by Nicole Skeltys
Truck and cow songs
Here are some songs heard on local Montana radio, when T and I were staying at the Montana Artists Refuge in Basin in June last year:
“America Moves By Truck” – (sung with semi-religious enthusiasm over an anthemic driving country rock arrangement):
“America moves by truck
America moves by truck
That one from Gearjammin’ Gold, an internet radio station from Great Falls in the north of the State.
Heres another great lyric line:
“There ain’t a cow in Texas if I don’t love you”
This latter gem from the only local ‘terrestrial’ radio station that Basin picks up – the “low power emergency” station broadcasting from Boulder, 9 miles away. It played continuous old style country music and syrupy 60s and ’70s ‘easy listening’ ballads.
T and I listened to the emergency station whenever we were in the kitchen, which was often.
Late every morning, we would find ourselves staring into the fridge deciding what to do about lunch and dinner. Given the nearest grocery store was over 20 miles away, and we had no car, we approached this daily ritual of meal planning with the seriousness of survivalists. Other times I’d come and stand by the window sill, T would look up from her editing work and we’d talk about ideas. Given the kitchen was also where we washed our clothes by hand in the sink, that was another reason for me to be there rather than working in my studio. But one of the most frequent reasons for my restless journeys from the studio to the kitchen to was to reach into the fridge and fetch myself another Moose Drool, Missoula’s finest brew – to aid the creative process, or block out sucking life uncertainty, or both. All the while, semi-forgotten country hits streamed out of the very old, grease streaked boombox which sat on the counter by the sink.
Emergency country radio
The music on the emergency station was also continuous, pre-recorded, only interrupted every hour to inform listeners in a slow drawl that this is the FM frequency to tune to when you are in Jefferson County for advice on what to do in case of “an emergency”.
Every now and then I found myself wondering about what kind of emergency would they have out here – has there ever been one around these parts? There are no nuclear power stations in Montana, so presumably no need to issue evacuation procedures in case of local nuclear melt-down.
So, I could only think of a national disaster, something so big it would shut down the TV stations, and maybe cut off the phone lines, and, lord forbid, even the internet. This little station then would be people’s only access to the outside world. I imagined frightened families huddling round the crackling kitchen boombox, waiting to hear the fate of the nation while ancient country classics clocked one into the other, filling the room with swaying sounds of faded loves, chaffing small town morals and heartache.
I was introduced to some great music thanks to Jefferson County emergency radio. Traditional country music speaks about some of the deepest hurts you can get dealt in life, but with a kind of sincerity and unselfconscious humor that seems largely absent from the cool, modern ‘alt’ stuff.
Dark country lyrics
For example, emergency radio introduced me to Bobby Dare. Bobby Dares 1969 hit “Margies at the Lincoln Park Inn” was one of the tracks on rotation, worming into my ears at least once a day. Lincoln Park Inn has an instantly appealing and familiar melody, like your Mom might have hummed it around the house when you were a kid. But the image of desire trapped by conformity and conscience packs a wallop because it is so simply told:
“My name’s in the paper where I took the boy scouts to hike
My hands’re all dirty from working on my little boy’s bike
The preacher came by and I talked for a minute with him
My wife’s in the kitchen and Margie’s at the Lincoln Park Inn
And I know why she’s there I’ve been there before
But I made her a promise that I wouldn’t cheat anymore
I tried to ignore it but I know she’s in there my friend
My mind’s on a number and Margie’s at the Lincoln Park Inn
Next Sunday it’s my turn to speak to the young people’s class
They expect answers to all of the questions they ask
What would they say if I spoke of the modern day sins
And all of the Margies at all of the Lincoln Park Inns
The bike is all fixed and my little boy’s in bed asleep
His little old puppy is curled in a ball at my feet
My wife’s baking cookies to feed to the Bridge Club again
I’m almost out of cigarettes and Margie’s at the Lincoln Park Inn
And I know why she’s there”
Well how you can best that, lyric-wise? You just can’t. But real country music could get a hell of a lot darker – Porter Wagoner’s monologues, for example, included men going mad inside “rubber rooms’ and little boys being burnt to death at home while their parents whooped it up at the local dance.
Late one night as I lay on my tough little futon mattress on the wooden floor in the corner of our shared room, my consciousness changed down gears into sleep. It was passing trucking songs, dark Porter Wagoner ballads, the physical discomfort I felt from my recent ailments and emotional losses. Suddenly a deliciously provocative title for a country/gospel/trucking song popped like a jack in the box into my desultory mood. I chuckled out loud – it was a wink from the Lord I knew, daring me to record this track one day if ever got to Nashville. Here it is:
“God Kills Someone Everyday”
‘I’ve got a hole in my gut, a scar on my breast,
A rip in my heart, a flat in my tire
Lord, what did I do to disrespect you?
Make you so mad, bring down your ire?
Well my friends they all say
You got it good, you got it good
So what if you hurt?
So you should, oh so you should
Ain’t nothing so perfect, it can’t be swept away
Don’t you know God kills someone everyday?
Well he put us down, and he helps us walk
Puts food in our mouths and hears how we talk
All the praising and pleading, hears the screeching u-turns
The kicking at bottles that roll down the curb
The cussing and bleeding and drunk before noon
Hey, no-one can say our times come too soon
Then I felt His hand come down on my shoulder
I knew, yes I knew I was old and getting older
Theres creatures to whom I must give way
Pull over, take the exit off the cosmic highway
I still take it personal, though I hear the angels say
Don’t you know God kills someone everyday?’
I can only hope I live long enough to hear that tune one day rise out of threadbare AM frequencies, float along on rusty pedal steel twangs, fill the air of a lonely Montana saloon like smoke out of a Winchester and make a trucker tap their toes:-)