In Rebecca Lynn Howard ’s hit ballad “Forgive,” a man abruptly admits his infidelity and then says through his falling tears, “Can you ever just forgive?”
The question lingers: Well, can she?
“You can’t,” Howard tells CMT.com, flat-out. “We’re not geared to do that. It’s something that we should do and it’s a good thing to forgive people, I think, but that is so against our nature as human beings, and more so, it is [against our nature] to forget. People say ‘forgive and forget.’ Well, that ain’t possible. Maybe I’ve never been done dirty enough to know what it really is to forgive somebody wholly about something. But to forget it? Unless I got amnesia, I ain’t forgetting it, and nobody else is going to either.”
One person who certainly won’t forget is the young woman who inspired the song, currently at No. 22 on the Billboard country singles chart. The video climbs to No. 14 in CMT’s Top Twenty Countdown.
“My best friend went through a divorce about two-and-a-half years ago and the idea sparked from the hardships that she had to endure,” Howard says. “Before I wrote it, I called her and I was like ‘Look, I have this idea and I won’t write it if you don’t want me to.’ She was like, ‘I don’t care. That’s my past and I’m moving on. If you can benefit from it, great, go ahead. I’m glad someone can benefit from the crap that I’ve got to go through.’”
Howard and producer Trey Bruce wrote “Forgive” with the biting lyric “That’s a mighty big word for such a small man.” When Howard sang it for her friend, the reaction wasn’t exactly what the songwriters expected.
“The first time my friend heard it, she laughed her head off. She was like, ‘I cannot believe that you wrote this about me. I’m going to be famous!’” Howard recalls with a robust laugh. “After they got divorced, she moved back home and she called me the first time Dallas [radio] played it: ‘They played your song and you’re number five on the top five at five!’ She’s told all her friends, ‘This is about me!’ So, she’s enjoying the success.”
That success has been a long time coming, even for a cheerful 23-year-old. A native of Salyersville, Ky., (pop. 1200), Howard moved to Nashville at age 17, after numerous childhood visits.
“The first time I ever came to Nashville, I was 10 years old and we stayed at the Opryland Hotel. I could have sucked my face in! I’d never seen anything that big. I said, ‘You could fit a hundred Wal-Marts in this place!’ I couldn’t believe that there was a building that was that big. My mind was too limited, because in a small town, buildings are just small. Really small. You could fit my whole city in there.”
She soon signed to Rising Tide Records, also home to Dolly Parton at the time. However, the label sank before releasing Howard’s album, although she did appear on The Apostle soundtrack. She then transferred to Decca Records, though it ultimately closed, too. MCA Nashville picked her up, but her 2000 self-titled debut failed to chart a Top 40 hit. However, labelmate Trisha Yearwood plucked two songs from it for her Inside Out album, “Melancholy Blue” and “I Don’t Paint Myself Into Corners.”
Talking about Yearwood’s vote of confidence in the midst of a turbulent career, Howard says, “That’s very weird. I guess ‘weird’ is a good word, right? Actually, it’s like a full-circle moment. Do you ever watch Oprah? She talks about full-circle moments all the time, and that was definitely one for me. When I first came to this town, I was a little girl singing ‘She’s in Love With the Boy.’ So Trisha was it! I always wanted to be a vocalist like her.”
Yet, Howard’s not one to linger in the studio, agonizing over her own octave-stretching performance.
“I’m a three-times-through singer, and if I can’t get it in three times, let’s move to the next song. I get really tired with a song really quick in the studio. Some artists stand and sing for eight hours on the same song. They’d have to carry me out on the stretcher. I couldn’t do that! I sing with my whole heart the first time through, and the second and third time, I try to nail what I didn’t nail the first time. And that’s it. I am ready to move on.”
“Well, I get to close out the show with Kenny, singing ‘Islands in the Stream.’ When I found that out, I was bent over double laughing. I was like, ‘I cannot believe this! I’m going to be Dolly Parton!’ I have never been nervous on stage, but I am going to be as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”