In praise of a great song

One thing that I have rarely been accused of is lacking passion for music. Actually, I have occasionally admitted that I track important dates in my life by remembering them relative to concerts I saw, albums I bought, or other musical “events”.

One such ear-marking event occurred one day in 2003. I was working a part-time job to help get through law school (I say help because between my paltry earnings and my wife’s private school teaching salary, we avoided starvation and paid the rent). One of the biggest benefits of this particular job was that nobody tended to notice my comings and goings. On this day in question, on my way back from a work errand, I had stopped off at a local K-Mart. I had come back out, and was driving down Poplar Level Road in Louisville, back toward the office. I just happened to turn on the radio. Which just happened to be tuned to WFPK, the fine Louisville public radio station.

I was greeted with a song I had never heard, from a band that I had never heard. The song instantly appealed to me as catchy, folksy, and yet melodic. I left the dial alone. The bridge of the song, though I didn’t know it at the time was playing. “All my life I’m waiting for/someone I could hold the door” a folky mid-range voice sang as a sweeter, higher voice simultaneously sang “Stand by, stand by, Waiting around”. The lower voice cracked as it moved into the next line, “But nothing seems to change/You’ll come back I know”. The higher voice began to soar on, singing, “Now that I’m blue, that I’m blue”. Suddenly both voices united, “From now on, so…”

“BLUE” exploded the higher voice, followed in its triumphant arc by a subtle and yet pivotal string arrangement. And the voice was at once answered by the lower one, asking, demanding “Why don’t you stay behind?”.

The song ended. My jaw stayed on the floor. I grabbed a sheet of paper, jotted down as many lyrics as I could remember from the half song I heard (WFPK didn’t identify the song, unfortunately). With a little help from the friendly internet, I learned that the song was, simply enough, “Blue”, and that those dueling intuitive voices were Mark Olson and Gary Louris, the Lennon and McCartney of the early Jayhawks. Eventually, I would track down the band’s entire catalog. I would find bootleg concert recordings, and in 2005, would get the opportunity to see Louris and Olson, who had left the Jayhawks in 1995, reunite for a memorable concert tour. That 1-2 minutes changed my life.

To an outsider, I’m sure it doesn’t seem like much. But when you’re in a dull job, working to go through an education process which seems like Soul Breaking 101 at times, and you’re trying to get used to living in your first apartment with your new wife and pay bills for two on a salary that wasn’t great for one, a song can make a large difference.

For me, it led to the Jayhawks, which led to an investigation of alt-country, which led to reading “No Depression” magazine, which led to Buddy Miller, which led to Tift Merritt, which led to Shelby Lynne, and so on and so forth, and the current of musical life, which had been running dry for me at that particular time, suddenly was again awash with possibilities.




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2 Responses to “In praise of a great song”

  1. Amy Hilliard Says:

    WFPK has provided me with several of these moments. Each is like an epiphany.

  2. Ricky Says:

    Soul Breaking 101 with Professor Robert Compton.

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