I grew up in Marietta where there for my Dad there were only two kinds of music-- Country AND Western. Car rides along Route 7's curvy journey following the banks of the Ohio featured Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Flatt and Scruggs, Willie Nelson, Connie Smith, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams and Patsy Cline.
I have to admit that although I am a diehard country fan today, especially of Toby Keith, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Garth Brooks, George Jones and King George Strait, I was not always thrilled listening to purely country and western with my Dad, especially as a teenager. It was the age of the Beatles and Rolling Stones and rock and roll was here to stay, much to my Dad's chagrin. He didn't think they could sing "a lick" and he particularly didn't like the length of their hair and how they dressed. Not surprising for a WWII Marine who went in on Day 1 of Iwo Jima.
To him, country singers were real men, not like the sissies with long hair, and he was a man's man.
And so I grew up listening to his favorites, and I have to admit, I remember his laughter when he would share with me another great country hit that had just been released, such as "I've Got the Hungries for your Love, and I'm Waitin' in your Welfare Line." Or how about "I've Got Tears in my Ears from Lying on my Back at Night Crying over You." I was drawn to country and western then because I loved spending time with Dad, especially on "flood" days. I never remember having a "snow" day in Marietta, but every spring, especially before the lock systems were put on the rivers, both the Muskingum and Ohio would override their banks, closing school.
Dad would turn up such a George Jones "He Stopped Loving Her Today" and drive me all over town so I could see all of the flooding. Half of the downtown would be underwater and people in row boats would be cruising down Front and Green Streets, trying to get in and out of the storefronts and upstairs apartments. We would navigate up the narrow street to Harmar Hill and Lookout Point and see miles of town underwater, both on the West Side and Downtown, out on the Pike and out towards Devola. It happened every spring, and though the songs changed each year, the country music themes of love done wrong, drinking beer, pickup trucks, trains and Mama fit the melancholy and gray landscape.
Dad is gone, and so are the mammoth floods, but the themes of country music remain. George Strait still sings "It's not the Breath you Take, but the Moments that take your Breath Away," and Garth croons "Friends in Low Places." Toby sings "Wayman's Song" in honor of his best friend who died and Carrie pledges "I Will See You Again."
I listen to country because for me the ballads are poetry, with the universal themes of love, life and death, just as the country and western of the past, and with the hayseed humor of HeeHaw and today's "Here's a Quarter, Dial Someone Who Cares."
And yes, I admit it. I love country, I listen to country and I blare country continuously in my car, torturing my passengers just assuredly as when I am a passenger in a car with talk radio.
More importantly, I have turned into my Dad, even tormenting my family in car rides, just as my father did, even my wonderful son-in-law Ryan, who with no country knowledge or background, politely smiles when I turn to him at a traffic light and shout to the back seat, "Hey Ryan, I know you know this one . . .join in on "You don't have to call me Darlin', Darlin-- . . ." or "Country Roads, Take Me Home.
Perhaps, one day those rides will bring memories of me, just as I have of my Dad, and for me, that's what country music does, it takes me home.