Enduring Country Music

I grew up listening to a lot of country music, not because it was my first choice, but because my brother was an autocratic DJ. Although there are a few country songs and even country artists that I enjoy, for the most part, I endure country music. I endure it because I have been constantly subjected to it over the years. Being subjected to any type of music breeds a disdain for it. At my current job I am subjected to not just country, but modern country music, a term as oxymoronic as honest politician or men’s lotion. I could endure the modern country station with a little more patience, but I haven’t heard a single Merle Haggard song, not one!

What makes Country music enduring is tradition. These modern country lyrics are shallow. The content is overtly sexual, objectify women, and smacks of immorality, rebellion, arrogance, ignorance, and alcohol. I miss the days when country music lyrics were about Jesus. And America. And being rebellious, and cheating on your wife, and alcohol, and racism, and…well the music was better anyway.

Country music has always been most popular with working class Americans because the lyrics were so very relatable and emotional. Country musicians were bards who entertained in the local beer joints, singing to men and women who were often stuck in a socioeconomic situation with no hope of a way up or out. These songs gave them escape and release. These songs were ballads which told stories which connected with the very real struggles that working Americans were living out in their daily lives. It also appealed to their aspirations, traditions, and desires. Country Music gave a voice to many Americans.

With todays changing society, much of the culture of the American working class is rapidly becoming outdated, and in some cases taboo. People don’t farm like they did in post depression and World War II generations. There is a massive urban and suburban migration, and many dying small towns. It’s not as socially acceptable or politically correct to sing lyrics like, “Be proud you a rebel cause the South’s gonna do it again.” Today’s country musicians are aware of this and so a new image of the country musician is being forced upon one of the most loyal fanbases in the music industry. There has been a shift from singing about real social and economic issues heard in songs like, Working Man’s Blues, and Sixteen Tons, to shallower generic lyrics about girls, trucks, and having a bad attitude. In essence, modern country has long since abandoned the Southern culture and is trying to appeal to a wider audience, hence the hip hop influence and rapping. Of course there is still love to sing about, but the newer country songs push the limits of vulgarity that were set by rock and roll bands of the 70’s and 80’s.

It’s often the case that great oppression brings great hope. Although I am daily oppressed (and depressed) by modern country music, now more than ever I feel like I may have what it takes to be a professional songwriter. I think there’s probably good money to be made by writing a few tunes and letting one of these modern country guys record one of my songs. Since many establishments insist on playing modern country music, I think I could retire early. I’d like to share a few lyrics in the style of modern country that I’ve been sitting on for a while.

I got a Ford truck I painted primer gray

I’m going to go fishing when I get off work today

Little girl you ought to come with me

Maybe we can drink a little whiskey

I might look just like all these other country guys

But I’m different let me tell you why

(right here there needs to be a musical cut, then the band comes in full with chorus)

I’m a real country boy

I love Jesus, but sometimes I cuss

I ain’t into drama, don’t like to fuss

I play guitar, but I listen to rap

Got a fake accent…

Never mind. I’m fixing to go listen to some choir music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vanity

Mr. Lowe was the sole music teacher at my elementary school. I think he may have been involved with the music at his local church, but as I did not attend his local church this claim cannot be substantiated. I can tell you with certainty that he was bald. He kept what straight brown hair that remained on the sides and back of his hair neatly combed. I often thought that his hair had a distinct rounded puff like quality to it. I’m told he rode a motorcycle, but again, I never saw him on a motorcycle, or any other car for that matter, but I can imagine very easily that he did ride a motorcycle. He had a very resonant baritone voice and always taught setting down, which in later years I learned is not the best way to sing.

Mr. Lowe’s music class was held in a single wide trailer on the western side of the school. You had to walk outside, in a single file line with your mouth closed while you held your thumb behind your back, in order to reach the classroom. By the time all of us had filed into the trailer, the cool air had rushed out of the room, and we sat for the next hour or so listening to the window unit air conditioner work overtime as Mr. Lowe rambled about cows eating grass and good boys finding.

Music was taught in an odd fashion in elementary school. All of us, more or less, showed up on our first day at Kindergarten with at least good conversational English. For the next five years we were taught vocabulary, grammar, and composition. But with music, we were thrust almost immediately into music theory before we had any experience on a musical instrument. If we excelled in theory, we might then be encouraged to take up an instrument.

