Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Songs About Me

As I mentioned before, the turning point for me in not just recognizing but fully acknowledging my country background and a true appreciation for country music was hearing the Trace Adkins song “Songs About Me.” In this one, Trace meets a guy on a flight who is dismissive about what the singer does for a living. "I've never been crazy 'bout that twang and trains and hillbilly thing. Whatever made you want to sing stuff like that?" The answer, of course, was the entire point of the song, and it changed the way I looked at the world in general, and my life quite specifically.

Music does that for me sometimes.

“Cause it's songs about me
And who I am
Songs about loving and living
And good hearted women and family and God
Yeah they're all just
Songs about me”

I don’t remember exactly when I first sat down and really listened to that song and what it was saying, but I know I did. As happened from time to time throughout my life, I was hanging out with people who spent more time listening to country music, and so was hearing more of it myself. I’ve always been a music fan, and there is a wide range of styles and genres for which I can find an appreciation, and hear what makes it work. Country music has always been swayed and informed by the influences of other popular music around it, and it did not escape my attention that, at this point in time, some of its biggest influences were things like Southern and 80s rock music. These were two genres that are high on my preferred list but that were, themselves, not getting much attention in their own rights, so it didn’t take much to appreciate another form of music that was using them, and doing a pretty good job of playing on that influence.

Then the lyrics kicked in and I realized, they really were songs about me. I grew up building fences, riding horses, and chasing cattle on my grandfather’s ranch. We picked corn and okra and so many other fresh vegetables in what he euphemistically called his garden (at one point in time, my grandfather’s “garden” was almost the entire next door vacant lot), and then Grandma kept a garage full of jarred vegetables, pickles, homemade jellies and the like, when she wasn’t covering the kitchen table and counters with their contents (she also made more and better pies than anyone you’ve ever met). As children, my brother and I chased each other through grapefruit orchards and cattle ranches while visiting our dad when he was away working on an oil rig somewhere down in The Valley. We may not have learned to swim in the river, but we probably spent more time in rivers and lakes than in pools, and many of our dinners came from the freshest food you can get, after we personally pulled it out of those rivers and lakes.

When I got older, I would spend time with my friends at the country dance hall just outside of town. I never really learned how to dance, but that didn’t stop people from trying to teach me. I was the guy there with long hair and piercings, wearing high top sneakers and t-shirts instead of cowboy boots and hat, but I was there and having fun with my friends. When we weren’t out dancing, we played an elaborate game of Hide and Seek that involved trucks and backroads and CB radios. You don’t get much more country than that, and it was fun.

This was the life I grew up in, and it was the life that shaped who I would grow up to be. I’ll be the first to tell you I didn’t always appreciate it at the time, but I sure do appreciate it now. As Trace says in another of his songs, “You’re gonna miss this.” Yep, the longer I’ve been away from home, the more I’ve missed it. As with so much in life, it’s all a matter of perspective. I learned about the love of family, the loyalty of friends, respect for nature, and an independent spirit, all while just playing and growing without even realizing at the time how much I was learning.

There are many people who are like that dismissive man on the plane at the beginning of the song. They think country is “twang and trains and hillbilly things,” without realizing that it’s also hearth and home, family and friends, love and loyalty. Whether you’re from ranch country, the rust belt, or the Pacific Northwest, there are elements of country in most of us, and you’ll often only find those elements celebrated in country music. By the end of the song, that dismissive man was agreeing, “man, you were right, it was like you sang those songs about me.” That often happens when people listen with an open mind. It’s somewhat amazing how many shared experiences we really have.

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