There’s a song on Kenny Chesney’s latest album Cosmic Hallelujah that he calls pure poetry. It’s “Jesus and Elvis,” written by Matraca Berg, Hayes Carll and Allison Moorer.
The ballad is more than an homage to a dive bar where velvet paintings of the King of Kings and the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll hang on a wall. It puts a microscope on the little everyday things inside that dive that a veteran once loved before he lost his life in war.
Chesney sings, “Lola built this joint in ’67/And her boy went out to fight on Christmas Eve/In a war nobody won, she lost her only son/Now everything he loved is what you see/Jesus and Elvis, painted on velvet/Hanging at the bar here every night/It’s good to be back again, oh, me and my old friends/’Neath the neon cross and a string of Christmas lights.”
What makes the song poignant during the holiday season is that there are people who live with the memory of someone they lost. And sometimes being surrounded by the things they left behind keeps their memory alive.
“It’s such a brilliant song,” Chesney told Katie Cook during a recent taping of CMT Hot 20 Countdown. “When I grew up in East Tennessee, I had all my heroes and I had my heroes as artists and as songwriters. And ‘Jesus and Elvis’ is the kind of song that made me love this music.”
“It made me believe in this music. And I haven’t recorded anything this traditional in a while, and it feels really great. It’s the foundation of my whole career and the foundation of my connection with the audience.
“It’s not every day that you find a song that’s really written this well,” Chesney added. “I’m glad that I’m the guy that gets to sing this song.”
When their Hot 20 conversation turned to Chesney’s choice between spending an hour and talking with either Jesus or Elvis, he offered another option.
“Bob Marley,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in his life. And I’ve worked with the Wailers a lot, and I just love his music.
“It’s a fabric of everyone’s lives. That music is genre-less, and I would love to sit down and talk to him about songwriting and his philosophy on life. I got to talk to a lot of the guys that were in the Wailers from working with them several times, but if I have an hour to sit down with anyone, I would like it to be on the north shore of Jamaica, sitting on the beach, talking to Bob Marley. That would be awesome.”