Totally True Tune Tales: Nashville

Sure, I was a fresh-faced kid. We all were. Such was the glamour of working your very first job, surrounded by other children who still spent their time complaining about how life wasn’t fair and how nothing they were asked to do was in their job description. Everything was always done half-assed, people called in sick because they had no responsibilities for every cent of their paychecks, and there wasn’t a care in the world.

Except that I had a care in this world. My particular brand of caring was focused on the radio in the back room that was constantly playing country music. While some kids didn’t like needy customers and some kids didn’t like demanding managers, I simply hated that radio.

I didn’t realize at first that it was my fellow employees who turned on the country. We were free to change the station. Unfortunately, I was the newest kid on the block, and the old hats were comandeering the airwaves anyway, regardless of my perceived lack of free will towards the situation. The first time I ever walked to that back room to take care of my portion of the work, I glared at the radio and yanked the plug from the wall. “Ugh, I can’t stand country music, I would rather work in peace,” I sputtered. What I didn’t realize is how in that one instant I had managed to silence not just the speaker, but also the entire interaction among employees in that back room.

I didn’t notice it, either. I was just happy to be twang-free.

It wasn’t until my first couple of months passed by that I noticed the true pattern and flow of how the radio hogs operated. Eventually, I worked in my own strategy for competing. If I was the only one in the back room, I took first crack and hit the station over to classic rock. Few people would ever just up and change it (or unplug it, as I once did); usually they would ask before taking the initiative, and often times I would acquiesce. Well, only if I knew I wouldn’t be in the back room for much longer.

All of this started with my upbringing. My mother was an ex-hippie whose musical repertoire included Hendrix, Joplin, some Sly and the Family Stone, strung together with a bit of Carole King and Queen. My father was like something out of the movie Dazed and Confused, constantly spinning Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, and Kiss; his favorite band was Blue Oyster Cult, and he ate up Van Halen like they were made of chocolate. At no time was country music ever played in our household.

The problem, however, was not mere lack of exposure. In fact, this all reeked of a bit of teenage rebellion. Both sets of my grandparents were into the shitkicker scene, and I heard quite a bit of the old ’50s cowboys when we visited for holidays. All of my aunts and uncles hated it as well; it was how the family bonded and stayed together, this mutual utter dislike of Ma and Pa’s choice in music.

What one could not predict, however, is just how strongly this was bred into my psyche. My environment existed to the point where, when any hint of fiddle caught my parents’ ear, not only was the station changed or turned off, but it would be followed by a one to ten minute rant about how awful country music was. It actually got to the point where I would hear the Nashville swagger and start to feel my stomach rumble in disapproval. Yes, country music was making me physically ill.

I can’t say this upset me whatsoever. I was more than proud to listen to rock music, and even more proud to be able to say that my parents listened to the “cool” radio stations. I was raised in the mainstream at a time before radio became completely corporate and washed out by MTV. Stranded in the middle of midwestern desolation, I still managed to be on top of the hip scene. How dare anyone take that away from me by cranking up the ol’ Kenny Rogers?

I fit in so well with my relatives, too. I could sit around with my aunts, who were nine and eleven years older than I, as we ripped and dished on how square my grandparents were. I would even stealthily help them as we would ambush the old table-sized console stereo, carefully lifting the needle from the giant stack of Jim Reeves and flipping the knob over to the radio. Usually, my grandpa would catch the change within ten minutes, but our point was still made.

Yet, many years later as I toiled away earning my first paychecks, I actually had to deal with others and their abominable music tastes. I had no choice but to tolerate country music for the first time in my life. Yes, my tummy still grumbled; yes, I still took every opportunity to avoid being around that godforsaken radio; but yes, I learned eventually how to coexist with the country bumpkins.

That didn’t spell acceptance at all, however. See, after my parents separated, my dad found Jesus and dispelled his old rock mavens in favor of some good Christian country. His siblings were certainly horrified, but he was the oldest child and could therefore escape from this heresy unscathed. He bequeathed his music collection to me when I was far too young to properly appreciate it, but that wasn’t any trouble. What became trouble was any sort of car ride with my father, as we were stuck in that backseat, unable to escape whatever torturous twangy crap he blared into our fragile little ears. If we as children had been bitter at all about our parents’ divorce, this definitely led us to choose sides faster than we could run from Conway Twitty. We all quickly learned to load up our walkmans with batteries for any sort of trip.

Older and wiser (and without headphones), I slowly became a bit easier being around country music. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t take the time to ask nicely if the station could be changed whenever possible, or that I didn’t complain like a whining child when I didn’t get my way. But I even started to warm up to the old tunes that I had helped my aunts to change. Whether I wanted it to be or not, country music indeed had been a part of my life and had attached memories to it when it was played.

I picked up a bit of appreciation, even, for a few of the old country greats. While Johnny Cash might not be the first album I would toss on for casual listening, I have warmed up to the Man In Black, recalling shooting pool with my relatives on Christmas Eve in my grandparents’ basement. I still laugh at that silly, “A white sport coat and a pink carnation” song, but it also reminds me of all of the great times I had in my youth with my family, when we were all young and rebellious. Sure, most of my connections to country music lie in mocking it, but that simply must be better than complete non-appreciation for the genre as a whole.

Even still, I have never been so happy in my life as when I started my last job and they flipped on their little radio. I grimaced, expecting the worst; instead, it was just oldies. While it certainly may not make me jump up and down to hear “Baby Love” at least once every day, at least it’s not country. After all, there’s a difference between tolerance and self-torture.