“Music is love and love is music if you know what I mean. People who believe in music are the happiest people I’ve ever seen.”
— Mac Davis
It was just a simple line from a simple song, one very few people would recognize by name. But it awakened something in me that has lain dormant for some time.
It was the late, ill-fated singer John Denver’s take on the little-known Kris Kristofferson gem “Casey’s Last Ride” on Denver’s “Aerie” album from 1971. And Denver’s haunted/haunting voice delivered the line perfectly: “Just a kiss to make your body smile.”
I was so overwhelmed when I listened to the vinyl recording recently, it rendered me temporarily speechless. Tears filled my eyes, and I felt awash in a sense of wonder.
As I thought about that simple line from that simple song, it made me realize all over again why I have been drawn to music my whole life, from the time I went with my family — as a pre-schooler ... one of my earliest memories — to see Loretta Lynn and Sonny James perform at the Annie Bell Clark Elementary School Auditorium in Tifton up through the historic Knobby Knees festival featuring six local bands a few weeks ago.
Some people have chided me derisively over my lifetime as I’ve made music a part of every endeavor I’ve undertaken: “You really think you’re some kind of music expert, don’t you?” putting derisive emphasis on the word “expert.” What they don’t get, and what surprises many, is that my answer to that question is always an emphatic No.
I am anything but an expert. I can’t tell a quarter-tone from a bridge, a baritone from an octave, a chorus from a tremelo. I can’t sing a note, can’t pick a lick on a guitar or any other instrument. I own a mandolin only because they look cool ... I’ve never even tried to play it.
(Side story: Growing up in Ocilla, I did have one opportunity to become part of a garage band of sorts. I got an electric guitar, my brother, Donnie, an electric bass, for Christmas when he was 16 and I was 14. Our neighbor and boyhood friend Tony Sumner came from a musical family, and he set out to teach Donnie and me how to play. We practiced a couple of times, and I learned one chord from those practice sessions: the D ... and I still remember where you put your fingers on the guitar fretboard to play it. The D was the first chord in Creedence’s “Bad Moon Rising,” which was the first song we were learning to play. After those couple of practice sessions, we were asked over to Amy Blackmarr’s house ... the girl I’d kind of not-so-secretly adored since I was 12 or so ... to play. We started into “Bad Moon Rising,” I hit those first two D notes, then nothing further from me. Amy said afterward, “I couldn’t hear you playing.” End of musical career. True story.)
See, I’m no musical expert. I am the opposite. But what I am is a guy who has loved music his whole life. And while I can’t sing it or play it, I can listen to it. And appreciate it, appreciate its power.
Hearing John Denver sing Kris Kristofferson’s song again took me back in one of those life-flashing-before-your-eyes montages that were a staple of ’80s movies, and it redawned on me how music has been an integral part of my life. For every thing significant that has happened to me — good and bad — there has been a song. For every love, every love lost, every new life, every new death, music has carried me through.
It may be a quirk to many, but it’s no great wonder that all those albums I’ve collected over the years — from that first 5-year-old Christmas gift of the (shared with my brother) portable record player and a couple of albums ... “The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles Hits” and the Rolling Stones’ “Got Live if You Want It” (I still have both) — to the Justin Timberlake Christmas gift from my daughter to all those $2 purchases at G.C. Murphy in Tifton, they’re still a priceless treasure.
Musical expert? No way. Music lover? Yeah, you got me.