There’s comfort in a Jimmie Rodgers blue yodel, a kind of lonesomeness that makes the listener feel not as alone or cold or sad. The great heartbreak of life is held back, breathing hard, but for the moment held at bay. There’s a certain solidarity in the blues. The great singers in country music conveyed this with their voices, but a more rare combination was the voice with the right song. When someone like Lefty Frizzell sings a song like I Never Go Around Mirrors with his voice coarsened with age and whiskey and he sounds beaten and tired and alone even as the chorus singers around him try to lift him up, it’s as if he doesn’t know they’re there or we’re here listening. The song is a plea for the singer to be alone, a stranger to himself because in the words of another great song he’s more to be pitied than despised.
Lefty Frizzell set the standard for honky tonk singers. More than anyone else his is the sound we hear when we think of country singers and everyone from Merle Haggard, to Willie Nelson, George Strait, Randy Travis, and Keith Whitley tell you that every time one of their records play. When Lefty and his friend Whitey Shafer sat down to write in 1974, one was coming to the end of a career and the the other was slogging through the hard years in the middle. A list of their songs, separate and combined, takes us from the dusty honky tonk beginnings to the modern sounds of today’s balladeers. Lefty: Always Late With Your Kisses, Look What Thoughts Will Do, If You’ve Got the Money (I’ve Got the Time), I’ll Love You A Thousand Ways. Whitey: Tell Me Lying Eyes Are Wrong, Bandy the Rodeo Clown, Does Ft. Worth Ever Cross Your Mind, All My Ex’s Live In Texas. Combined: That’s The Way Love Goes, I Never Go Around Mirrors. Here lies a primer of country music. What a song is made up of and how it should be sung.
Country music, like all music, is filled to the brim with neurosis. To its credit though, not much naval gazing happens. Country music prefers its problems to be embroidered on its sleeves. In I Never Go Around Mirrors we find the procrastinator. He knows he has a problem. Even though it’s the absence of her in the mirror beside him that serves as his reminder, he knows he’s the problem. She’s a symptom, like his unshaven face and uncombed hair, of what he’s really hiding; a heartache. It’s a song sung to himself like garlic around a neck. I can’t help but think the woman here is an after thought and that’s probably why she left. It’s all a bit of a phase though, one he’s played out many times before. He doesn’t break the mirrors or throw them out in the trash. Our singer knows he’ll need them soon enough, as soon as the last tear drops dry.