You teach your children some fashion sense
And they fashion some of their own
- Gordon Downie

Saturday, June 18, 2011

This is real. This is your life. In a song.

I need to get something out in the open. Country music makes me cry like a baby. I can't help it and I'm pretty sure I know why.

You need to understand that I love all kinds of music. I don't love them equally, but I can honestly say I have a very open mind when it comes to the things I listen to. Rock, alternative, country, folk, ska, reggae, big band, easy listening, classical, Broadway, jazz, blues, hip-hop, metal, you name it, I can probably listen to it. My iPod play list goes from The Animals to The Emeralds to Eminem to The Mighty Mighty Bosstones to Neil Young to Zac Brown, with lots of stops between. While my late father-in-law liked music that had a good beat, I'm a lyric guy. I am tone-deaf and have only recently gained the ability to read music. I have no talent or rhythm, but I definitely understand how to put words together.

The lyrics don't need to be particularly meaningful or evocative, I just love the way artists assemble words. My favorite band of all time is The Tragically Hip and I honestly believe part of the reason they have not experienced worldwide success is the Canadiana that is infused in their lyrics. One of my favorite Hip tunes starts with a reference to the Group of 7 painter Tom Thompson and that line evokes Thompson's paintings, a canoe and images of a place that is on my bucket list (Alongquin Park).

The lyrics of a song don't need to be particularly profound to elicit a powerful response. The Counting Crows' debut album has a track called "Time and Time Again." It was never a hit, in fact, I'm not sure I have ever heard it played on the radio. The opening lyrics, though, send shivers down my spine.

I wanted so badly/
Somebody other than me/
Staring back at me/
But you were gone. 

I listened to this song repeatedly as I drove to and from a good friend's funeral. It framed the entrance and exit to a monologue I wrote and performed to deal with how profoundly Jeff's passing changed my life. Even today as I write and listen, my eyes fill up and I'm transported to my old SUV
(The Millennium Falcon).

Aside from a few tunes that Gordon Downie would refer to as "weepy little things", most of the music I listened to in my teenage years did not reduce me to a puddle. I liked big, brash, fun music and particularly liked tunes with interesting lyrics. When I met my wife, things changed in a few ways. I started listening to country music.  We bought a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. It was all downhill from there.

After a big all night party at a teammate's house, we were killing time and watching CMT. Now, I'll admit that I was a bit fuzzy and compromised to begin with, but when my buddy Hammy said "This is the saddest song ever", I was a bit interested. The band was called Pirates of the Mississippi and the song is called Feed Jake. It's written from the point of view of a 20something guy who drives home to attend a childhood friend's funeral. In spite of cheeseball lyrics like "What we are and what we ain't/What we can and what we cain't", the video had me fighting back tears.

My next weak moment came on a Friday night when I was in university. My best friend Jeremy came to pick me up and we were having our usual warm up drinks before heading out for the night. The CMT Top 20 countdown was on and a new video by Travis Tritt came on. We were transfixed to the television, sipping a Lucky Lager. The video tells the story of a paraplegic war veteran named Mac Singleton who struggles to readjust to society with the help of his wife Annie and a fellow veteran named Al. By the end of the video, we simultaneously glanced at one another and realized that we both had the waterworks turned on. It was a true "I Love You Man" moment.

More than anything, though, fatherhood has rendered me completely useless in the face of songs about families, dogs, and being a daddy. Even when the songs are meant to be funny or tongue--in-cheek like Lonestar's Mr. Mom, they can make me weep uncontrollably because they remind me of a long-lost time when my kids were still babies. Nothing evokes a greater response in me than my family. Last year, I wrote a post (My Most Important Job) that explains how being a dad is more important than anything else in my life. Songs like Gord Bamford's Little Guy and High Valley's A Father's Love hit on themes that are the heart of how I see myself. I joke with my wife that these sorts of songs are inherently "unfair".

Even when the song does not directly connect to my life, if it tells a story and has a video that expands the story, I will watch it over and over again. Songs like Here Comes Goodbye and Colder Weather tell stories about relationships and loss. Jason Aldean's Amarillo Sky shares the story of proud farm families, Brad Paisley's Whiskey Lullaby tells the tale of lost love and alcoholism. These are not the stories of my life, but they make connections to my experiences and the people I love the most.

I suppose that the stereotype about country music is somewhat true. There are plenty of lost jobs, dead dogs and broken relationships in the music I listen to. On the other hand, though, being a parent and a husband is precisely "what I do". It's a good place to be and I'm glad that the musicians I admire and enjoy are providing the soundtrack.


  1. Great insight. I love the way you open your soul.

  2. Hey Ted... you and me both man, and I hate country music! It's the videos that get me too... Dr. Wangler at U of A used to joke about country music fitting the Socratic paradigm of emotions being the lowest form of human psyche- but alas we all have them, and country music videos go straight for the emotional jugular.

  3. Thanks for the comments. I should mention that the inspiration for this post came from my good friend Jeremy. We've shared lots of great musical memories!

  4. My daughter is getting married next month and I know the tears will flow. Music doesn't bring the tears. I don't watch videos so that may bring tears.
    I thought your favorite band was the Eagles...good rockin music with great lyrics. Some of their tunes are pretty sad.
    On another pulpit ..I don't think males are given credit for their emotional side...often derided for that side.

  5. Ted, couldnt agree more...I love the beat to music, the rhythm, the whole sound when I love a song but its those lyrics, the ones that you agree with and feel have been written for you. Sometimes I feel like they wrote them just for me so I can get through that specific time in my life. There are songs I listen to that make me feel like "I got it out" from the big cry! lol And Yes, some of those country songs you mentioned pull hard at those heart strings...I still can't watch Travis Tritt to this day, unless I want to cry. There are Garth Brooks songs that I still cant listen to either back from when they were first popular like, "Unanswered Prayers", "The Dance".
    One of the hardest songs for me is Brad Paisley's, "He didnt have to be" its about a single mom and her son. She finds that special person who takes a new role as a step, thats a good one. Artists with the lyrics that hit home for me are Tom Cochrane, Patsy Cline , Chris Daughtry, Tracey Lawrence and Zac Brown to only name a few.
    Perfect lyrics remind me of when you go to see a comedian and their jokes are exactly what you've been through or the comedian knows you and is telling your life history to the audience.
    Great read once again Coach /Boss

    P.S. So awesome you have no problem admitting those tears...