Budding Country Music Fan

I have never really listened to much music. I know hymns from church, a few show tunes, and lots of folk songs and Irish fiddle music from my college experience backpacking around the country with the Audubon Society. When I’m working alone, for company I listen to instrumental soundtracks. On long drives I tend to daydream rather than turn on the radio.

But a couple of years ago I began tuning in occasionally to the local country music station. Originally it was simply because my elderly friend Allen talked about so many country songs and of course I’d never heard any. I wanted to understand the appeal. In my mind country music had something to do with big hair and Nashville.

When I was driving Jon’s carpool, he and I listened to the country station together and Jon observed, “All the songs tell a story.” He liked them. On a recent trip to Vermont, Lucy said, “It seems like all the songs are about trucks, tractors, and beer. Oh, and love!”

I certainly don’t pretend to know country music but in my limited exposure it seems to me that country is a direct descendant of traditional folk songs: these are the songs of working people.

The other day, driving home with my groceries, I heard the song Cost of Livin’ by Ronnie Dunn.

Everything to know about me
Is written on this page
The number you can reach me,
My social and my age.

Yes, I served in the army
It’s where I learned to shoot
Eighteen months in the desert
Pourin’ sand out of my boots

No I’ve never been convicted of a crime
I could start this job at any time.

I got a strong back,
Steel toes,
I rarely call in sick.
A good truck,
What I don’t know
I catch on real quick.
I work weekends
If I have to,
Nights and holidays,
Give you 40
And then some —
Whatever it takes.
Four dollars and change at the pump
Cost of livin’s high … and goin’ up.

I put Robert down as a reference
He’s known me all my life
We attend the same church
He introduced me to my wife.

I gave my last job everything
Before it headed south
Took the shoes off of my children’s feet,
The food out of their mouths.
Yesterday my folks offered to help
But they’re barely getting by themselves

I got a strong back,
Steel toes,
I rarely call in sick.
A good truck,
What I don’t know
I catch on real quick.
I work weekends
If I have to,
Nights and holidays,
Give you 40
And then some —
Whatever it takes.
Four dollars and change at the pump
Cost of livin’s high … and goin’ up.

I’m sure a hundred others have applied
Rumor has it you’re only takin’ five

I got a strong back,
Steel toes,
I’m handy with a wrench.
There’s nothing I can’t drive,
Nothing I can’t fix.
I work sun-up to sun-down
Ain’t too proud to sweep the floors
Bank has started calling
And the wolves are at my door
Four dollars and change at the pump
Cost of livin’s high … and goin’ up.

For the last few years I’ve spent most of my time working with men in steel-toed boots, who can drive anything and fix everything, and for whom I have tremendous respect and affection. I’ve listened to their stories of military service, second jobs, and struggles to make ends meet. At the same time I have been aware of their unfailing kindness to me.

This song gave me a choky feeling in my throat. I think Woody Guthrie could have written it. I hope Pete Seeger has heard it.

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