Monday, October 4, 2010

I Still Miss Someone

One of the powers of country music is its ability to pull the deepest emotions from us. That is the traditional function of lyric poetry, and while many of us love to read poetry, we also love hearing poetry with musical accompaniment. There are songs and singers that, to quote from George Jones,"tear our hearts out when they sing."

Without a doubt, part of the force of Johnny Cash's singing was that sense in which he not only touched emotions, but he created emotional responses.  When Cash sang a sad song, you felt sad.  When he sang a song about an arrogant, defiant criminal named Sam Hall, in a song by that name on American IV: The Man Comes Around, you experienced the attitude of Sam Hall.  My family never gathered around and sang hymns, but when I listened to "Daddy Sang Bass," I could hear my (non-singing) father singing bass, my (rarely singing) mother singing tenor while me and little brother (actually two sisters) would join right in there.

One of Cash's sad lyrical songs is "I Still Miss Someone."  It is a traditional country (and poetic) theme:  the loss of love.  The song is set in the autumn season with the melancholy feeling that the season evokes.  There is a pained emptiness and a nagging wonder whether things could have been different. 

Because of the emotional power of the title, several web-sites devoted to Johnny Cash's memory use the title, even though the complete song would not exactly fit.  But the feeling fits: the pain of a loss, the power of memory, the questioning of the past, and the emptiness of not having someone here that we love.  Read the words to the song below:

At my door the leaves are falling,
A cold wild wind has come,
Sweethearts walk by together,
And I still miss someone.

I go out on a party,
And look for a little fun,
But I find a darkened corner
because I still miss someone.

Oh, no I never got over those blues eyes.
I see them every where.
I miss those arms that held me
When all the love was there

I wonder if she's sorry
For leavin' what we'd begun.
There's someone for me somewhere,
And I still miss someone.

I thought of that song this morning as we were riding to school.  As is often the case, we were running close to late.  The radio was on, and Nicholas said, "Well, at least we are getting to hear Marty Robbins."
This set me to thinking, with a bit of sadness, of a few of the singers that I miss.

1.  I miss Marty Robbins.  He died way too early.  I still remember seeing him perform on the Grand Ole Opry, circa 1975, when it was still in the old Ryman Auditorium.  Robbins always played the 11:30 to midnight portion.  Most performers heading up an Opry segment do a song or two. Robbins would open up with a song, introduce his guest, then he would sit at the piano and crank out one after another of those powerful hits that only he could sing, such as "Don't Worry About Me" and "Carmen."  No one could do a southwestern ballad better than Robbins.  His singing of "El Paso" is a marvel, and you find yourself hoping that this time he doesn't have to die in the arms of the senorita he loves.  Along with the western songs and gunfighter ballads, Robbins could turn to do a love song with equal power.  "My Woman, My Woman, My Wife" is as beautiful a testimony to marital love as has ever been sung.  "Devil Woman" is a powerful song of forgiveness, metaphorically picturing what happens when we are forgiveness, and "even the sea gulls are happy, glad I'm coming home again." (Nature is restored in redemption!)
On the night I saw Robbins sing, I got his autograph after the show.  He came out front to meet his fans.  I climbed up the concrete banister beside the steps.  He signed the Opry program I had, looked me in the eye, and nodded.  He was a tanned and rugged looking man, with a strong hint of Hispanic heritage.  He performed the late night show because he was usually racing cars earlier in the evening.
I still miss Marty Robbins.

2.  And I miss Bill Monroe.  It was probably around 1969 when I saw him perform on the Friday Night Opry.  I know this sounds strange, but one of the most fascinating features of the Opry was that singers were always standing around on the sides of the stage waiting before their performances.  They looked so normal, so mortal, so human.  I always found it odd that Monroe performed at that stage in his life, wearing glasses and not wearing his characteristic cowboy hat.  I have repeatedly watched the video "High Lonesome," which covers the history of Bluegrass music.  Monroe was intimidating and shy, powerful and weak, incredibly musically talented and hardly communicative.  God worked slow grace into Monroe's life.  All through his singing career, Monroe sang Christian songs. In fact, he introduced gospel quartets on the Opry.  Many of his Gospel numbers were his own creations or arrangements.  He sang the song that asks, "What would you give in exchange for your soul?"  He knew the answer, but it took years for that answer to change his heart.  Late in life, being baptized in the Jordan River, Monroe came up out of the water, saying, "I believe God put me here on earth to perform music."
I still miss Bill Monroe.

