I recall sitting in my mother’s bedroom at the far end of my childhood home. Big picture windows flooded sunlight down on a cardboard box full of vinyl, a rickety table-top stereo, and my five-year-old self, crossed-legged on the floor, picking through the most grand selection of tunes.
The choices presented me with the best of 60’s pop and hippie love fests. 70’s psychedelic rock. A few hair bands. Bill Cosby original vinyl (though, that’s for another post). These were the jewels of my parents record collection, certainly treasured, if by no one else than me.
I loved it all, but the best was the stack Southern Rock. It had my two favorite things; lots of guitars and great stories. I wouldn’t say I understood the tales at my young age, but I knew they had something in common with me. There was a tie between running through the woods of my father’s house and the anthems ringing out from Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers. Anthems for an average kid from rural, sometimes backwoods, Michigan.
As I grew older, I found myself thrown in with the alternative music movement. Grunge from the 90’s. The weird, synthesized sounds of the 80’s. I turned to punk. Eventually hip-hop.
“Country” became a four letter word when it came to my music as a teenager. Anything even remotely related, be it Southern Rock or Folk, was out the door. The twang was more than a sound for me. It was a signal for trouble; the prejudices of the rural, the perceived ignorance of the South, my own difficult relationship with my father. Mostly, though, it was just “lame”. That’s what my non-conformist community of alt-rockers and punks were telling me. How could I disagree?
It wasn’t until much later I realized the connection, but I kept that thread of that music alive during that time in my favorite band, Roger Clyne’s crew called simply The Refreshments. Perhaps you remember them. Likely not. You may remember this:
Less apparent in the music of the Refreshments but blatantly in my face (or my ears, rather) in Clyne’s post-Refreshments outfit, the Peacemakers, those same set of elements started to reveal themselves in my musical tastes as I hit my twenties, eventually becoming what is still my most prominent iTunes playlist, one I simply call “Americana.”
Springsteen. The Avett Brothers. Old Crow Medicine Show. Skynyrd. American Minor. Roger Clyne. Drive-By Truckers. Dylan. Nickel Creek. Sons of Bill. Gaslight Anthem. The Hold Steady.
It’s the stories, always relatable, certainly more so than most other genres, whose music either lacked completely the element of storytelling or told tales so grand it was to my ear what Star Wars was to my eyes; fucking awesome, but still science fiction. But no, these stories, these bits of “Americana”, these were real. Often dark (and perhaps that’s why they felt so real). This was life.
Questions and struggles. Celebration and heartache. Life and death. And the stupid fun we have along the way. Rattled out over a single acoustic instrument or blasted from stacked amps. It’s the stories. Americana.