When we went on our first date, I scrutinized my future husband's battered Toyota. Was I looking for clues to his net worth? Insights as to whether he compensated for manly shortcomings with fine Corinthian leather?
Nope. I wanted to see which cassettes littered his passenger seat. Only a guy with unassailable musical taste would be permitted to one day sire my progeny.
Hmm. The Rolling Stones, fine. Led Zeppelin, cool. Pink Floyd--I'm beginning to sweat. Nary an alternative or country tape in sight. And he got bonus points for his part-time job at a rock station. I decided he was the one. A ring, a cake and a pair of cherubs later, I anticipated decades of bliss set to the classic hits of yesterday.
Then it happened. He landed his first full-time gig as a deejay. At a country station. Where they played country music. All day. Every day. Nights and weekends, too. How could this have happened, I whimpered internally, while outwardly feigning ebullience. I thought of my drawer full of concert T-shirts: Elton John, the Who, Paul McCartney. Would they need to be heaved to make room for NASCAR halters? And what about our young daughters? They'd grown accustomed to being lulled to sleep with the "White Album" and old Billy Joel. I shuddered to imagine the impact on their tender psyches of an unexpected riff of Vince Gill.
To be honest, though, it was myself I truly worried about. The last time I'd forsaken my musical taste in the name of love was during high school when I fell for a guy who worshiped all things metal. And despite my chaste upbringing, I eagerly waved him around the bases and high-fived him as he crossed the plate: in other words, I bought an Yngwie Malmsteen tape. Determined to prove my soul mate status to this guy, I planned to absorb Malmsteen music until it seeped from my pores. Of course, I knew nothing about Malmsteen, other than that his future probably wouldn't include Propecia. But, I figured, maybe metal was an acquired taste.
Or maybe it wasn't. After sending my fallen crush back to the minors, I signed my personal music-before-men bill into law.
Which made my husband's betrayal all the more painful; for the sake of familial harmony, I was compelled to set the dial to his station and allow great wads of Americana to spew forth from the speakers. What happened next, however, was beyond the stuff of epic fiction. It was the stuff of hugely embellished nonfiction. The station grew on us. Cans of Bud slowly muscled out bottles of Heineken in our refrigerator; "Quadrophenia" found itself buried under "Strait Out of the Box."
My husband had an excuse: Sealed in an 8-by-8 soundproof booth every night, he was bound to become indoctrinated, if not brainwashed. And the kids were still young enough not to really care either way. But what of my own blossoming appreciation? The songs began speaking to me; oddly, I found they related to my life. Sure, my husband never abandoned us for that cruel mistress Rodeo, but he was often noticeably absent during the NBA playoffs. And the woman in me regularly needed the man in him, if for no other reason than to empty the litter box.
The music made me feel tough, almost gritty. When Shania belted out her list of demands in "Any Man of Mine," I felt a raucous "Amen, sister!" stir in my soul. Although I suppressed the urge to actually wave my fists in the air, the sentiment was roiling. And as Reba unleashed a screed at her abominable stud in "Take It Back," I was mentally waiting for her out in the pickup, psyched for a cathartic night of boilermakers and darts.
However shallow on the surface, many of the songs had an undercurrent of truth. For anyone who'd ever loved, lost, fantasized about loving, or anticipated loss, these songs were legitimate anthems. And whether the foot tapping the ground was clad in yellow snakeskin cowboy boots or highfalutin Manolo Blahniks, the foot was tapping.
So I was ambivalent when, after four years, my husband returned to his roots and took a job at a rock station. While I'd never stopped digging classic rock, I'd also become a member in good standing of the country club; Middle America and I had repeatedly felt each other's pain.
Which brings me to today. While we're back to rocking on the northern side of the Mason-Dixon line, I regularly slip out to the car for a therapeutic Southern fix. On the pretense of a quick trip to the store, I'll jump to a country station, crank it up and jam for a while with Trisha, Randy and Wynonna. By the time I get home, I feel bigger, better and badder. And for a few blessed moments, the world resonates with a comforting twang.