3.  And I still miss Patsy Cline.  She was already dead when I first discovered her music.  I had a collection of music that included a Patsy Cline song.  My mother loved the song, so when I discovered a Patsy Cline record in the sale bin at Montgomery Ward's, I bought it.  I was in junior high; it was around the year 1968 or 1969.  None of my friends liked country music.  Most people I knew who did like country music tended to listen to whoever was then popular.  Patsy Cline's last recording sessions were out of the realm of normal singing.  As she was tearing hearts out with such songs as "Crazy," "If You Got Leaving on Your Mind," "Faded Love," and "Walking After Midnight," her record producer asked her husband, "Did y'all have a big fight last night?"  Patsy Cline and her husband, Charlie Dick, had more than enough arguments, but the passion and power was coming from her soul, not from a recent brawl. 
I often wonder how she would have fared through the years if she had not taken that fatal air flight.  The picture of her at the last concert in a white dress is simply beautiful.  I think she would have made a grand older lady of country music.
I still miss Patsy Cline.

4.  And, of course, I miss both Johnny and June.  This past spring, we bought Cash's American VI:  Ain't No Grave.  The title song is an old spiritual.  The ruggedness and scratchiness of Cash's voice in his last years was haunting. I don't mean that it was spooky or scary, but that it was transforming. You knew when you heard him in his last years that this was a man who was looking at the chasm, the gulf dividing life in this world from that in the next.  In the song "Ain't No Grave," the main instrument is chains.  There is a hint of old Ebenezer Scrooge's partner, Marley, coming back from the grave wearing the chains he forged in life.  It heightens the message of the song.  Cash went to his grave with the chains from his life, but the grave couldn't hold him.  His song testifies to salvation, one of his favorite themes.
On the album cover of American VI, the front is a boyhood picture of Cash, toothy and innocent and smiling, little knowing what life had in store for him.  On the back is a hazy looking window. In the bottom corner, an elderly Cash is looking in.  It gives that sense that Cash is still telling us what really matters:  God, faith, marriage, love, music.
I still miss Johnny and June, and Mother Maybelle, and Sarah and A.P. Carter, and Carl Perkins.

My reworking of the song:

At my door the leaves are falling,
A cold wild wind has come,
On the radio hits are playing,
And I still miss someone.

I listen to hear them singing,
And remember the days before,
Their songs are still my favorites
because I still miss someone.

Oh, no I never got over meeting
Marty Robbins on those steps.
I can still hear Bill Monroe playing
With Bluegrass Boys that night.

I wonder how she'd be singing
If Patsy had lived til now,
And Johnny and June still thrill me,
And I still miss someone.


  1. Nick Says: Don't think I can beat that post with anything, not even the screaming trees. It's sad that with all my knowledge of rock music, I can't come up with any musicians to match these. Janis Joplin, Jim Morrisson, Jerry Garcia and John Bonham are often touted as great dead musicians, but most of their careers were spent stealing music from American Blacks and passing it off on their own. And as for John Lennon and Kurt Cobain, those overrated god-haters don't even come close to anyone on this list. This, however, still leaves out some great singers: Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Otis Redding, Tammy Wynette, Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Freddy Mercury (Maybe...I'm still thinking about that one.)Ira Louvin, Faron Young, Roy Orbison, and of course, Hank Williams.

  2. A great tribute to some of Country's legends, Mr. House. With the exception of Cash in his later years, all these artists pre-date me considerably, but there music lives on and, I presume, will continue to do so for generations.

    I love Country music, but I have no affection for the honkey-tonk variety. I miss those who feel deeply and sing rich poetical lyrics and good, strong ballads.

    I suppose I miss someone, too.

  3. I realize that should read "poetic". Can I blame the early morning for my tendency toward creating new words?

  4. I did not come to appeciate Johnny Cash till the last few years, though certainly his albums were around our house growing up, as my father was a country music fan.

    Bill Monroe I know very little about.

    Patsy Cline albums were also around my house as a child, but I've never taken the time to re-experience her music.

    For many years I have said when asked about country music something like, "I don't care for it EXCEPT Marty Robbins." Though the disdain I've had for country music most of my life has relaxed some, there is still no country singer I like better than Marty Robbins.

    I grew up in a house in the 60's surrounded by country music in a family that hated all that was happening in that time musically (e.g. the Beatles) and it's only been relatively recently I've given country much of a chance. Most current country is simply countrified pop.