Sunday, August 20, 2023

To Be Honest...


I haven't posted in a while, mostly because I've been working on other projects, but also because this is primarily a music blog and I don't think much about music anymore. It stings to admit it. I click on Spotify once a week at the most and even then I struggle choosing what to play. 

Music and I go back a long ways together. When I was a little kid, too young to even buy records, everything that poured out of my mom's kitchen radio was magical. I didn't totally understand how it all worked -- my big sisters had a few records and my parents had two, but who was the guy inside the radio playing his records for me? And he sure must have owned a bunch, because I heard a different song every two and a half minutes.

Once I turned nine I somehow managed to collect enough money every month or so to walk to the record store and pick out a '45. There were so many hot singles swirling around in my head that choosing just one was excruciating. Admittedly, I generally went with The Beatles, but I was also enamored with "(You're My) Soul and Inspiration" by The Righteous Brothers and oddly, The Tijuana Brass's "Spanish Flea". Luckily I requested those two '45's from my friends for my one and only birthday party, so I didn't have to interrupt my Beatles buying spree.

In junior high before I defected to country music I picked up "Thank The Lord For The Nighttime" and "(It's A) Beautiful Morning". Pop music around that time wasn't especially scintillating.

Once I immersed myself in country I became fanatical. In the summers I'd stay up late just to tune in to clear channel radio stations like WHO in Des Moines and WBAP in Fort Worth (which was still kind of scratchy, even at one a.m.). Mike Hoyer from WHO always had the newest tracks and I got to hear them before they even hit the stores. My summer job made me "rich" and thus I picked up country albums willy-nilly -- Merle and Porter and Dolly, Loretta, Tammy, Tanya Tucker, Faron Young, Lynn Anderson. I bought most anything the tiny country section in JC Penney's basement offered. I was big on greatest hits -- more bang for the buck -- George Jones, Connie Smith. I spun the hell out of all those LP's, knew the track listings by heart, scoured the liner notes (where I learned who Pig Robbins and Lloyd Green were), became familiar with the go-to songwriters. 

The early seventies didn't slow me down. I was just as thrilled to select albums by Barbara Mandrell, Johnny Rodriguez, Eddie Rabbitt, Emmylou, Gene Watson, Gary Stewart, Ronnie Milsap, the Gatlins, the Statlers, even new acts like Dave and Sugar (yes, I admit it). Country was still as exciting as hell...until it wasn't.

(Insert ten-year intermission here. I gave up on country because it forced me to. Sure, I still kind of knew what was going on in the country world, but that didn't mean I liked it. It was the era of Kenny Rogers and John Denver and Rhinestone Cowboy, and Sylvia. Dolly took a pop swing, Tanya didn't seem to know where she was most of the time. Music became more of an irritation than a rush.)

Ahh, but then came the mid-eighties. You gotta hand it to whoever wrested the reins from Nashville producers' hands, because country was back and it was good. I mean, really good. That old tingle of excitement returned when I slapped on my minty-fresh albums by Highway 101, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Ricky Van Shelton, Randy Travis, George Strait, Dwight, Rodney Crowell, Clint Black. It was like waking from a decade-long coma. The sounds thrilled me. I couldn't get enough of it. It was like I was sixteen again. Or nine.

By the nineties, I no longer felt alone in my country music rapture. I don't know what happened, but suddenly everybody liked it -- everybody I interacted with, at least. At work kids ten years younger than me had their radios tuned to the local country station. As a teen I kept my country predilection a secret. Nobody at that age wants to be an outcast. Really, the only people who knew were my best friend who turned me on to country in the first place and my parents (it gave us one thing in common). But now? We all began comparing notes about our favorite artists, the latest hits, even a bit of country gossip. It was liberating. Dwight and George were still hotter than ever, but now we had Alan Jackson and Mark Chesnutt and Pam Tillis and Mary Chapin Carpenter and Patty Loveless. Diamond Rio, The Mavericks, Brooks and Dunn. Tanya was releasing her best music ever. There was such a glut of great music it was almost overwhelming. I collected CD's like my son collected baseball cards.

After the nineties, I held on. I somehow found a Texas independent radio station online and listened to it at work. Every so often I'd catch a track I liked. But let's put it this way: My Spotify playlist for the years 2000 - 2010 contains 74 songs. My '90's playlist has 227. Something bad was happening to country. It was almost as if all the creativity was spent the decade before and everyone was tired, even the new acts. The word came down from on high -- "No more of that 'country shit'. It's a new millennium." And thus Faith Hill and Tim McGraw were borne. The Dixie Chicks turned surly. Kenny Chesney was lying back on a beach somewhere. A few, like George and Alan and Dwight, refused to bow, but it was a new, loathsome world. I recognized few artists' names, and worse, I didn't care that I didn't know them.

That's when I stopped. Just stopped. Stopped listening to music in general. Sure, here and there something would strike my consciousness -- an album, a song I heard while I was buying coffee in the morning --  and I might buy it or I might not. 

I no longer felt that chill. 

I miss it.

I miss getting so gobsmacked by a song that I couldn't wait to go out and grab the CD, come home and rip off the cellophane, peel off that stupid adhesive strip, fling open the CD changer and swirl up the volume, stand back and swoon. Then play it again. 

I miss hearing Ralph Emery in the middle of the night spin a new track by Faron Young and losing my breath, then zipping a money order off to Ernest Tubb's Record Shop to get my hands on it because my local record shop across the river didn't bother to stock it. 

I miss falling so in love with "Silver Wings" that I sang all three vocal parts into my reel-to-reel tape recorder, which required sleight of hand I didn't even know I possessed at sixteen. 

I miss hearing "The Big One" on my car radio for the first time as I waited for my kids' classes to dismiss and hoping against hope that the DJ would it again.

I miss playing Marty Stuart's "Sundown In Nashville" on repeat, over and over. 

I miss Roger Miller's "Engine Engine #9" becoming an earworm when I was eight years old, hearing it on the radio inside my big sister's first apartment after school. 

I miss writing a rock opera to The Beatles' "Help" album when I was nine as a testament to my devotion. 

I even miss sitting in the rocking chair in my bedroom and playing Ray Price's "Soft Rain" on repeat with tears streaming down my face the day my dad died.

To be honest, music will never touch me like that again.

I try to keep up. I have a favorite country website that features the latest from the country world. I click on the videos the writer embeds, but I rarely make it all the way to the end. Even with the few I like, it's more on a cerebral level. "Yea, he sounds authentic; tight songwriting; wish he would've gone to a bridge here." I can't remember the last one (was there one?) that stabbed me in the heart. I don't know if it's them or if it's me. It's probably both of us. I've lived through wondrous times in music. I'm jaded. You're gonna have to give me something otherworldly to knock me over. Trust me; I don't want to feel this way. I want to fall in love with music I've never before heard. But maybe it's simply too late. It's all been done, and done so much better that the deck is stacked. 

If you're wondering why I have been silent here so long, it's because there is really nothing left to say.



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