The question of where I am from isn’t just about a geographical location. I think it is also about the various influences that create the person I am becoming (yes, at my age, I am still “becoming”). Those influences include such things as food, religion, education, hobbies, travel, and even music. Maybe music isn’t as much of a “from” for other people, but it certainly has been for me.
I come from a family that loves music, especially on my mother’s side. Mama sang to us as young children, we all sang in choirs at church, I was in chorus in high school, I took piano lessons forever …. I just don’t remember a time when music wasn’t a part of our lives.
At home, what you listened to depended on where you happened to be standing. When Daddy had a project, I could wander into his work shed and hear the local country music station – Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Porter Wagoner, Kitty Wells. Inside the house was a different story. Mama had albums from The Mamas & The Papas and Glen Campbell, while back in my room, Bobby Sherman, the Osmond Brothers and The Partridge Family had taken up residence. Later, I invited in Olivia Newton-John, Rita Coolidge, Barbra Streisand, and a K-Tel album that introduced me to Eric Clapton. My high school boyfriend listened to Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, and The Who’s “Tommy,” but I was also listening to Heart and The Eagles and Linda Ronstadt. Somehow, I discovered Broadway, and the soundtrack for “A Chorus Line” can still bring out the aspiring gypsy in me. Along came disco, and things got weird for a while (however, I am still grateful for “Boogie Shoes”). The 1980s brought me to a new wave of country (Willie Nelson, “Urban Cowboy”) and the CDs I bought in the late 80s and early 90s range from Clapton, Elton John, and Rod Stewart to Bette Midler, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and k.d. lang. I think I officially “aged out” of pop music at some point in the 1990s, and here in the 2000s, I find myself drawn back to older music, although from new voices, like Michael Buble and Harry Connick, Jr. “Someone To Watch Over Me” will put Jim and me on the dance floor every time, even where there *is* no dance floor. These days, my car radio is set on the 1970s station, and I personally believe that if you don’t turn up “Born To Run” or “Born To Be Wild” when you are in your car, you should have your drivers license suspended.
So how does this have anything to do with “where I’m from?” I can only answer that music has always been a huge part of my life, and a song can take me right back to a specific moment in time. Elton John and Bette Midler eased my transition from Richmond to Atlanta after a broken heart. Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings accompanied my mom, my step-father, my sibs and step-sibs and me to the beach on many long weekends in the Outer Banks. Stevie Nicks and Ann and Nancy Wilson showed me that girls can rock and roll, too. And that “high lonesome” sound of Hank Williams Sr. puts me right back under a big ol’ tree at my mother’s Aunt Mamie’s house, at a family reunion.
Picture a table absolutely groaning with food (note to self: another blog post waiting to happen), children and adults playing horseshoes and softball, kids in trees and on (and under) the front porch, a field lined with cars … and after we ate, a group of folks sitting around with guitars, with a banjo and (I think) a mandolin thrown in for good measure. I knew things were getting good when the instruments came out, and I was right.
The musicianship was amazing, and the harmonies were tight. In my memory, one song flows right into another, from folk to country, and they eventually got to the good stuff – the gospel songs – and every song was true and right. I can still see their faces as they sang, and as I look back from the vantage point of adulthood, I see that those songs felt like that because the singers knew the One they were singing about, personally and without doubt. When they sang about “a closer walk with thee,” it was because that’s what they really wanted. When they sang about the “old rugged cross,” it would make you cry. And when they sang about the circle being unbroken, it was.
That circle is where I’m from. That’s my family’s genealogy.