“Songs are like tattoos.” – Margo Price
Tattoos are permanent. Sure you can pay tons of money to have them covered up or removed, but the memory remains forevermore. Songs are the same way. And much like tattoos, songs seem to come to us at just the right time. Some are visible for a short period of time and others are indelible marks on our psyche and soul. I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason. Songs and music are no different. Music, people, events all hit you at the right time in your life. Your opinion of that timing in the moment is unremarkable. In the hindsight option that comes along later, you will overwhelmingly notice that timing is batting 1.000.
The dulcet tones of Paul Stanley wailing and the ghoulish visuals of Gene Simmons spitting splattered blood were a rogue curiosity to me as a kid and it made me dig into their music. If I had encountered those over the top, cheesy theatrics as an adult I would have immediately discarded it as silly. Two of my earliest favorite songs were John Anderson’s “Swingin’” and the Oak Ridge Boys “Elvira”. Neither are known for their high quality lyrical content. It’s the melodic, offbeat vocal presentations that grab ears. They surely grabbed mine. If they were released in 2020, they probably wouldn’t even make it into a TikTok.
It’s why we make playlists. Going through a break up, cue up the sad songs. In a drinking mood, play some Johnny Paycheck and Gary Stewart. Want to party? Here comes Mike and the Moonpies and Shinyribs.
But, how do we know what songs to put where and when? Experience. Emotion. Timing.
Do you remember the first time you heard “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” and you thought, “damn, how did he do it that way Waylon?” Of course, while you were thinking you had the windows down on an open FM road with the sun setting behind you and a solid 55mph on the speedometer. Or the first time the intro to “Back in Black” clicked through the initial riff and set the hairs on the back of your neck at attention? How about the first time you realized that the protagonist in “He Stopped Loving Her Today” was deceased? You feel and understand these things in due time. The proper time.
The music of 2020 has been a rough time. Fantastic new records have been released into the pandemic ether. Few have gained the foothold they would have in a “normal” year. Perhaps, and hopefully, sometime in the future we will revisit the gold of 2020 musical releases. When the time is right. This year and all that it has been fraught with has seen me immerse myself in new music momentarily before returning to the comforts of the classics. And not just any classics, but mostly the classics of those we’ve lost this year. I guarantee my most listened to artist on Spotify for 2020 has been John Prine. I’ve always loved him. But, his passing combined with the absurdity of the past 9 months has made me lean on his lyrical wisdom more than usual. Throw in copious doses of your Jerry Jeffs and Shavers and I’ve become pretty adept at memorializing artists I love and using their music as healing for myself. Based on conversations I’ve had with folks, I know I’m not alone in this.
I had a long drive home recently in the middle of the night. There was a full moon and I was on a lonesome east Texas highway. The moon was bright enough for me to see the cows sleeping on the pastures I passed by. It seemed to illuminate well enough that there would be no need for headlights (although I didn’t put this theory to the test). The moment was serene. But, it needed a soundtrack. I instinctively called up Willie Nelson. And I went straight to the Shotgun Willie LP. I let it play in succession right on into Phases and Stages. Then Red Headed Stranger. And just as I was hitting the city limits of my destination, the first few refrains on Stardust.
That’s not something I would do if I was just heading down a busy interstate. The timing had to be right. Those songs and albums are tattooed on my soul in such a way that they can only be consumed one way. Whatever they represent to me, manifested in an open, empty late night highway.
Perhaps one day, the new songs and albums I’ve enjoyed this year from bands like Shaker Hymns, Kyle Nix, John Baumann et al will accompany on a similar drive. The timing will have to be just right.
-How are you ringing in 2021? 2020 deserves quite a send off, the problem is we can’t have large parties. But, Texans have never lacked for creativity when it comes to raising hell.
-Our annual December collection of Favorites of the Year will be published soon. Timing be damned. 🙂
-What a strange football season? It’s better than never having one at all, but it’s been so unusual.
-The only activity that has thrived throughout all this is hunting. Based on the deer my buddies have tagged, it may even be better than normal.
–This month’s recommended album: Josh Weathers – LIVE. Weathers is an artist who STILL hasn’t managed to capture in a studio what he can do on a stage. Fortunately, this most recent release recorded last year at Magnolia Motor Lounge in Josh’s hometown of Fort Worth gives you a glimpse of the magic he’s capable of when the lights go down.
-”Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” – Mark Twain