My Dad was a country music listener. When I say ‘country music’, I’m talking about the old time country music. Grand Ole Opry country. Roy Rogers and Dale Evens country. Saturday nights were for Mom’s homemade pizza and Hee-Haw. The day he found the classic country radio station on Sirius XM, he called me to tell me all about it because he was overjoyed that this station existed. Once, well before we knew he was sick, I took Dad to see Riders in the Sky at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. You might recognize their voices from Toy Story 2 where they performed “Woody’s Round-up”. Dad was so happy to be at this concert that it leaked out of his eyes. He was the one that gave me my appreciation for good country music. He taught me all about Patsy and Loretta and Johnny and Willie. He introduced me to Minnie Pearl and cowboy campfire songs. I had an appreciation for Dad’s music, but I did not care to listen to it. It just wasn’t my go-to choice of music, particularly in my youth. There’s nothing more embarrassing or annoying than your parents’ music when you are that age.
I came across Furnace Room Lullaby the year Chris died. It’s an album of Neko Case singing twangy country songs, each one resonating in some way with my state of mind. Every word in South Dakota Way could have been written by me in the days after Chris’s passing. I felt all the aching truth of grief in that song. Then I had to have Hooper put down and Set Out Running moved to the top of my anthem list.
And if I knew heartbreak was coming, I would've set out running. Past the city houses
And the ditches on the highway.
This album stuck with me as I entered the crazy world of online dating (Guided by Wire) and into the early days of my relationship with Michael (Twist the Knife). And I am always in the Mood to Burn Bridges.
So if you have moral advice, I suggest you just tuck it all away
This album didn’t just open me up to all things Neko Case, it opened my ears to that music my Dad loved so much. My appreciation for that genre has moved beyond mere appreciation. I now tuck a few songs into a playlist and seek out new artists with that old sound, artists like Margo Price and Yola and even Kacey Musgraves. I listen to this music and I think about my Dad’s western style shirts with the pearl snaps and his bolo ties. I think about how Dad had cowboy boots that he called “work boots” and a fancy pair of cowboy boots that he called his “dress boots”. The same was true for his cowboy hats. He had one for riding his tractor and one for fancy occasions. He had a way of getting as close as he could to things he wanted to do in life. He wanted to be a pilot and when he failed the physical to become one, he became an airplane mechanic. Those cowboy clothes and his music and his red tractor were Dad’s way of being the cowboy.
And I feel like I finally understand that.