Grab your boots and guitar and get ready to celebrate some country music! First recorded in the 1920’s and originating from the southeastern United States this music as endured for almost a hundred years. Originally called hillbilly music, it soon became known as “country and western” with singing cowboys like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers creating what music producers considered a more commercial image. Versions such as country rock and country pop developed in the 60’s in an attempt compete with rock and roll. But, part of the appeal of country music is it’s ridiculous simplicity. It’s music born on front porches when someone decided to pick up a guitar or banjo and simply sing whatever came to mind. My father used to produce country western music shows when I was a kid so this music always reminds me of him as well as my childhood. At the time, I didn’t really know or understand the Grand Ole Opry tour bus that was parked outside our home. I just thought it was cool to have celebrities come over for a party, or that my mom once baked a birthday cake in the shape of guitar (for Waylon Jennings, whom I didn’t know at all, either, but a guitar cake? So cool!). Suffice it to say, it was definitely the music of my youth.
Though I mostly adored folk music as a kid, there were many country songs that I loved as well. I was actually a huge fan of Ray Charles, so my favorite country song was his version of “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Yeah, folk, blues, and jazz were actually at the top of my list, but my dad always had a lot of country music playing as well. My dad passed away over 15 years ago now, but I can still remember him choosing music on the jukebox he purchased to decorate his recreation room. He was, like me, a kid at heart. And music was an important part of his life as well. His brusque manner often made him seem harsh, but I now remember that he would hang on each word of those songs. It was only after his death that my mother revealed to me that he used to read poetry to her. I had no idea, nor would this have been something I could have guessed from him at the time. But looking back now, it probably shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. We weren’t really so different after all. And we may not have agreed on the precise musical genre, but we both enjoyed listening for the truth in those songs.
As I get older and hopefully wiser, I have fond memories of that time with my dad. Those moments when we didn’t have to endure our awkward attempts at conversation, but could just silently and suddenly agree on everything as we enjoyed the words sung by Ray Charles. That’s the beautiful thing about music. It’s more than words and melody. It’s a shared emotion that can be enjoyed but two people who seem to have nothing in common. And though country music isn’t my favorite, even today, I still smile each time I hear it. It’s not usually poetic or profound, but simply a celebration of the best bits of life along with the most loved clichés that life has to offer. And though my dad only ever drank beer and moonshine, I raise my wine of glass to him in this moment for a silent toast. I can still hear the music, dad, and I miss you each and every day. I remember each strum of those guitars and banjos of my youth and they always bring back a flood of wonderful memories. A melody of life at its simplest that reminds me of an enduring love. To me, there’s no better reason to smile and celebrate on this Country Music Day.
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