He Said She Said: Songs That Remind Us of Our Grandfathers
She Said has something she wants to admit. Here goes nothing. We... like... country music. No big deal, right? You wouldn't think so, unless you grew up in a town filled with racist rednecks who thought the glitz of '90s Nashville qualifies for the only music worth listenin' to. She Said rebelled by listening to bands like the Stones and Bikini Kill, cutting off all her hair, and begging her dad to buy her combat boots at the Army Surplus store, which she wore Angela Chase-style with flow-y dresses and moth-devoured cardigans. So her aversion to country stemmed from a misunderstanding of the genre. Garth Brooks isn't country. Garth Brooks is a pop star. That she learned from our paternal grandfather, Pawpaw, who set her straight by turning her on to the singing cowboy tradition of her home state, Oklahoma. As she got older she learned her grandfather had been a bona fide Rockabilly - he had the loudest hot rod in town, and his two faded forearm tattoos were once harbingers of the boy you wouldn't want to bring home to Daddy.
She Said's other grandfather, Granddad, couldn't have been more different. He was a subversive sort. One of her earliest memories is of watching reruns of the Smothers Brothers with him, seeing Pete Seeger sing on Granddad's TV. That grandfather gave her her first record player, a rickety old piece of crap that barely worked (and that she still has today) after he decided to upgrade to CDs. Along with the player came a box of 45s, intricately sorted by artist, each disc labeled with Granddad's name.
So, it's taken her a while to realize this, but after spending years rebelling against her parents' favorite music, she's made a full loop back to the music her Grandfathers loved.
Ray Stevens, "The Streak"
In between those syndicated episodes of The Smothers Brothers there were inevitably two commercials - Tommy "Yo-Yo Man" Smothers selling how-to videos of his yo-yo tricks, and an infomercial for musical comedian Ray Stevens' greatest hits. And every time, no matter how many times he'd seen the commercial before, Granddad would crack up watching it. Always a sucker for "As Seen ON TV" gimmicks, you better believe he eventually bought the album. Oh god. Dig the slide whistle.
Fats Domino, "Blueberry HIll"
That box of 45s? The first two discs were by artists unbeknownst to She Said at the ripe old age of 15 (1. Al HIbbler, 2. The Diamonds). Disc three was Fats Domino, and She Said must've played that 45 a thousand times, knowing that owning a record player made her cool. The records in that box, she never listed to them any more, but she can't bear to get ride of them.
Marty Robbins, "El Paso"
Speaking of records, Pawpaw loved the purest form of country - cowboy ballads. Somehow She Said ended up with this amazing Marty Robbins record that has her Pawpaw's name scrawled on the top. The record was handed down to her father, who then handed it down to her. The cycle of music perpetuates itself. Robbins sang two cowboy ballads on the record in question, "El Paso" and "Streets of Laredo." She Said especially loved "El Paso" because it's a love story, and it reminds her of the soft side of her stubborn, tough, hard-working Pawpaw.
Patsy Cline, "Have You Ever Been Lonely"
One of She Said's best memories of her Pawpaw was several years ago, at her older cousin's wedding. Pawpaw and Moomaw (don't start) loved to cut a rug, going to the Oklahoma Opry at least once a month. During the wedding, the DJ played a couple of Jerry Lee Lewis songs, and She Said's grandparents got out there and danced like they were in their 20s. This record was one of Pawpaw's too. He loved Patsy Cline, and She Said can picture many a nights her grandparents spent dancing with each other to this song.
Hank Williams, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"
She Said's Pawpaw served in the Korean War, and gave her this piece of advice before her two-year move to Korea a few years ago: "It was the hottest place I've ever lived, and it was the coldest place I've ever lived." Ironically, she ended up a few dozen miles from where he'd been stationed five decades earlier.
In the past five years both of She Said's grandfathers have succumbed to bouts with cancer. Pawpaw was the first, and he died while she was in Korea, so she couldn't go to the funeral. But her father and Moomaw picked this song out as his eulogy, a song he'd always loved for it's desolate imagery and the sadness in Hank's voice.
When She Said hears it now, it doesn't so much make her sad as it makes her reminisce for simpler times when she was younger and the adults in her life seemed infallible. Plus, it's Hank Williams. It sounds like home.
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