I enjoyed music time. Mr. Lowe introduced us to all of the least practical instruments for playing the type of music that I was exposed to at home and at church. He showed us maracas, sand blocks, guiros, and my personal favorite, the bells. I vaguely remember a piano, but no guitars. He would sometimes let us “play” these instruments. I don’t think any of us were very proficient at these odd instruments.

Mr. Lowe taught us the Peanut Butter Song.

First you take the peanuts and you dig ’em

You dig’em dig’em dig’em

Pea-nuuut, pea-nut butter, and jelly…

Mr. Lowe introduced us to Jerry Lewis in the movie Cinderfella. Before we started the movie, Mr. Lowe to pains to make it very clear that Jerry Lewis was not a sissy. Being a sissy was about the worst thing that anyone could call you. Mr. Lowe’s preliminary speech didn’t convince me.

Mr. Lowe tried his best to teach us about sharps and flats, rhythm, melody and harmony, but like many of my teachers, he spent far too much of his time trying to get the attention of children who’s only desire was to do anything but learn.

In about the fourth or fifth grade, Mrs. McManus sat our class down for a speech before we were to go to music class. We all prepared for another, “Y’all better learn how to act or we’re putting you on silent lunch” orations. What followed caught us off guard.

“Students.” Mrs. McManus began in a grave manner.

“Today when you go to music class, Mr. Lowe is going to look different. He’ll have hair.”

She paused for a moment to see what our reaction would be. We were so taken off guard that not a word was spoken. She took advantage of the silence and proceeded.

“Mr. Lowe has decided to wear a toupee.” Here she went into detail about what a toupee was, our french not being what it should be. After she was convinced that we had been thoroughly educated on what a toupee was, how it staid on, why you would want to wear one, and what it was made of, she made it very clear that we were not to “Stare, ask questions, or even acknowledge that anything was different about Mr. Lowe.” Now this is a lot to ask a group of rowdy fourth and fifth graders, but aside from one or two well meaning compliments, we acquiesced to this strange demand from our pedagogue.

This absurd experience made a bigger impact on me than all of the musical knowledge that Mr. Lowe tried to impart. We had seen Mr. Lowe every week for five years and now he was going to be radically different and we weren’t allowed to talk about it. That’s the way with vanity: we spend a lot of effort trying be something that we’re not and hope that it comes off as normal.

The Tinker Suit

We stopped at Smith’s and got some of that orange peanut candy that tastes like rubber.

I was two years old when Brant Douglas Reynolds, my Mom’s dad, died of a heart attack on Thanksgiving Day in 1989. My memories of him are few and a little vague. I remember riding in the back of his 1968 Ford Ranger that rotted to the ground from neglect after his death. I remember him bringing me Oreo cookies. I remember going to the cow sale with him. We stopped at Smith’s and got some of that orange peanut candy that tastes like rubber. I remember going into his work shed and seeing all of his power tools.  I remember his blue tractor. And I remember being at his viewing after he died. “Dan Dan is asleep.” I said to Mom as she held me on her hip so that I could peer into his casket.

Years later as a teenager, I changed the strings on his 1972 Martin D-18. Gram had bought it new for him from Fretted Instruments with the income tax return that year. You’d have thought that you bought him a brand new pickup truck. I could tell that he cared for the guitar because he had looped the strings through the hole in the tuning peg twice before winding it, a step that I always skip because it takes longer and isn’t really necessary, but it looks nice. That extra step said something about the thoroughness of his personality, as I took those old strings off it was almost like he was talking to me. I think he’d be happy to know that I play guitar, but he’d be happier to know that I preach the same Gospel that he and the Apostle Peter preached.

I heard that he had a 1959 Les Paul in the 1960’s. The Holy Grail of guitars. He had to trade it for a car. I’d like to at least see a picture of that guitar. Perhaps it wasn’t a 1959, and it’s better to just remember it that way. I use this story to convince my wife to let me have multiple guitars, I hope it pays off one day.

I don’t know how well he played guitar, or sang. I  don’t remember. I vaguely remember him at church preaching and playing guitar. But you do a lot of sleeping at church when you’re two years old, so these memories are sort of dreamy. He was taken away early in my life and looking back I can see how his absence impacted me. I’m sure things would have been different if he were still alive today, I can’t say that they would be better. Or worse. But they’d be different. 

Rev. Roger Lewis, a close friend to “Tinker” as my grandfather was known, was traveling for Thanksgiving when he heard news of my Tinker’s death. He didn’t have a suit with him and felt terrible about going to the viewing in casual clothes. Til this day, he keeps a suit of dress clothes in his vehicle whenever he is going out of town overnight, just in case of an emergency. He calls it his Tinker Suit. I hope that it doesn’t get much use.

