Monday, February 24, 2020

My Americana

This is the only Lyle Lovett song I listen to much anymore.

That's not particularly notable for anyone but me.

I used to listen to Lyle all the time. In the late 1980s he was my guy. In retrospect, it isn't hard to figure out why.

I grew up in New Brunswick. The local radio station played rock and roll for only two hours a day—between 8 and 10 pm. And that was only six days a week. On Sunday night we got Billy Graham from 8 til 9 and no rock music at all. The rest of the time they played country.

I loved rock and roll at the time. Every Sunday I'd go through the same deception. I'd get into my bedroom and pull out my Holiday 8 Transistor radio and turn it on expecting the music I craved and get Billy Graham instead. Here's the thing, though, I never turned off Billy Graham. And every year I'd watch the Daytona 500. I was a hard core Richard Petty fan. And I listened to the country music that played all the time. I loved Buck Owens.

I had good instincts as a kid. Later, when I was in Ottawa to go to university, I listened to the music all my friends professed to like—mostly David Bowie, Roxy Music, Talking Heads, B52s and The Clash—but I also loved the music I grew up on. There was rock music that was partly or largely disguised country music such as the Rolling Stones, The Band and John Mellencamp. There was also country music it was respectable to like: I had a copy of Ray Charles's Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music which all my friends at least tolerated; to do otherwise would have been "raaaacist". The same album by a white artist they would have despised.

And then came Lyle. The great thing about Lyle was the irony. It was country but it really wasn't. His tongue was always in his cheek. And I loved that.

Only I can't listen to it much anymore. The song above is an exception. There is no irony in it. It tells a story that a lot of men (and not a few women) can identify with. What it feels like when the woman you love and who still loves you wants out and nothing is going to change her mind. It's a straightforward story this song tells. It's not simple—a lot of artistry went into this song. But a lot of artistry went into almost everything Lyle did. For me, in any case, most of what he did hasn't aged well.

Joshua Judges Ruth, the album this song came from was the last Lyle Lovett album I ever bought. I didn't consciously reject him. He just no longer captured my imagination after that. It was just time to move on.

I said at the top that it isn't hard to figure out why Lyle was my guy. The reason is that he gave me an excuse to love the music I had always loved but was ashamed to admit in front of the cool kids. Lyle was not-really-but-kinda-sorta country. Over time, it was precisely that irony that became troublesome. Looking back, it's interesting (for me) to notice that I started to get tired of the irony in the early 1990s—that is to say years before 9/11.

And I can understand why that happened. I had just gotten out of a relationship that had been about fun but, as so often happens, had come to be love. And there are few things more damaging to the soul than to fall deeply in love with the wrong woman. I got out of that and into a relationship with a woman who valued the same things I did. One of the ironies (in the historical sense of the word this time) was that the friend who invited me to the occasion where I met Amy had done so with some trepidation because she worried that Amy and I would hate one another. Nora figured that I'd fit in with everyone else who'd be present but was worried that Amy and I would immediately clash and ruin everything for everyone. It didn't happen.

It was my fault that Nora thought that. I'd been lying about myself for years. Not surprisingly, my friends had started to believe my lies because, no matter how odious the source for this maxim, it is true that a lie constantly repeated tends to get accepted. Even by me. After 12 years of lying to myself and everyone else about who I was, I was finally ready to be honest.

Anyway, enough rambling. This is the first in what I hope will be a series of posts about Americana because Americana played a huge role in defining me. That's a troublesome statement because neither term—both "Americana" and "me"—is terribly well defined. I don't expect anyone else to care about me but others might be interested in the Americana issue.

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