(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
One of the few lasting lessons from any great tragedy, be it personal or national, is the healing and restorative power of music.
There’s a great immediate example in Nick Spitzer’s American Routes program on public radio and satellite radio. The show, based out of New Orleans, has been a shining beacon of roots music for several years. As reported in the New York Times, while Spitzer was evacuating his family from New Orleans, he started thinking of a show that would pay tribute to the city and act as a healing agent. One that would give some emotional support to those facing the loss of the city they loved, which would never again be the way it was.
Songs that came immediately to Spitzer’s mind ranged from Fats Domino’s “Walkin’ to New Orleans” — even as Domino was reported missing in the flood and later found safe. No Louisiana tribute program would be complete without Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927,” with its memorable line, “They’re tryin’ to wash us away.” And Louis Armstrong’s classic sentiment, “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?” Spitzer’s program, titled “After the Storm,” is a beautiful example of radio and music helping in the mental and emotional restorative process. Which is a very real thing.
What are some of the songs I would look to in the country music tradition to fill a similar role? Many gospel songs, of course. One as simple and as powerful as “God Put a Rainbow in the Cloud”: God put a rainbow in the cloud/God put a rainbow in the cloud/When it looked like the sun wouldn’t shine anymore/God put a rainbow in the cloud.
And I would include Harlan Howard’s workingman’s survival song, “Busted”: Well, I am no thief, but a man can go wrong when he’s busted/The food that we canned last summer is gone/And I’m busted/The fields are all bare and the cotton won’t grow/Me and my family got to pack up and go/But I’ll make a living just where I don’t know/’Cause I’m busted.
Alan Jackson’s “Home” is one of his lesser-known hits that talks about roots and home: And on the land his daddy gave him, a foundation under way/For a love to last forever or until their dying day/They built a bond that’s strong enough to stand the test of time/And a place for us to turn to when our lives were in a bind.
And I think it would be fascinating to enlist an empathetic artist and great guitarist, such as Keith Urban, to do the late Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Texas Flood,” because that song is much more about the great flood sound unleashed by the guitar than by the imagery of the lyrics: Well, there’s floodin’ down in Texas, all of the telephone lines are down/Well there’s floodin’ down in Texas, all of the telephone lines are down/And I’ve been tryin’ to call my baby, Lord/And I can’t get a single sound.
But also some feel-good songs would have to be included. Willie Nelson’s version of Bob Wills’ “Stay All Night” is now practically a gospel anthem for the country hedonist crowd who would formerly try to ride out hurricanes: Stay all night, stay a little longer/Dance all night, dance a little longer/Pull off your coat, throw it in the corner/Don’t see why you can’t stay a little longer. Now, they would have a good time but would definitely head for higher ground before it was too late.
Garth Brooks’ “Ain’t Going Down (Til the Sun Comes Up)” should be there as a restorative raisin’-hell-again song: Ain’t going down ’til the sun comes up/Ain’t givin’ in ’til they get enough/Going ’round the world in a pickup truck/Ain’t goin’ down ’til the sun comes up.
I would certainly include Billy Joe Shaver’s “Live Forever.” The poet laureate of country music landed on some universal sentiments with that song: You fathers and you mothers, Be good to one another/Please try to raise your children right/Don’t let the darkness take ‘em/Don’t make ‘em feel forsaken/Just lead them safely to the light/When this whole world has blown us under/And all the stars fall from the sky/Remember someone really loves you/We’ll live forever you and I.
Country artists are the South, in many ways. Most of them are from the South, they have family and friends throughout the South, they were shaped by the South, their values were formed by the South and their music was molded by the South. Clearly, they have a duty and obligation to help their fellow man and woman. And they are doing so.
Country artists can and will provide support and inspiration and help to those broken in spirit and body and in great need from the great disaster along the Gulf Coast. Some of the help will be financial, some will be spiritual and some will be musical. But the help will be there.