Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Stay Humble And Kind

If you pay any attention at all to country music then you have no doubt already heard the latest hit single from Tim McGraw, “Stay Humble and Kind”. For a man who has been knocking out hits for more than twenty years now, McGraw has an amazing ability to come out fresh and new on a regular basis, and he has certainly done it again with this one. I have recommended it to people who had not heard it yet, and been informed afterward that it is now part of their main musical rotation. In a time when the charts are dominated by “bro country” and party songs, this inspirational exhortation to good old country values stands out bright as day, and still feels like it belongs. It has a hook that grabs you, and a message that stays with you.

“Hold the door, say please, say thank you
Don't steal, don't cheat, and don't lie
I know you got mountains to climb but
Always stay humble and kind”

It’s a simple, straightforward reminder, for many of us, of what Mom said when we were kids. Or maybe it was Grandpa. If you had the kind of country upbringing that this song invokes then you can bet that there was someone telling you, by word or by deed, the message this song embodies. There are things you’re going to do, there are things you will need to do, but don’t forget these things while you’re at it. Go out there and knock ‘em dead, kid. Shake the world and let them know you were there, but don’t let it go to your head. Climb your mountains and, when you get to the top, turn around and reach out a hand. Help the next person up, because it really doesn’t have to be lonely at the top. It’s up to you, but don’t forget where you came from.

That’s always been an important message to me. I haven’t always been a comfortable member of the country music family. My crowd was the stoners, the metalheads, the outcasts, and even the rejects. Growing up in rural south Texas, the ‘kickers were often the A crowd, and my crowd didn’t get along so well with the A crowd. If you’ve ever read the S.E. Hinton classic The Outsiders (or seen what is actually one of the better book-to-movie adaptations, if you’re not a reader), we were the greasers and they were the socs. Of course, if you were paying attention to the story then you know that the distinction is pretty arbitrary and ultimately meaningless - people are people, and it’s what you do, not who you are, that matters - but you tend to miss that point while you’re living it. I digress. My point is, I didn’t exactly mix with country music back then, but I never forgot the basic message. Work hard, love your family, help your neighbors, don’t forget where you came from, and always stay humble and kind.

As I’ve gotten older, I have slowly figured out the idea that Hinton was trying to get across, and I have made it a point to mix and match to my heart’s content. When I went to college, I got into theater and definitely broadened my horizons when it came to both crowds and musical tastes, but it would still be a number of years before I would circle back around to admitting to being a country music fan. While putting together a collection of 80’s country hits for a play we were doing, I once told the others, “If I know it, it was probably a hit,” which wasn’t entirely true, but was still my frame of mind at that time. The turning point for me was Trace Adkins’ song, “Songs About Me”. When that one came out, I just laughed, but it was all laughing at me. That was the reminder, “This is where you come from.”

I’ve definitely mixed the genres of my life into a blend that most people wouldn’t recognize, but that country background has always been my foundation. Even when I wasn’t acknowledging it, even when country was the last thing I wanted to be, I could never turn my back on the basic message: Work hard, love your family, help your neighbors, don’t forget where you came from, and always stay humble and kind. When you get all the way down to the bottom, it’s who I am, and I have to say, I love there being a hit single that says it in the same words I’ve always thought it.

These days I’ve put the country right out front. I wear boots and a hat most of the time, and I’ve been known to slip into a drawl when I’m tired or frustrated. That’s still only part of who I am, but it’s often the part I choose to lead with now. It puts a number of things on the table before I’ve even said a word. I’d like to think that many of those things are what this song is saying. This is who I am, and I hope, no matter what, that who I am will always be humble and kind.

Music video by Tim McGraw performing Humble And Kind. (C) 2016 McGraw Music, LLC under exclusive license to Big Machine Label Group

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