When I told my parents I was moving to Nashville, my mom asked why I wasn’t moving to Austin.
“It’s kind of the same place, right?”
I huffed and puffed and assured it wasn’t the same place.
“Things are different there. Plus I’m just tired of Texas,” I said.
I’ve loved country music as long as I can remember. One of my first memories was when I got a radio. I was probably four – in my head that’s how I remember it at least. I still remember – clear as a day:
“I have a radio station you’ll like,” my Granny said.
Maybe I remember it so clearly because I loved her voice so much and because I miss it so dearly. Maybe because that moment defined so much of my life up until this moment. She turned it to the country station, and so begins the story of my life.
As a kid, I couldn’t sleep without the radio on. Well, I guess what I really mean is I couldn’t go to bed without the radio. I never slept. I would listen to the radio count down the hits of the day – most times the ballads were my favorite.
For Christmas when I was six
I got three tapes. George Strait, LeAnn Rimes and Reba. Granny gave them to me – said she thought I would like them.
Boy did I.
That was LeAnn Rimes’ first album. She was from the same area of Texas as I am, and Granny’s hairdresser’s son played fiddle with her. I loved Granny’s hairdresser so I suppose I loved her by default in the beginning – but that album. I listened to it on my Walkman constantly.
The following year, she released “How Do I Live.” I loved it so much my dad would help me tune every radio in the house so I could listen to it in surround sound each time it came on. And I sang along at the top of my seven-year-old lungs.
I spent a lot of time at Granny’s growing up and I spent a lot of time watching CMT. I saw “It’s Your Love” for the first time and wondered how someone could be so pretty and sound so pretty, too. I loved “Carrying Your Love with Me.” I didn’t know why George was walking around with a suitcase, but I loved the way he sounded. And looked, I suppose. I listened to “Every Light in the House is On” regularly and Clint Black’s “Like the Rain” was a staple, mostly because my dad loved it, too – and he didn’t even really like country music.
Then “Cold Day in July” came out. I spent years trying to convince my parents I needed a banjo because I wanted to be just like the brunette. I never got one – banjos are pricey – but my dad at least took me to look at them. They released “Home” and everything I thought about music before then changed.
That albums sounds like a home to me – warm and inviting, cozy and safe. Many of the lyrics are a direct contrast to that – they’re filled with ghosts from the past, death of a true love and confusion about changing seasons of life. I guess that’s how life goes, though.
In high school I started listening to more Texas music – back when it was Texas music and everyone was really proud of it. For me, the songs told stories like the ones I heard on the radio growing up. I like stories so I was drawn to it. A lot of things have changed about that whole scene since then, but I remember why I liked it in the beginning. The words were real.
I still remember the first time I saw Walt Wilkins. I was in The White Elephant sitting on a couch surrounded by a bunch of people I didn’t realize at the time would be some of the most important influences in my life. I remember hearing his words – full of hope and passion – and realizing that’s what I was looking for in all of the words I listened to.
High school came and went – I spent my time at parties, but drove to them forcing all of my friends to listen to acoustic guitars and poetry. There was a girl once – I don’t even remember her name – who got out my car and looked back at me:
“I love that everything you listen to is so sad,” she said.
I guess that was the first time I realized not everyone listened to the same things I did.
I moved on to college outside of Austin. I spent a good amount of time drunk – as people will do in college – mostly surrounded by musicians. I still think the reason I never really acclimated to school was because I spent most weekends of my freshman year seeing bands in some other town.
I moved back home. I decided I was done seeing music regularly, because musicians were jerks and I didn’t like being around them. Truthfully, it was just a sort of broken person taking out her brokenness on other flawed people – which I guess we all are. I wanted to blame someone else for why I felt the way I did, and they were all the closest thing to me without being me.
So I dated a guy who played guitar as a hobby, because it was a hobby and not a career and his lifestyle was stable. But I never understood why he didn’t want to do things on weekdays and why we never went out on weekends. I missed walking away from a bar wondering if my hearing was only slightly impaired from the evening or wondering if I had finally gone deaf for good. I missed repeating lyrics in my head on the way home so I wouldn’t forget to look them up. I missed being around people who understood it wasn’t just a song – it was little pieces of a diary I wished I had written myself.
Eventually we broke up, and everyone asked where I was going. The answer was never Dallas, because I never like Dallas to begin with.
People asked why I wasn’t moving to Nashville.
“That’s really far,” I said, “Plus it’s just like Austin.”
But I kept coming back to it.
“I really think it makes sense for you,” my cousin Beth said. My family is much more level- headed than myself, so I actually thought about it for a minute.
And it started to make sense.
So I visited. I decided I really liked it but it wasn’t that big of a deal. It was a nice place to visit. But I didn’t know if I wanted to live there.
Then I missed it.
And I remembered the feelings I felt when I saw Merle Haggard’s handwritten lyrics. History was literally in front of me. The history that shaped my entire life.
And I wanted to be surrounded by that history. The things that shaped so much of my life and the words that understood me, even when I didn’t.
So I decided to move.
“You’re so brave,” they said. I never understood that. It’s not brave to put things in a truck and move them somewhere else. It’s scary sometimes, but not brave.
It’s actually not smart at all, when looked at from an objective view point. I gave up a salaried job to work in a bar, where I listen to music each night. I sing along to cover bands and sometimes hear words that rip my soul open. That’s why I like it, though. I guess that’s why I think it makes sense.
The thing about being here is it really does make sense in my head. I traded a lot of things for other things that make a lot less sense to a lot of people.
But I’m surrounded by people who get why I am the way I am. I’m sure a lot have similar experiences as I do, about how they came to love this town and how they ended up here.
And some days are hard. A lot of them are. I don’t sleep a lot and my life is mostly uncertain.
But I feel like I belong. For the first time in my whole little life.
And I guess that’s my life story. And how I ended up here. And why I’m so head over heels with it all right now.