The last thing I made was my bed. Soon I will make some toast, and later today I will make plans for this weekend. We all make things, abstract and actual, every day. Some people just make do and others make deals, but we all make believe. That capacity for fiction serves us well, though sometimes too well.
One of my favorite songs from the fifties is about that beautiful but beguiling ability to pretend things are other than the way they are. Why accept the end of a relationship when you can pretend it never happened? I've listened to many covers of "Making Believe," one of [...]
I don't know what men are made of, though a song I love begins: "Some people say a man is made out of mud." Perhaps the dust of Eden got wet with the kiss of the Lord and made mud, and from that Adam was made, but that's not what Tennessee Ernie Ford meant when he sang "a poor man's made out of muscle and blood."
"Sixteen Tons" is the anthem of the working stiff. Ford didn't write the song and he wasn't the first to record it, but his version from 1955 has worked its way into the assembly-line-addled ears and labor-worn hearts of workers ever since. Whatever [...]
Rock and roll has its Mustangs; easy listening has its Volvos; rap its Beamers, Benzs and Bentleys, but country music has always had its trucks. Big rigs and long-haul truckers got some airtime, but country has always seemed especially enamored with pickups; I grew up hearing Joe Diffe sing that “there’s something women like about a pickup man.”
There’s been a little surge of truck love in the last few years: Lee Brice’s melancholic “I Drive Your Truck,” Luke Bryan’s melodramatic “We Rode in Trucks,” and Tim McGraw’s hillbilly rockish “Truck Yeah” to name a few. Even Taylor Swift has ridden shotgun, having fallen in one of her [...]
The Statler Brothers were a gospel band most famous for the years they spent as Johnny Cash's backup singers and opening act. In 1979, they released a song called "How to Be a Country Star." "There's questions," it began, "we're always hearing everywhere we go: like how do I cut a record or get on a country show?"
Their comical answer was a rambling list of what today we'd call shout outs: "learn to sing like Waylon or pick like Jerry Reed," "put a cry in your voice like Haggard," and "get a hip band like Willie." On and on the song goes, naming more names than a teacher [...]
Joe Allison had trouble hearing his wife, Audrey, on the phone. “Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone,” he’d say. One day, she wrote it down so they could turn it into a song. A singer called Jim Reeves recorded that song, “He’ll Have To Go” in October of 1959; it topped the charts by February of 1960.
“Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone,” Reeves says, only he’s not a husband who can’t hear his wife, but someone whose someone is with someone else: “I’ll tell the man to turn the jukebox way down low,” he sings, “And you can [...]
The year was 1968. In May, Wynette sang courageously about the heartbreak of “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.” Then, in September, she offered the heart-aching advice to “Stand By Your Man.” Both songs topped the charts, but she’s remembered mostly for the staying, and not for the going—which is odd, since Wynette divorced five different husbands.
It’s odder still since “Stand By Your Man” is not so much revered as reviled. Women are accused of standing by their men, not applauded for it. Political wives are almost always judged by this standard, at least since 1992, when Hillary Clinton invoked the song during an interview with 60 Minutes. She and [...]
On February 4th, 1990, the sound system of the Second United Church of Christ in Lexington, North Carolina malfunctioned. Those gathered for worship at 11 o’clock that Sunday heard an unexpected voice over the microphone. According to The Dispatch, the newspaper for Davidson County, Donese Scott, who lived across the street from the church, was talking to her friend Revoda Jeffries on a cordless phone, which was picked up by church’s sound system. The two women chatted as Ms. Scott prepared a bath and climbed into the tub.
“God Almighty,” Ms. Jeffries said to Ms. Scott, “I can’t believe my husband stood in line hours to get the seats, [...]
Loretta Lynn wrote and recorded “The Pill” in 1972. Her label didn’t release it until 1975, but three years wasn’t long enough to cool the controversy stoked by Lynn, one of the biggest names in country music, singing the praises of oral contraception to an audience of “unliberated, work-worn American females.” The Associated Press’s lede about the song in February of that year read, “To some, Loretta Lynn’s new song ‘The Pill’ might be too bitter to swallow. But to the country music star it has the sweet taste of success,” selling some 25,000 copies a day. The New York Times even gave it a [...]
Dolly Parton does it all in only two hundred and two words. Eighty-four fewer than the Gettysburg Address; one hundred and thirty-six more than the Lord’s Prayer. Two hundred and two words, one of which is repeated thirty-one times: Jolene. Parton wails her name like a banshee. Five times Jolene; once Jolene, Jolene; six times Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene. Parton says the name Jolene thirty-one times in less than three minutes. It’s a story song, and the story is as familiar as they come. Where there was happiness, now there is heartache. A woman loves a man, but that man loves Jolene; the woman confronts Jolene and pleads with [...]
Big, bold Wallace Stevens rests there in his entirety, several pages dog-eared with the poems you wanted me to read. There is the copy of Flannery O’Connor’s stories that I can only open if I turn past the title page where, in black loopy ink, your well wishes wave. There is the paperback of Leaves of Grass that has no name on the inside cover, but I know it belonged to you. There is the cheerful, brightly colored edition of Goodbye, Columbus that is always trying to say hello with tennis courts and swimming pools on the first page; your definition of what it meant to be rich.
These are [...]
After they dined on Napoleon’s horses, the Parisians ate all the feral cats and stray dogs they could find. It was 1870, and the real politicking of Otto von Bismarck had brought Prussian forces to France. The siege of Paris began on September 19th, and over the next four months the Parisians would eat every horse, donkey, dog, cat and rat within the city’s walls. When they ran out of those, they turned to the city’s zoo, in the Jardin de Plantes.
The deer and antelope were the first to go, looking comfortably like the horses and donkeys that had filled menus during the first few weeks of the [...]