Day 11: “Parton” Me for Telling this Story…

Welcome to Day 11 of my virtual book tour! I’ll try to remember to supply the link for the day when it’s available. It means so much to me that these book lovers are sharing about Southern-Fried Woolf.

I do have another story kin to Dolly Parton.  

My hubby had a regular Sunday afternoon gig for a time in Nashville, in what was formerly Twitty City, Conway Twitty’s complex. Barry played guitar and sang BGV’s. The kids and I would accompany him to the gigs for moral support.

The host was fond of singing a song that has since been canceled because of the writer’s misdeeds, so I won’t name it here, but at the time, before I knew better, I really liked the song, too. From out in the audience I would sing along when we were encouraged to, and I sometimes imagined singing it onstage.

A time came when the entire music team except Barry left suddenly (that’s such a Nashville thing), and since I sang onstage weekly elsewhere already, Barry suggested me for a slot on this, too. Don’t get me wrong, I was both thrilled and terrified. This was a much larger space; this involved really putting myself out there. I was the lone soprano. Yikes!

We met up with the hastily appointed new music director midweek to rehearse. Though I recognize that I can sing, I have never been overly confident of that ability, so rehearsals especially terrify me.

After a few weeks performing onstage, I wasn’t as scared. (Oddly, my fear doesn’t multiply according to how many people are in the audience. Five or 5,000, my anxiety is at the same level. I guess that’s probably a blessing.)

After one of the shows I was approached by a lovely woman who sweetly told me she really enjoyed my singing. I thought maybe she was just being polite, but it still meant something to me.

When she left me, I pointed her out to Barry as he stowed his guitar in his case.

“That woman told me she liked my voice,” I told him.

He looked for who I was talking about, then looked again as she hugged the host of the show. (Hugging is also a very Nashville thing; I miss that.)

“Do you know who that is?” he asked.

I didn’t.

“That’s Stella Parton. I saw her out there earlier.” (My husband has an encyclopedic knowledge of musicians of most genres.)

An accomplished singer and performer in her own right, Dolly’s sister said she liked my voice! Needless to say, my head was kinda big for a few hours after that.

Yesterday I found a cd with a couple of tracks of me singing solo on it. I actually listened to it without judging myself harshly (except on one song, where I was double-tracked singing nasally). It made me feel nostalgic.

When I was nine, I really, really wanted a guitar. I had seen a woman at church play guitar, and I thought it was so cool. I was too shy to ask her anything about it; it seemed impossible that I could learn something so complicated.

By then, I was also writing horrible little songs, but I was writing them from my heart. I had a tiny spiral-bound book full of scribbles. I don’t remember any of them now, but I think there was one song featuring angels and, naturally, wings.

Although I felt conflicted about praying for something material, I found myself asking God for a guitar for Christmas like he was Santa. Here’s the thing – I really don’t remember telling my parents that I wanted one. For one thing, I knew they didn’t have the money. Maybe I did ask and I have forgotten since, but I just don’t recall saying anything. Or maybe they heard me playing the air organ that I inherited from my grandfather. It came with a book and all you had to do was play the corresponding numbers. Though I couldn’t read music, that I could do.

Can you see where this is going? Yes, I got a guitar for Christmas! I’d love to know how they knew. They bought it from a pawn shop. I treasured that little no-name guitar. Alas, it was before the internet, and I had no one to teach me how to play, so I made very little progress. Also, once a string broke, I had no way to replace it – I knew nothing about strings, but I loved that guitar even as it was.

At a family reunion, a much older cousin who played tuned the guitar and tried to show me a couple of chords, but I could tell he didn’t think much of my little doorstop guitar. I’ve felt guilty for a long time that I didn’t put the instrument to better use, especially since I know what a sacrifice it must have been for my parents to buy it.

I do have my own “grown up” guitar now, but I still haven’t made much progress. I take fits and starts practicing, trying. I can play simple tunes with the grids to guide me, but I play them backwards since I am left-handed, and my strumming is for crap and I have resisted flipping my strings and learning the other way around. I do know several chords by heart, but I have a mental block about putting them together on my own.

Part of the problem is that I live with a guitar god. I’m not exaggerating. Sometimes when he’s playing and I’m in the other room, I have no idea if it’s him or a recording.

While he’s been gracious in helping me whenever I ask, I’m too intimidated to ask, for the most part, unless I’m writing a song and ask what a chord is. See, I can’t even do that on my own. (And he’s probably the least intimidating person I know.)

But songs have been coming to me at the oddest times lately. Hooks are appearing from who knows where. Writing Briscoe has stripped an old layer of callus off that part of me that loves the vulnerability and drama of story songs. Age and experience have made me realize that creating something is its own reward. An audience, while nice, is irrelevant to me at this point, so much of the risk is gone. (And now we have the internet if we’re feeling brave.)

As a matter of fact, during our winter writing retreat in December, Barry and I spent some time developing some of the songs that are in SFW. On one song, he left the room briefly while I was sketching out the idea, and when he came back, I was scribbling lyrics like I was “automatic writing” as if I were at a séance. While sometimes I have a melody when I write, sometimes I don’t. This song came thundering fully formed into the room.

“Play like a train; follow me,” was all I could get out as the words shot out of me.

The man is so accommodating. He played exactly what I was hearing after I hummed it just once.

The song is “He’s Done Nothing to Deserve You,” and while who knows what will come of it, it has a triple stack of vocals at the beginning, like a train, and that “you” sounds like the “woo” of a train.

I don’t have the lyrics handy, but I do know there’s a line that tickles me that might not work in the end, but I’m leaving it for now:

I think I’d rather be alone/Than with this hairless Romeo/Who manages to cheat even while he sleeps

(I know, I’m easily amused. And yes, I’m working on the syllable count. That’s easily enough fixed with pushing or dragging the melody, right? The hair referred to is chest hair, but I don’t think the narrator cares how she insults him. She could probably even say hairy instead and get the same effect. And how is he cheating while he sleeps? I have no idea, but I’ll figure it out. Is he talking in his sleep? Something to do with his phone? Gosh, I’ve missed story songs.)

As I exit the book that has been with me for so long, it feels great to branch out, to stretch. It’s like getting out of a car after a long trip and breathing fresh air. That is not to say I did not enjoy the journey, but it was difficult, it was long. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes confusing. The result is flawed (those damned typo gremlins! What the hell!) but it’s out there now, and I’m proud to have had the courage to attempt it.

While it would be very difficult for me to try to play my guitar right now (for reasons), maybe I’ll try to figure out a way to do it anyway. Just not while Barry’s at home. (He’s nothing but supportive, but it must be agonizing for him to hear me try to play!)

My nine-year-old self was a songwriter. I just didn’t know it. Isn’t it good to know that life gives you more than one chance to explore what you love, especially if you’re detached from the results?

What did/does your nine-year-old you want to do? I’d really love to hear the answer to that.

P.S. I am at about page 200 of Radical Woman, and I’m still really enjoying it, but since just yesterday I mentioned the mildness of the sex scenes, I feel I should warn you that in the very next chapter that I read, things heated up considerably. The book calls for it, and it’s well done, so no shade intended, but I thought I should add that caveat.

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