Gibson guitar ad, 1922. Public domain on Wikimedia Commons

Lonesome together

Jeff Elder

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I’m eatin’ a Moon Pie

Drinkin’ Grape Nehi

An’ I got my one good eye

On you.

I wrote that verse to a country music song decades ago. As a native Nashvillian, country music lyrics flow naturally to me. I wrote a song titled “Another Geographic” last year that begins:

You’d look great in a rear-view mirror
But a U-Haul’s always been my kinda ride
Or a cab out front with the meter running
Or anything with a full tank and me inside.

Country music lyrics can be ridiculous and sublime, sometimes both at once. They are often simultaneously mischievous yet soulful. That irony is baked into the biscuits in Nashville. You just grow up with it.

Before I knew anything, I knew that Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” was saying something fun and catchy and yet a little sad with:

Trailers for sale or rent
Rooms to let, 50 cents
No phone, no pool, no pets
I ain’t got no cigarettes.

Life is a poem with a twang. “Three chords an’ the truth,” as they say about country music. It is inescapable in my hometown, The Guitar Town, where every kid next door is a troubadour.

When I was 19 and working behind the counter of my family’s used bookstore near Music Row, a large figure in black appeared before me. It was Johnny Cash. It was like meeting Moses. I couldn’t look him in the eye. Thankfully he rescued the moment with the perfect thing to say, a country song title just for that encounter. He said:

“Son, where are your books on trains?”

Of course he did. He knew better than anyone that Hank Williams wrote some of the most beautiful poetry ever with the lines:

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill?

He sounds too blue to fly

The midnight train is whinin’ low

I’m so lonesome I could cry.

That is heartbreaking, but the irony is that despite two lonesomes, the writer and listener are not alone. You always got that ol’ whippoorwill to keep you company.

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Jeff Elder

Former WSJ reporter and syndicated columnist now writing crypto and cybersecurity. The Paris Review praised my Johnny Cash post.