Musing City USA … November 20, 2012

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Just about a third of my life.

Driving down I-65 South yesterday heading to Nashville, I realized I had spent twenty years–in two stints–living in the country music mecca. It gave me pause–because I am not a country music artist, nor really am I what you would call a conventional gospel picker. I am just kind of my own thing, which is often the best excuse for being truly erratic. So I had to ask myself, how did I end up spending so much of my life in this Tennessee capital?

Growing up in Central Ohio, I had a predilection for gospel music, so it did seem logical to me, when I graduated from high school, to at least take a stab at where such sounds were not only permissible, but promoted.

I remember the first time I drove into Nashville and went to Dickerson Pike–to Jimmy Snow’s church. Jimmy Snow is the son of Hank Snow, a legend in the business. I was a punky, inexperienced yokel–but you see, I had this new song, called Resurrection Day, and I decided to perform it with my nervous little green combo–and received a standing ovation from the audience.

I recall the first time I drove to Hendersonville, Tennessee, to record at the House of Cash, and during the session for our album, Johnny, himself, walked in, introduced himself, and struck up more than a polite conversation with us bunch of confirmed nobodies.

I had to laugh to myself when I considered the number of times I walked up and down Music Row, from one publisher to another, sharing my songs with bored office employees, who more often than not, found a bit of glee in dashing my hopes with negative comments.

Then I remembered meeting Dottie Rambo. Dottie was that beautiful combination of earthy, spiritual and humorous which rarely comes our way in the human family and should always be treasured. She loved me–plump bundle of insecurity that I was–and even graciously recorded one of my songs on her album. It’s quite an astonishing honor to have one of the greatest gospel songwriters cover your tune.

Then there was Marijohn Wilkin, who wrote One Day at a Time. She was my mentor and friend. She recorded an album for me that enabled me to chart on the religious radio stations.

Taking another trip up to Hendersonville, my van passed by the city park, where we took a 25-piece orchestra called the Sumner Pops, of our own founding, and in the presence of five thousand folks, put on a July 4th show, melding local talent and our ability at arranging and conducting.

There isn’t a school I pass on the way in that doesn’t conjure a memory of a performance, in which we took a very special show to the young humans, encouraging them to be creative and open-hearted to their fellow-man.

I had a house on Bayshore Drive, where I built a swimming pool, a couple of additions, a circular driveway and tossed in a gazebo. Of course in the long run, it was rather ludicrous, because nomads like myself make very poor landlords. We’re just better with sheep and goats.

Yet in that city, I wrote ten books, recorded fifteen Cd’s and penned thirteen movies. It was a strange sensation to return to Music City after all my touring this year. I’m coming back to have Thanksgiving dinner with my family, which is congregating like a bunch of misguided birds to a location where we can nest and fellowship for a few days.

But as I drove into town, I thought to myself, “I lived here for one-third of my life, but it was never my home.”

The realization did not sadden me. Nashville is a place where I built a house of faith. Sometimes that’s the best we can do, folks. We may not be able to change the world or even redecorate the rooms. The best we can do is leave clear evidence of what we thought was important, what we believed and how fruit was born through our lives.

Nashville was never my home. I saw too much of the underbelly of lingering prejudice and false piety for me to ever embrace the community and kiss it square on the mouth. I saw a false sense of security over Southern hospitality, which was often dished out in sparing helpings to those who had stood in line the longest. I experienced a reluctance to change, simply because the word connoted something other than the fraternity philosophy. I always loved the people, I just didn’t always buy in to the pills that were being swallowed.

It’s good to be back, though. It festers memories, good and bad, joyous and sad, but in all cases, earth-shaking and ultimately fulfilling.

I would like to have been closer to this town where I hung my hat for so many years but I always found it a bit difficult to join into “whistling Dixie”–and maybe it’s just not in my character … to “look away.”

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

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