But I do remember Tuesday two weeks ago, when I was on a flight to Nashville, Tenn., but I really didn’t want to pull out a computer and start pecking away. I was in a foul mood to boot. I’d been to Nashville a couple times, the last time in about 1996 or so when I was attending a conference of the Nashville Songwriters Association, of which I was a paying member. All members pay, but many of them also have songs published. I hadn’t, and still have not, so I was just paying.
But for those paid dues, I had the chance to link up with and listen to a number of songwriters as they performed in showcases or delivered seminar speeches on the style and craft of songwriting. That’s right—for a time in my life, I fancied myself a budding Kris Kristofferson or Bob McDill. But this newspaper came along and buried me for over a decade, and I never even picked up a guitar for nearly the entire time. Now, my kids are playing guitar and I sometimes play songs for them that are more than 25 years old—some fairly good ones, too—but they haven’t been heard in public since about 1984 when I played in local songwriter showcases or amateur nights (capital A).
At my songwriters conference, budding songwriters like myself were split into small groups, where we were allowed to pitch one song twice—once to a Nashville music producer and again to a Nashville songwriter. We’d been warned—if a song doesn’t get their attention in the first 15 seconds, it goes right in the trash bin. On both days, I was the last to submit my song. On both days, I saw cassette after cassette get rejected. And on both days my song was the only one that was played all the way through.
After the session with the producer, he gave me his card and said, “Well, you can write a song all right, and call me some time, but I can’t use that one.” The next day, the songwriter listening to it said, “Man, don’t you know where you are? This is the Bible Belt—but I liked the song.” And that was the last time I ever played “Phone Call From Hell,” a serious heartbreak song that would be tame in today’s Nashville. It was the last song I ever wrote. I just needed to know if I could do it.
Which is why I was in a bad mood. Returning to Nashville caused a flood of weird emotions. Songs are like that. During a conference seminar, I’d heard a master songwriter describe his process of writing. Hugh Prestwood only writes a few songs a year, but he tries to make each one a gem, and it must work because he’s in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. He is a stylized songwriter, while most others remain tied just to the craft—anyone can make a rhyme, but you can’t teach style. At that time, Prestwood had a huge hit with a song I regard as a perfectly written song—“The Song Remembers When,” sung by Trisha Yearwood.
Though a story of regret, it accurately conveys how songs are powerful conduits to our past, and upon hearing them again, we are instantly reminded of situations or instances when we first heard that song. As Yearwood sang in “The Song Remembers When,” hearing just the first notes of such a song is like “a lighted match ... tossed into my soul.”
And so it is that I am at the cusp of writing my first Sundance movie review.
On Jan. 21, a match was tossed into my soul during the SLC Sundance premiere of The Music Never Stopped, the story of a young man who, due to a brain tumor, cannot recall any part of his life after 1970. The movie captures a father who became disenfranchised from his son 20 years prior during the turbulent 1960s and, now that he has him in his grasp again, finds they cannot reconnect.
Enter the Grateful Dead. Father finally listens to music he once hated and, voila, father and son make a new memory at a Grateful Dead concert. With a new memory in hand—one that will be gone in a flash since the son cannot hold new memories—father and son finally find their psychedelic bond. Then, father dies.
And at that point, me, who cries at nearly every movie, even during the credits, who cries when choirs sing, who cries when the kids go on a date, who cries when cousins get pissed off at him, was the only person in the Rose Wagner Center holding a dry tissue. I should have been on the floor sobbing, not just because of dear old dad, but because I am so beholden to the power of music and the strength of memory. But it didn’t happen for me. I must have bought the story, but not the movie.
So, despite many great songs that reintroduced me to some great old memories, I give The Music Never Stopped two dry eyes out of 200.