When Words Fail

Music has always been a part of my life. I grew up listening to country music in the seventies and eighties as well as the rock and roll “oldies” from the fifties and sixties that my parents enjoyed. Gospel and “church music” was also a part of my childhood music experience and now that I attend a more formal church, I quite rejoice when I hear a familiar hymn.

As Barbara Mandrell once sang “I was country when country wasn’t cool.” Back in the mid 1980s country music wasn’t a genre that was popular among teenagers in my school. I remember with clarity one classmate in seventh grade (not a stellar year by any stretch of the imagination) writing the phrase “Karri loves Merle Haggard” on my notebook as some form of insult. Which was ridiculous because I didn’t even particularly care for Merle Haggard! (RIP and no offense to The Hag, I do love his music now)

I had a brief encounter with “pop” music when my childhood friend and neighbor and I would listen to her parents 45s – I particularly remember Blondie’s “The Tide is High.” But I didn’t really start listening to either pop or rock music until I was in high school. I still listened to country music but also listened to top 40 and also discovered the likes of bands like Aerosmith, Guns N Roses and Def Leppard. After Trever and I started dating and married in 1996, the popularity of these “hair bands” were starting to wane as grunge and other music became more popular but we listened to that era quite a bit as he really enjoyed that genre.

As time went on and our children were born and got older, we exposed them to all types of music – from the “Baby Mozart” series that was a lifesaver on VHS when Sarah was born to whatever music we were listening to at the time. (Although there was a brief detour into kiddie jams with “The Wiggles” at one time! “Hot Potato” anyone?) We all have distinct memories of listening to a particular couple of CDs from Toby Keith and Sara Evans on a roadtrip across the Smoky Mountains when the girls were younger. In fact, Sarah and I are attending a Sara Evans concert tonight, in large part due to sheer nostalgia!

In recent years, I have started listening to more jazz and blues and have even tried to educate myself in classical music. I have the opportunity to hear (and see) great music performed with my daughters’ and nieces/nephew’s involvement with the high school band. And thanks to Sarah (and the great Lin Manuel Miranda), Broadway music is a new favorite and I have several soundtracks on my playlist. With the advent of online services that can provide music on demand, there are so many opportunities to hear whatever type of music a person could want that it is almost overwhelming. At times, there is no substitute for listening to actual albums; thanks to thrift stores and yard sales, we have built up quite a collection of vinyl.

Music then is more than just background noise to me. It genuinely provides a soundtrack to my life. Certain songs can remind me of times both good and bad, and there are songs that spark particular memories. The blues will forever remind me of my friend Lana, who we lost a few years ago to breast cancer. I cannot hear Alabama’s song “Roll On” – a story about a truck driver who is temporarily lost on a run – without thinking of the time my Daddy said to me “listen to what she tells the highway patrol when they are telling her her husband is missing; she is telling them WHEN they found him to tell him that she loved him, not IF they found him.” Glen Campbell’s Christmas album takes me back to a mobile home in Pine Bluff, Arkansas and the magical Christmases of my childhood. And this year, I really don’t know if Trever and I will be able to listen to Kenny Rogers’s “Christmas in Kentucky” without the tears beginning to flow – it was Judy’s favorite.

Last night I went to an open mic night at our local library. My daughter’s boyfriend was the “headliner” and performed several songs as such. I was blown away by his guitar playing and his stage presence while he sang. This shy sweet kid who we tease for being so quiet when he is around us was transformed on stage by his love of music. Anyone who signs up can perform and there was a wide variety – from a kid playing a guitar and singing who was absolutely adorable with his substitution of the word “darned” for “damned” to several older gentlemen playing and singing just for fun to a very talented duo who are friends of both my girls (shoutout to Era 48). But the thing they all shared regardless of age, talent, or musical genre was their love of music and their love of sharing music with others.

It’s no secret that there have been more trials than usual in the lives of those I love lately. From this summer’s loss of my mother in law to a dear friend’s serious cancer diagnosis to my employer and friend’s health difficulties, it just seems like things in my immediate orbit have been harder than usual. When you factor in the word at large, the violence, disasters, and the turmoil that exists around us, sometimes we need an escape, a coping mechanism, a way to mourn, or even a way to celebrate the ordinary. As Hans Christian Anderson wrote, “when words fail, music speaks” How lucky we are to live in a world where music surrounds us and if we listen closely, it can speak for us in ways that nothing else can.

-Karri Temple Brackett
September 20, 2019

I listen to vinyl for the scratches…

“Old Soul” – The Highwomen

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