When I was ten-years-old I saw Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton perform the song Islands in the Stream on TV. Dolly was wearing a whispy, flowing black dress, her bottle-blonde hair in its signature Dolly-style. Kenny wore a tux and his mane of gray made a big impression on me. They were both very glam. Exotic even, to my wide eyes. They stood together on the stage, and Dolly waved her dress and tapped her heels as she sang. It was that southern drawl that drew me in, as much as the catchy music and lyrics. Bitten by the Country Bug.
Music played in our house and in the car all the time when I was growing up, but it was never country music. My mom loved rock – Dire Straits, Talking Heads, Fleetwood Mac – and everything by Billy Joel and Elton John. My sister and I would listen to the Top 40 every Sunday – we knew all Madonna’s songs by heart, every Michael Jackson move, we loved A-ha and Duran Duran. I heart the 80s! Definitely no room for country tunes – that Islands in the Stream performance was a one-hit-wonder for me.
Until I moved to the U.S.
A Friday afternoon in 1999 found me driving up to Tahoe with my Texan friend – she has the strongest southern accent of anyone I know, it’s possibly the reason I’m friends with her, just to hear her say “y’all” over and over! She turned up the volume to Garth Brooks’ Papa Loved Mama. I couldn’t get enough of it! Those lyrics – Mama’s in the graveyard, Papa’s in the pen… Damn.
For someone like me who loves telling stories, there’s no greater storyteller than a country music artist. Every song is a heavily dramatic narrative – about love, and relationships gone awry, boys seeking daddy’s approval on the wide, open prairie, and misunderstood mothers. Set to the soulful or catchy tune of an expertly strummed guitar, these songs reach in and squeeze my heart with every beat. Add that southern drawl that I wish was mine, and I’m lost to the music of Nashville.
It’s the wannabe actor in me, I’m sure, that’s drawn to all things country. When I hear Trisha Yearwood sing She’s in Love with the Boy I play out the scene in my head: chickens pecking the ground, high school sweetheart, dad doesn’t approve, mom saves the day. My favorite song this past summer was Florida Georgia Line’s Cruise – backroad town, boy meets girl, heavy guitar, pick-up truck on the lake. Dra-ma-tic!
It’s not for everyone – I part ways with many in my love of country music. I’m getting used to the surprised looks and eye rolls when I disclose that yes, I did see Garth and Trisha in concert a couple years ago – best concert ever! Or that the TV show Nashville (musical drama series about fading country music superstars and hot new talent) has become my must-see Wednesday night viewing – mostly for the music, and also because of the beautiful, expansive Nashville scenery, the perfectly country hair and boots, not to mention haunting guitar performances by unshaven cowboys at the Bluebird Café, where every country musician is discovered. Better than Game of Thrones! How can you not watch it?
My red cowboy boots have become as essential to me as flip flops – I’m so glad it’s fall so I can now wear them every day. I’m working on saying “y’all” more authentically (my South African accent gets in the way). Last night was the Country Music Awards in Nashville – every song was fantastic! But the one I loved the most was sung by Kenny Rogers and a Dolly-replacement (Jennifer Nettles)… I was back in my parents’ living room in Pretoria, circa 1984, mesmerized by Islands in the Stream.
Rock ‘n Roll always… but definitely a whole lotta Country!