Monday, September 22, 2008

Cue The Merle Haggard

Welcome to the upcoming financial collapse of America. When times get tough, I get to listening and playing music just as I've always done. This leads to small memory sparks that are soon zipping and booming like the 4th of July and I find that I've stopped worrying about what might come tomorrow. Hence this piece called Cue The Merle Haggard.

"are the good times really over....."

Just a little lyric snippet from a Merle Haggard tune I usually refer to as SNOWBALL headed to HELL. Actual title is "Are The Good Times Really Over (I Wish A Buck Was Still Silver)". It dates from that brief window right after we moved to the Jimmy C. Newman farm in the spring of 1982. We moved into a tiny ttailer with a kitchen floor tiled like a zebra. My parents bought me some shit kicker boots because the place was supposed to crawling with timber rattlesnakes. It was, but the boots weren't necessary. I wore flip-flops most of the time.

This was the 3rd big dislocation in just as many years and my identity was in complete teenage free fall. I had flourished when we moved to Smyrna for 8th grade. I had floundered after we moved back to Murfreesboro for 9th grade at Oakland High. It's a wonder I didn't kill myself or become a criminal during that year of purgatory. Now we had traveled to the outer reaches of Rutherford County so my father could manage the farm of a Grand Ole Opry star I had never even heard of before. Which meant yet another new school to attend in the Fall. I spent a few days exploring the huge farm and never felt so alone or adrift in my young life. I almost wrecked my bicycle the day I met the accordion player's son by the creek that ran beside the mile long road slash driveway.

He had yelled "hello" as I rode by. I quickly learned that his name was James, he was in 8th grade. his father played accordion in Newman's Cajun Country band, and that he lived just around the corner. Most important, I learned that he also liked to smoke cigarettes so we adjourned under the wooden bridge that ran over the creek right after a hairpin turn which made it easy to almost run big Impalas over the side if you weren't watching what you doing closely enough as I was to find out a few years later, but was also very convenient for sneaking smokes as long as the copperheads cooperated by staying under their rocks. Soon James introduced me to his older sister Paige, and a dude from down the highway named John. They were all Cajuns, but they referred to themselves as coonasses.

It was all so new and even sorta exciting. After just a few weeks around them I began talking like them subconsciously dropping their Cajun accent into my speech. I tried to hang out with them as often as possible, but soon after the novelty factor wore off on both sides it became very apparent that if our lives had been a Sesame Street song; I was the one of those things that didn't belong here. I loved the country, but I wasn't a country boy like James and John. Paige was cute and I thought I'd dig hanging around her, but her personality was ugly with a capital U. So now I was even more lost and adrift than before. The loneliest person isn't sitting by themselves. The loneliest person is always sitting in a room full of people feeling like they are invisible and powerless to change this.

This was how I felt when I was around the Cajun kids. Not only did I lack the requisite country boy skills, but I was an ethnic minority around them. They weren't above throwing in some French patois, pointing at me, and then laughing. If there was any kind of dispute it was always two, or three if Paige was around, against my one small voice. Knowing I would never become the buck knife toting redneck they seemed to aspire to be, I did the one thing I knew might lead to some common ground among us and perhaps lead to that first pleasant novel stage again. I started listening to country music radio only. Which is not as drastic as it appears. I might have preferred Kiss, but I did grow up watching Porter Wagoner and Hee Haw.

This experiment lasted maybe 2 to 3 months. It was a blur of mainly Alabama, Hank Williams Jr,. David Frizzell, and Sylvia at the time. Only two songs really stand out for me now. One was by Janie Fricke where she sings she's gonna love you till the cows come home. The cows never really came home at Jimmy's; they just sort of ambled around the acreage so I guess Janie would have have had her work cut out for her there. The other song was Merle Haggard's "Are The Good Times Really Over (I Wish A Buck Was Still Silver)" which had been released in 1981. I knew Merle from a greatest hits collection my father owned and he stood out from the cosmopolitan country flavors Nashville was shoving down everyone's ears.

It didn't take long to realize that an appreciation for country music wasn't going to make me visible to the Cajuns or to anybody else. It wasn't long till my Cajun friends sold me out to a bully and I would learn that I wasn't so invisible, but now wished I had been. I went back to the heavy metal and punk music I truly loved. I slowly made new friends at Riverdale High. I took advantage of knowing Jimmy C. Newman and attended countless Grand Ole Opry shows and ran around Opryland by myself for free until the park closed. I'd ride the Grizzly River Rampage with a raft full of strangers and somehow it was okay. We were all snowballs headed to hell, right.