Honky Tonk

It’s been a honky tonk kind of year.

It started, oddly enough, with an exhibit at the Nasher.  The Record was an amazing exhibit, on many levels.  As someone who collects record albums as art,

I enjoyed every inch of it.  But there was one artist in particular who struck a chord with me.  This guy grew up doing his homework sitting in a stool and leaning on the bar, in the Texas honky-tonk bar where his mother worked.  So he knows some things about music, and what it does to people.

He has a piece called, “There’s an Old Flame Burning In Your Eyes, or Why Honky Tonk Is the Saddest Kind of Love.”  It consists of vinyl records by Patsy Cline and others, ground into powder and made into the heads of matches.  The artist labors over these creations, then casually leaves them on top of bars, probably after having a beer and listening to Kitty Wells, and lets them go.  My artsy friend at the Nasher asked all of her students there, “Where do you think the art comes into this?  Is it when he grinds the albums, or assembles the matches, or sets them free for others to find?  Or is it the moment when someone strikes one?”  I don’t know.  But I’ve been thinking about it for months.

So there was that.  And then there was the Loretta Lynn concert I went to this spring:

She dressed like Glinda the Good Witch, and she rocked it.  When she sang, “You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man,” the women in the house became crazed and almost rushed the stage.  And Willie Nelson is coming to the DPAC this fall.  I still remember listening to him sing “Whiskey River, Take My Mind,” and “Momma, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” in the back seat while Dad was driving us on road trips as a kid.  It’s on my life list to see Willie Nelson live.

Lately, I’ve seen pedal steel guitars everywhere.  Honky tonk bands seem to be springing up all over the place.  My neighbor and I started a band, kind of, and are aiming for an alt country feel.  But the more music I listen to lately, the more I feel like it needs to be a honky tonk band.  This may have something to do with my newfound romance with the Old 97’s; they’re not a honky tonk band, but they certainly flirt with it.  And the detail in their lyrics? And their song characters?  “Why aren’t you here? It’s almost four a.m.  I finished off all of your beer, now I’m starting on your gin. I went through your diary, I flipped through your phonebook and called all of your friends….I just wanna know where you’ve been.”  Besides being brilliant, this band knows everything a modern-day honky tonk song needs, even if it sounds current.

I’ve been so inspired, last weekend I decided to write one, too.   At the Yarn concert the other night, I told Leslie and Veronica about my plans to write a honky tonk song.  I told them I didn’t have any idea where to start.

They fell out laughing.   They almost dropped their blue cups.  They immediately started quoting me, on the subject of hipster cowboys, beers that were bigger than expected, the universe interfering with my unsuccessful  attempts at romance with hipster cowboys, and trashy blondes at bars.  Apparently I talk a lot.

Of course, they’re soooo right.  Know what’s great about unrequited love? Or the universe interfering? Or any other disaster, preferably of the cryin’ in your beer kind?  Unbelievably good material for a honky tonk song.

My first song, “The Night I Finally Saw You Seein’ Me,” actually starts with cryin’ in your beer, but I ended up giving that one a happy ending. The next one, provoked by another hipster cowboy setback, real or imagined, is called “Some Blonde, Some Brunette, and One Lonesome Redhead.”   My first response today to the tragic reported closing of Sadlack’s, was to write a honky tonk song about that, too.  It’s fantastic therapy.  It helps to wear cowboy boots while songwriting.  It’s a requirement to have a chorus with some wailin’ in it.  It would be great if I could figure out exactly how to use Garage Band on my Mac.  I’ve been researching honky tonk and all its roots, and making mental lists of song topics.

Now all I need is someone to play the pedal steel.  And bigger hair.

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