1986 was a weird year for me. I had left home and was trying to figure out what being out alone in the world meant, and basically had no idea. About anything. I was NOT a country music fan – there was lots of that where I grew up, and it was usually some kinda twang that was blasting out of the pickup truck I was laying face down on the ground behind after a coupla good ol’ boys finished teaching me a lesson about having funny hair and weird clothes.
An avid reader of SPIN magazine, I almost flipped right by an article about some hat guy named Dwight Yoakam, until the words “Violent Femmes” caught my eye. Turns out this guy was as down on Nashville as I was, and played “real” country music, which couldn’t buy him a cup of coffee in the Music City (why is it called Music City, anyway? Shouldn’t it be called Cookie Cutterville, or something?). Instead of quitting, or worse, changing his music to make it more “palatable”, he went to LA and started playing rock clubs with bands like the Violent Femmes and X, and made a name for himself with the underground kids. I was intrigued, so I went out and got his “Guitars and Cadillacs” record. Not bad, I thought, after a few listens, but most definitely not life-changing.
One night, I was watching MuchMusic (who are we kidding? That was every night…) – they still played music on MuchMusic back then (ohhh… Erica, I loved you) – and a video came on by Steve Earle, a name mentioned in passing that I recognized from the Yoakam article. “This is strange”, I thought. “Why are they playing this country dude on Much? ” By the end of the song, I was sold. If the music video was an advertisement for a record, then this one totally worked. I went up to A&A Records in Deerfoot Mall and bought “Guitar Town” on cassette. Looking at the cover, there were two things I noticed straightaway – 1) No hat. 2) A black guitar. Who was this guy?
I got the record home and I knew who he was. He was who I wanted to be (straight talk, no B.S., tell-it-how-you-see-it-even-if-you-don’t-know-exactly-what-it-is-you’re-looking-at, lyrically smart, musically tough-but-thoughtful) – but hadn’t figured out how to do it yet. He was not ashamed of where he came from (Tennessee and/or Texas – small-town stuff), but did not speak or sing or act like a yokel, and didn’t put on airs to hide his humble roots. The real deal.
I wore that album out, and I realize now that Guitar Town was the impetus for my diving headlong into country music 5 or 6 years later (I used to think it was all Uncle Tupelo‘s fault, but I now know it was Steve’s), and “Someday” was my favorite song – a song I wish I had written, a song that summed up my feelings about my hometown, exactly.
In the spring of ’87, my friend Ed was graduating high school and I headed back home for the party. I was feeling slightly nostalgic on the 9 hour drive – I lived in the big city now, but this is where I grew up – and was looking forward to seeing some old familiar faces. The first thing I did when I got to the farm was to borrow my parents’ car and head into town. I couldn’t stay long, ‘cuz supper was gonna be on the table, but I just wanted to get to town and drive down Railway, bang a right on Main, go the 8 blocks or so and do a U-turn, go back down Main and up Railway (what we used to call ‘driving around’ in high school – sounds pretty much as exciting as you would imagine – Steve nailed it in the opening lines of “Someday”) a few times for old times’ sake.
On my way back home for supper, I stopped in at the Mohawk gas station and after filling up Mom and Dad’s car, I saw an old friend in the coin-operated car wash bay, back to the street, hosing down his truck. This was not just some passing acquaintance. This guy was there for most of my adolescent rites of passage – first cigarette, first beer, first joint, first snowmobile accident, car accident, double date at the drive-in, etc. We went to school and played hockey together for a long time, until he went off to play Junior in North Battleford when we were 16.
I was so happy to see him! I jumped out of the car and yelled over the noise of the car wash. “Mike! Mike!” he turned around a looked at me for a second, and then, uninterested, turned back to washing his truck. I walked over to him and tapped him on the shoulder. “Mike! It’s me, Lorrie!”
He let go of the trigger on the spray wand and faced me. “I know who you are. What the fuck do you want?”
Stunned, I just looked at him and said, “Umm… nothing. Just wanted to say hi…”
“Well, hi, then. You said it. I’m busy.”
I turned back to the car as I realized what was on the dash of his truck – the cassette case for Guitar Town. I hope he took Steve’s advice – hard to say, since that was the last time I ever saw him.
Steve Earle’s “Someday”
(Click on the Play button beside the song title to launch the music player
or right-click on the link to download it to your computer.)