I was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee – cradled in the crib of country music. Country music was as much a part of my growing-up as the smell of chocolate if you grew up in Hershey, Pennsylvania. If I am being honest, however, in my teenage years I turned away from the twang and was embarrassed of my roots. I didn’t like that Hee Haw was the stereotypical view of my hometown. We just didn’t seem as sophisticated and cultured as the rest of the world, and I wanted to separate myself from that.
As I grew older, I watched the face of country music change, becoming more relevant to a broader audience – but some things stayed “country.” Fan Fair would come around every year and thousands of fans would pour into town to meet their favorite artists and hang out in Music City. I started thinking, “in what other star-studded city would you be welcomed to meet your favorite performers?” I began to realize, over time, that there is something intrinsically real about country music and its people. It is nothing to see a country star at the gas station or the grocery store in Nashville. The musicians and performers typically stay more approachable than most, and generally there is less nonsense going on here than in the Hollywood scene. A hand full of the “greats” of country music are still around – making sure the “youngins” know what’s expected of them. There is a code.
Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Grammy Salute to Country Music honoring Loretta Lynn. Now, I grew up on Loretta’s music. She was, and is, the reigning Queen of Country. When Coal Miner’s Daughter played in theaters, the whole town was bubbling over with pride for “our mother.” The movie highlighted Loretta’s story and the amazing challenges and triumphs of her life. But it wasn’t until last night, watching the queen and being reminded of her accomplishments, that I realized her Trueness.
Loretta Lynn has been a singer/songwriter for some 50 years now. In that time she has amassed over 50 number one hits and numerous awards and honors. Last night, host Reba Mc Entire said, “Country music has never had a more truthful or a more fearless artist than the one we’re honoring here tonight. She stood up for all of us women, in an era when Stand By Your Man was more than a song…Loretta did it all. She wrote ‘em, she sang ‘em and she played ‘em.” I was reminded that she wrote songs that spoke deeply to the realities of being a wife and mother – of life in the kitchen and the bedroom. She addressed some taboo subjects and said things no one else was willing to say. She was true to what she knew and unafraid to talk about it.
At last night’s tribute, Gretchen Wilson sang, Don’t Come Home A’Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind), a typical example of Lynn’s straightforward approach to her craft. Many other examples of this type of songwriting were mentioned during the evening, but what struck me most was the queen herself. There was a simplicity, humility, and childlike quality about her. She was as real as you could want a person to be. She was so touched by the tribute that she ran off the stage like a little girl, only to be escorted back by Jack White. She teased with Garth Brooks that he was laughing at her while she was “all tore up.” (this is Southern for tearful and emotional) Garth told later in an interview that he had been Loretta’s “date” for the evening. He asked her if she wanted him to pick her up in a limo or the truck and she said, “Just bring the truck darlin.” Sure enough, they pulled up to the event in Garth’s big black truck and out popped Loretta in her Cinderella ball gown.
I recently watched some old film clips of Loretta accepting awards over the years. Back in the day, when her name was called to accept an award, she jumped and shrieked just like a child on Christmas morning, running to the stage as if Santa himself were there to give her a gift. Once she threw herself upon her presenter like a wife greeting her long lost soldier. Her joy was effusive, overflowing, unrestrained and contagious.
Here’s what I want to say about Loretta Lynn. I realized last night that it is the fact that she is real and true that makes her so beautiful. She is still as charming and sweet in these autumn days of her career as she was in the early years. (and that girl can still sing!) Whether you care for her music or not, you can’t say that she hasn’t been real and lived her life out loud with trueness. She has managed to keep the innocence of youth, the joy of life, and her hope for the future. Loretta Lynn has practiced trueness. She makes me proud to say I’m from Nashville – and that’s the truth.
A “Good” Idea :
Take a look at the tribute to Loretta Lynn and see what I mean.