Greetings, Poetry Lovers!
Maybe you caught the just-finished complete series on PBS by Ken Burns, Country Music. (Click here for info.) I'm a huge fan of his work, and this thoughtful chronicle did not disappoint. Well, I haven't actually finished yet. I had to hit "pause" after the third episode, as it was making me sad and flooding my psyche. But I've had some days to reflect and move forward, and I'm eager to finish watching.
The poignant part came because the words and music and images so reminded me of some of my family members - folks long gone. My Uncle Jay (my mother's brother) loved kind of the music shared in the first few episodes, particularly gospel music. Chatting about the series, my mother told me it tugged on her heartstrings, too - even seeing images of houses with newspaper on the walls to keep out the cold took her back to her growing-up years in rural Arkansas.
But it's the country in all that which brought memories of my dad. He loved it and lived it. The album cover above shows him at age 26 (!) - just between the ages of my kids now. My wonderful brother Mike had just entered the world, I guess, but I was still in the eye-glimmer stage of pre-existence.
Dad is described in the album copy:
BOB HOOD, staff announcer at WNOX. His morning record show has number one rating in East Tennessee area. Is leader of Rhythmaires. Sings, plays drums, plays fairs, conventions, show dates, country clubs, etc. in East Tennessee as well is in surrounding states. Has appeared at Ramp Festival, Hill Billy Homecoming at Maryville, Tennessee, Tennessee Valley A. & I. Fair in addition to his regular appearance on the WNOX Barn Dance. Is six feet tall, weighs 165 pounds. Has blue eyes, brown hair, is 26 years old.
(**update** - Mike found a link to Dad’s single of “It’s Nothing to Me” here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?fbclid=IwAR1GCBOZdtelN4ARlmEGhAEvQUGnfc1Ee-8gMTmmYug-rssAbTec2JdZfy0&feature=youtu.be&v=EP9hqdniRZs —Thanks, Bro!)
I remember Dad's working at WHOO, a radio station in Orlando. Of course, I didn't fully appreciate country music while growing up, really - I was excited when Dad brought "extra" records home from the office that they couldn't use; albums from The Who and The Rolling Stones, for instance, though I wasn't a teenager yet. (For you younger readers, an album is a circular black vinyl repository of magical sounds and occasional clicks, spinning on a turntable and played by a needle at the end of a long arm...!) ;0)
As an adult, I learned to value the raw honesty of country music lyrics, and folded it back into the variety of genres I listen to. And you gotta admit, it's entertaining.
On the album pictured above, my dad sang a couple of songs, both about a man killing another man over a woman! Country music isn't shy about such things. This week I took the record from its cover, took a deep breath, and played a few of the songs on a Crosley turntable we have. (I had forgotten how satisfying it is to lay the needle down, just-so, in the groove between songs, and watch it catch a stray piece of dust or two as it works.)
For my Poetry Friday offering, here are a few lines from one of those songs Dad sang, written by Harlan Howard:
Runnin' like a dog through the Everglades...
Where a man can hide and never be found
And have no fear of the bayin' hounds
But he better keep movin' and don't stand still
If the 'skeeters don't get him then the 'gators will
(I enjoyed that, since we grew up in Florida! You can hear The Kingston Trio sing the entire song here.)
If classic country music isn't your thing and you don't recognize the song or the songwriter, chances are you've at least heard Harlan Howard's motto/definition of country music:
three chords and the truth
I've heard Ken Burns quote that famous line in interviews about his series.
(Learn more about Harland Howard here.)
So, growing up, our folks hosted parties late into the evenings when country stars were in town. My mother woke me up one night to come out and meet Willie Nelson in the living room. She recalls his joking with her that "Good Hearted Woman," which he wrote with Waylon Jennings, could have been written for her. (You know the chorus - "She's a good-hearted woman in love with a good-timin' man....")
Those chords did hold the truth. There were good times - Dad received the Billboard Magazine Country Music Station Manager of the Year Award in 1971. It was a big ol' deal, and he received congratulatory messages from stars. (My brother tracked down a mention on page 48 in the Nov. 13, 1971 issue of the magazine here, under "Nashville Scene.") But the good-timin' part took its toll. Not too long after, my dad left my mother for another woman and his alcoholism intensified as the years rolled on.
My good-hearted mama didn't turn us against him, though - and I have some lovely memories of time spent together and conversations, as I made my way on through to adulthood. He walked me down the aisle. Years later, his second marriage ended.
He got to meet our firstborn, Morgan, and was beyond delighted with her. He died two months before Seth was born - a heart attack just after turning 60. It was a shock. He'd been in a good place, then - but years of Jack Daniels and cigarettes caught up with him.
That mama of mine did re-marry, and in February will celebrate 40 years with a very good-hearted, and very entertaining, man. (So lift a toast to Nita and Jack around Valentine's Day!)
I'm ready to get back to the Ken Burns series - I left it at the year of my birth, 1963. This week, I was able to truly enjoy listening to those old songs on the WNOX Barn Dance album. I figured, life is short - that music was designed to be experienced, not just packed away inside a cardboard jacket. Dad also had a group called the Rythmaires, and they performed several instrumental songs on the album. I hadn't noticed before that they played a tune called "Harold's Reel" - I figured my primal need for Celtic music came from the Irish and Scottish branches of the family tree I've discovered in recent years, but perhaps I heard some of this wonderful music when I was a wee thing and it imprinted that way, too!
Art is timeless - words, music, poetry. Wishing you inspiration and comfort, whatever is your "station" in life at the moment.
The lovely Carol invites us to wander (and she's got some country roads!) over at the Roundup today at Beyond Literacy Link. Enjoy!