huge console television sets complete with radio and turntable in my aunts and grandmas living rooms. I watched the adults spin George Jones or Porter Wagoner on the record player while they danced across the living room.
I’m dancing through another hillbilly phase, and I’m loving every minute of it!