Nursing Homes

I was probably too young to go, but my parents were committed, so I went to everything.

I don’t remember whose idea it was to take small children to sing at the nursing home, probably some adult who did not take into consideration how terrifying elderly wheelchair bound people can be to a five year old child. I was probably too young to go, but my parents were committed, so I went to everything. The nursing home we chose was a dismal place. The residents looked completely defeated, the staff had a martial air about them and the whole facility gave you the feeling of complete hopelessness, more like a prison than a care facility. Perhaps the one we visited was simply outdated, but I’ve visited others as an adult and I get a similar feeling.

I was too young to read so I was only obligated to sing from memory. My brother Zach, and Corey Barber did not get off of the hook so easily, since they were capable of not only reading, but counting too, which enabled them to use the Sing Unto The Lord hymnal. Sis. Vivian, Corey’s grandmother sat at the piano with her back to us and called out the page numbers to the each hymn as she played. In our church, we hardly called a song by it’s name, but rather used it’s page number. “Please turn to page 315.” Page 315 was Jesus Hold My Hand. Page 94 was Amazing Grace. As Zach and Corey turned the right page, Sister Vivian would play  an intro on the piano, and by then we were ready to sing. I’m sure our mothers enjoyed it. I think the residents might have just enjoyed seeing some small children, even if they had trouble hearing us. I did not enjoy it. I wasn’t miserable, I just wanted to play.

It was during one of these fidgety moments, probably about the third song, that I decided to pinch Zach on the rear end. He whipped around mid chorus of I’ll Fly Away and gave me a mean look and probably would have hit me but everyone was watching. In the midst of all this the music and the singing never stopped. Mom came and grabbed me by the hand led me to the side of the makeshift auditorium. It was really more of a wheelchair parking lot. Barring this incident, the show kept right on going. As Mom focused on singing I wondered around on the fringe of a crowd.

As we were about to leave, Mom went up towards the front to do something, possibly sing and I was left alone in my seat. One of the residents, an elderly lady in a hospital bed, pointed to me with a crooked finger and said in a weak voice, “Come here to me little boy.” Rear end pinching aside, I was an obedient little boy and I went straight over to her and said, “Yes Ma’am.”

She took my hand and put it on the back of her neck and said, “Scratch here.”

I would like to pause here and give some advice. If you are ever in a strange place and an elderly lady in a hospital bed asks you to scratch her neck, don’t do it. It’s a trap.

No amount of preliminary lecture on my behavior could have prepared me for a situation like this. There I was, not even in Elementary School, in a nursing home, doing the very thing that my parents had spanked me for not doing, minding my elders. As I was scratching the lady’s neck, a nurse rushed over and took my hand away. “Don’t touch the patients.” She said firmly. I didn’t get a chance to explain myself as she led me to Mom.

I’m glad to report that during my subsequent visits to nursing homes over the past twenty five years I behaved myself much better, although a lot of time I still get that same dismal feeling. I will also add that unless you’re playing like Merle Travis or Chet Atkins, don’t bring your electric guitar to the nursing home.

 

Biblical Rock Band Names

I’ve composed a list of band names taken from the Bible.

I’ve composed a list of band names taken from the Bible.

  1. Wounded in the Stones
  2. Balaam’s Ass
  3. Kicking Against the Pricks
  4. Strange Fire
  5. The Fleshpots
  6. Pestilent Fellows of the Baser Sort
  7. The Whited Walls
  8. Jannes & Jambres
  9. The She Bears
  10. Dead Men’s Bones
  11. The Bloody Husbands
  12. Sons of Korah
  13. The Privy Members
  14. Wilderness of Sin
  15. The Lame Men
  16. Chaff
  17. Backsliding Heifer
  18. Gate of Sodom
  19. The 10 Plagues
  20. Hole in the Roof
  21. Golden Calf
  22. Pillar of Salt
  23. Forehead Bald
  24. The Italian Band
  25. Tombs of Gadara
  26. Noise of the Viols
  27. Hands Against Every Man
  28. Sepulchre Throat
  29. Plain of Ono
  30. Fire of Molech
  31. Sons of Belial
  32. The Peeping Wizards
  33. Ostrich Mother
  34. Dart in the Liver
  35. Golden Emerods
  36. Nehushtan
  37. High Places
  38. Riotous Eaters of Flesh
  39. Leave Us Alone!
  40. The Slow Bellies