strangely enough, i think it started with donny & marie. for real: my love for cowboys, the open plains, & the heart-twisting real luvin’ & loss twang of country music.
back in high school, a pivotal moment in my life was co-hosting the senior variety show with a pal of mine…in the zany early styles of snl improv…time to put on a show.
the challenge was to come up with an opening number that was going to get the crowd rollin’ and ready for a two hour feast of the high school seniors and their top notch talent…a medley of duets (dust in the wind, can you tell the year?), riffs on the new show snl, ensemble chorale numbers all dressed up as lunch room ladies, a mirror ball sparkling disco number and a sprinkling of some lucy and desi-like comic moments. long live variety: this was in the day of the carol burnett show, sonny & cher, the tail end of the lawrence welk show and still sniffing the dust left by dean martin, jackie gleason and lawrence welk. and a one and a two….
how to open this show in a inimitable, unforgettable way?
zooming in on the iconic moves of a very popular show at the time, we decided to mimic the inexplicable opening ice skating number performed by donny & marie from their show, named, imaginatively, “the donny and marie show”!
ice skates, right…it was the 70s!
since the theatre in the round of barrington high school didn’t have the capability of being frozen, terry and i donned roller skates…again, it was the 70s. dressed in matching tuxedos (i can’t remember where we were going with that one…), the lights dimmed, the house hushed, the music soared, and the two of us appeared, with care as we made our way down a few steps, in a fantastical duet of “i’m a little bit country, and i’m a little bit rock and roll”, all the while whirling in loops around the stage. the crowd went wild!
a big fan of rock, terry took the donny role with gusto, and while i was a stranger to this thing called country, i managed to perfect the sweet little tangy twang that marie spun her early southern-inspired pieces as i sang my part of the song. hmmm, maybe i was a natural. well, at liking that genre, certainly not at roller skating!
fast forward a few months. i’m a freshman in college, loving the open fields as my parents drove me west, not awfully far, to mt. vernon, iowa. hello cornell college. hello block plan. hello legal drinking age and managing to enjoy the taste of beer. again, it was iowa.
now, i knew nothing about this land that i landed in. i picked the school for two reasons: it was in the 200 mile radius of home, a prerequisite for my parents who had 4 more kids to send to college with no extra do-re-mi for airplane rides…and the other reason: the campus looked like a sleepy new england enclave.
pre-google, pre-computer, pre-my learning that it’s sort of cool and fun to research a place before you move there, i landed smack dab into a place that had a vernacular that i’d only heard whispers about: southern accents? farmers? combines? harvestore big blue tall silo thingys? chicken fried steak? country music?
i remember the first time i spent an afternoon at joe’s international airport. yes, it was a bar. still is, though someone had the ridiculous idea to change it’s name. stupid. but, there i was, hanging out with my new friends, when one of them suggested i play some music.
no, i did not have a guitar (though boast being able to play the harmonica), but i did have some quarters. off i went to the juke box, and plunk plunk plunk, deposited my coins and scanned through the list of songs. and scanned. and scanned. and searched. for a long time.
what is this thing that is going on, i thought. where was journey? reo speedwagon? eric carmen? cat stevens & james taylor? nowhere to be found. instead, i read name after name that conjured up an unknown, far away land, a place where men wore large dark hats and women made pies and wiped their woes away with a kerchief.
this was all country. merle haggard? what?
so, it appears that i was now signed up for four years of country music, and some sort of cultural shift. i looked slowly around the bar, taking special note of the pickled pigs feet that were the days featured bar snack.
finding only one name that i recognized, i pushed the buttons that would bring willy nelson’s comforting, not too foreign, voice to sooth my troubled soul. walking back to my friends, i remember feeling slightly off-kilter (and it wasn’t the beer!)
fast forward, man, because that’s the fun part of looking back so far. i see that things turned out just fine. not only did i manage to get used to it, i learned to love it. bring on the cheesy variety show starring barbara mandrel and the mandrel sisters (i’m not joking)…find me riding shotgun in one of many pick up trucks i’d spent time in, searching for just the right cowboy hat…dig that leather fringed jacket that still reeks of campfire. and as my heart grew, opened, and got broken more times than i can count, guess what soothes me into healing and trying again?
yep, country music.
and so, with that kick start to luvin’ the whole thing, tonight is a really big deal. i’m shining my nashville cowboy boots, tugging on my bootcut jeans, hitching up my big shiny buckle on my silver studded belt, throwing on a tank top & a checkered flannel….and soaking up a night with my trusted cool 16 year old sidekick for an evening with, be still my heart, keith urban.
bring it on, yes, i’m more than a little bit country, after all.