White Line Fever
I want to hold your hand
One night I was reveling in the sounds of my favorite Country and Western tunes, when my room mate Michael walked in and started an unsolicited critique of this particular musical venue.
- How can you listen to that crap? It’s so cheesy and maudlin. Then worse, they layer on that silly Hawaiian guitar. This music has no redeeming value whatsoever
At that point in time my favorite singers included the likes of George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and Buck Owens.
I explained to Michael that this type of music was meant to be maudlin, tear jerking, common and base because it spoke for millions of people who led ordinary, simple lives. It spoke to their every day struggles, their everyday hopes and fears, and their everyday life experiences especially when it came to matters of the heart.
In particular, it was directed to people who suffered hardship, who had blue collar jobs, who liked to drink, who cheated on their spouses, whose spouses cheated on them, and who had occasionally run afoul of the law.
It was all about hard driving, hard living, hard drinking, hard loving and hard working ordinary men and women.
As far as the steel guitar was concerned, I explained that playing a National Pedal Steel was incredibly difficult and that the whining or staccato refrains provided vital counterpoint to the vocal lyrics.
In telling Michael he was a bigoted, closed mind effete snob, I then set out to prove him wrong.
Realizing that conventional logic would not hold sway, the only alternative left was to drug him as I set the stage for a possible epiphany. So, one late Saturday afternoon after we took some mescaline it seemed that was as good a time as any other. Suggesting that we should take a ride in the country, we set out down the Massachusetts turnpike for Springfield.
I was the driver, and one of the rules of long distance driving is that the driver always gets to pick the music.
Asking him to be patient, I started playing Country music suggesting that he envision us being long haul truckers, high on amphetamines, hours away from our intended destination, with our loving but lonely or bored wife or girlfriend left behind for some predatory bar fly to attempt sweet talking her into bed.
As the drug began to take effect, the music worked its charm on the previously suppressed temporal lobe of Michael’s pre-biased brain, then as the alternating dashed and solid white lines of the highway whizzed by, visually reinforcing Merle Haggard’s song about the road paint that separates the lanes, he suddenly without further provocation shouted:
- I get it. Now I get it! This stuff is really good.
Then whenever the steel guitar played short counter pointing bursts behind the whiney vocals, he smiled, twitched his fingers and forearms in synch as though he might be faking the onset of a grand mal seizure while shouting out:
This vignette reminded of the time in the tenth grade when our social studies teacher began a ranting soliloquy in front of the class asking repeatedly who could tell him how any one of us sitting in the room on that very day could immediately make a million dollars.
We were stupefied. After all, we were only in the tenth grade and it was 1963. How could any one of us even dream of making such an unimaginable sum as one million dollars?
He then prompted us by asking what was the unifying theme of all the current rock and roll music we were raging over while parents scolded or attempted to censor their daughters new love for the greased up male icons they were gah-gah swooning over. He ranted:
- Forget the swiveling hips. What’s the same old thing that repeatedly comes out of their mouths?
Once again, the class was stymied.
- It’s all about maudlin sentimentality. It’s all about falling in and out of love, and getting a boyfriend or losing a girlfriend, and dreaming about a perfect relationship with a perfect person, or getting back at the guy who stole your girl, and getting dates, or your mother or father hating the guy or girl you bring home and about crying over a lot of spilt milk. You people know what it’s all about. You’re living it. I’m too old and I don’t get it. So, if you want to make a million dollars just go home tonight and write a rock and roll love song.
Everyone thought he was nuts, but obviously, he was just a little bit ahead of the curve.
None of us wrote that song.
Other people did.
Other people made millions and millions of dollars.
These great singers and song writers in doing so then made the millions of people who listened to their ballads more significantly tied to their emotions than they already were. Whether for better or for worse, they gave much greater meaning, depth and understanding to lives that otherwise would have been empty or lost or without a rationalizing raison-d’être… if it were not for the music.
He said I’ll love you till I die
She told him you’ll forget in time
And as the years went slowly by
She still prayed upon his mind
He kept her picture on his wall
Went half crazy now and then
He still loved her through it all
Hoping she’d come back again.
Kept some letters by his bed
Dated nineteen and sixty two
He had underlined in red
Every single “I love you”
He stopped loving her today
They placed a wreath upon his door
And soon they’ll carry him away.
He stopped loving her today