I wrote this silly open letter to one of my favorite musicians, and a friend of mine told me I should share it on my blog. I balked at first, but then I thought, “why not?” Show me a fiction writer and I guarantee you they have a playlist for when they’re writing their books. If they’re like me, they have a different playlist for every single one.
Dwight Yoakam is one of my favorite musicians. It’s kind of strange, in a way, because I’m not a big fan of country music. Any of you that follow my social media feeds know that I’m always drowning my ears in David Bowie, Neutral Milk Hotel and Fat Freddy’s Drop. But Dwight has a special place in my heart and on my writing playlist. I wrote this open letter after seeing him in concert in my hometown, at an infamous venue – the Georgia Theatre. At the time of writing, I just finished seeing him for the second time in the North Georgia Mountains. The second show was even better than the first. Now that’s devotion – twice in one month!
It’s me, Lillah. You don’t know me, but you put a smile on my face.
I’ve been a fan of yours since I was a kid of about eight years old or so. My Uncle, who is close to my age and was raised as a kind of sibling, was a big fan of yours and had the Hillbilly Deluxe album on cassette tape. I used to stare at the cover and try to memorize you – the jacket, the tight jeans; the hat that seemed bigger than you were, but still somehow graceful; your posture; the expression on your face – and try to get a line on who you were. “Little Sister” was always my favorite song, which is kind of weird, considering I was just a little girl at the time, but there you go. I’ve always been one to obsess a little over my favorite artists, the ones who really speak to me, and you were no exception. I memorized every picture and every line on the liner notes, and knew each song like the back of my hand. My love for your music continued well on into adulthood, and while I’m not the biggest fan of modern country music, I retained my unabashed love for you. I’ve always told anyone who’d listen that the Traveling Wilburys should’ve asked you to be the sixth member.
That obsessive personality of mine continued into adulthood, and led me to my calling in life as a writer. There’s no better career for those of us who are obsessed with details and research things to death just for the love of it. So, that’s what I do. I write fiction and poetry and essays and I have a tendency to write my life into it all. I can’t seem to help it. Sometimes this gets me into trouble, because like many people, there are painful things I’ve had to overcome. When they come out in my writing, they aren’t always easy to tell, but it wants to come out, so I have to go along. And it does me damage; it can hurt. Music is my balm for those times. I have my go-to list of artists who comfort me, who I feel “know” me, that I can turn to when things get heavy, when the blackness is threatening to pull me under.
Last month I saw you play the Georgia Theatre. I bought the tickets as a treat to myself, having never seen you live. The late March evening was cold and windy, but I was giddy. I was taking a long hiatus from a writing project, the sequel to a novel. The subject matter is grim, and semi-autobiographical, and I was having a hard time grappling with it. I put it on the shelf for many months, wishing I had the motivation to write but just not being able to. Sometimes it gets to be too much. I went to your show and had a wonderful time, and came home feeling more than a little nostalgic for the days of my youth spent be-bopping around my bedroom trying to copy your dance moves. You and your band played a great show, and I sat there enraptured, a gin and tonic in my hand, feeling warm with nostalgia. I smiled a lot. I danced a little (my apologies to those who saw it). The day after the show I went on You Tube and spent a good hour and a half watching Dwight Yoakam interviews (told you I was obsessive) and I came across one you did with Dan Rather last year. He asked you about who you were as an artist, and in true Dwight Yoakam style, you deflected and started defining Buck Owens and Merle Haggard instead. You talked about the differences in the two of them and how Merle embraced his pain and used it for his art, whereas Buck did the opposite, because sometimes it’s just too painful, and that’s okay. You made no judgment on either, but rather praised the merits of both. And in so doing, you defined yourself, too – as an empath.
That interview had a profound effect on me. I’m not a musician, but I am a writer, and what you had to say about art and the influence that pain can have each artist individually really resonated with me. It gave me a new strength. I went to the computer and started writing. No, I didn’t pull out my novel full of hard themes, but I did start a new short story with a young protagonist who wears tight jeans and a big old cowboy hat over his blue eyes. It’s a silly little story, not deep at all, mainly just a nod to a time gone by, but I felt a weight off my shoulders. Because I felt that I was free to write what makes me feel good, instead of feeling forced to confront demons that can wait. Because they can wait. And it doesn’t make you a better artist to force yourself to suffer. I’ll get to the book eventually, but right now I’m just enjoying this sweet little story inspired by an artist who gives me joy and has for a long, long time.
Just this past weekend I saw you play again. The almost two-hour drive to the north GA mountains (including the detour to Helen for gourmet chocolate) was worth every second. You can’t put a price on art, authentic art. And if any artist embodies authenticity, it’s you. I danced even more at that second show – and I wore cowboy boots. I hope that every person who has ever been through anything hard, anything that tested their resolve, has that one artist whose voice and presence can pull them out of the black and back into the good. I may be a writer, using words as my self-expression, but I have to admit that music has a unique power – the power to speak without needing words. The power to heal.
I don’t know if you’ll ever get the opportunity to read this, but I hope you do. I just wanted to thank you for your music, for your integrity, and for making me smile.
If you ever cover “Rebel, Rebel”, let me know.
Thanks for inspiring me. Stay gold.
My personal favorite:
And one for the road: