Stand before a bookcase, close your eyes, pick a book, open it up, jab your finger down on the page, and use that sentence as your opening

“…together, country-western on the radio.”

Johnny Cash. Tammy Wynette. Dolly Parton. Loretta Lynn. Lynn Anderson. Hank Williams. Glen Campbell. Johnny Cash. Johnny Cash. Has Johnny Cash been mentioned? Johnny Cash.

These are the country-western singers you grew up with, the ones who were on the radio in the station wagon as you and your family drove. Which you had to do all the time –drive– since you lived five miles north of the nearest town.

These are the singers whose records you played on the record player. The first record you bought with your own money, when you were a little kid, was Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison.

You and your family once saw Johnny at an outdoor stadium in Toronto. It poured down rain, and your seats were out in the open. No shelter. “If you stay, I’ll play,” he said, and he went through guitar after guitar as each one got soaked on stage.

Dolly you loved, and you love even more now. She felt like a friend. Loretta you were a little scared of, but you admired her. Glen made you dream about wide-open spaces and horses and cowboy boots. Lynn had a song called “Fancy” that you listened to over and over and over and over and over and over, before you even understood what the song was about. Hank, Hank. . . something about him made you want to cry. Tammy made you think. But not too hard. She felt like the lesser of the country sisters.

Johnny, though, he was everything. You mourned the day he died, and you love his daughter partly because she’s a good songwriter, and partly because she loved her dad so much.

Country-western on the radio. Baseball on the radio. The WIBX morning show on the radio.

There was a lot of radio in your life, back then, and none of it was the NPR that you listen to nonstop now.

2 comments

  1. John Z · February 24, 2011

    I saw Johnny Cash and the Jayhawks at the Orpheum theatre. A magical night. The Jayhawks played an acoustic set, and Johnny was there with the Tennessee Three and was in fine form.

    One of the first albums I ever bought was a guy singing Johnny Cash songs. Bought it at the Ben Franklin store, brought it home, then found out it wasn’t really Johnny. I was crushed. It was the first time in my life that I realized that there was only one Johnny Cash, a fact I’ve rediscovered a hundred times (give or take) since then.

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  2. oreo · February 24, 2011

    The first tape I bought with my own money was the Jackson 5, soon followed by their others and then every album released by Michael Jackson solo. I just found a CD of “Bad” at a garage sale, snapped it up for 50 cents, brought it home and announced to my family that they were about to hear the music that was the soundtrack of my days and nights back in, oh say about 1987 or 88. I listened to it so many times that I literally wore out tape ribbon (or whatever it’s called–that sounds more like a typewriter) and I remember clutching it, sobbing, as my mother insisted that I throw it in the kitchen trash can and tried to explain that I could get another copy.

    My mom was a TV addict, but my dad was all about radio. Many childhood memories are infused by the background of the radio he always had on: baseball, opera, MPR. I myself could have cared less about any of that and always went for the music. Unfortunately I didn’t quite get the beauty of all that classic country until I was older, but I’m making sure the same travesty doesn’t happen to my child: with two Johnny, Dolly, et al-loving parents, there’s no way he’ll escape without an appreciation.

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