The Ghosts of Country Music


I recollect that, when a stripling, my first exploit in love was in a grove of tall Ash, Birch and Dogwoods that covered the old Middletown valley. I had wandered into it by accident, but really don’t we all. I was startled by the roar of my own guts, as it broke the Sabbath stillness and if ever I should wish for surrender, and dream quietly away the remnant of a troubled life, I know in love the solace won’t be found.

From the old country recordings that I love, scratched and warbling, and the peculiar character of its singers, who are descendants from the original bards, at least in spirit if not flesh, this rustic noise echoes across glens and sleepy hollows, lends a drowsy, dreamy influence which seems to hang over our character, and to pervade the very fabric of who we are and must become. Some say that the music was bewitched by old house haunts and spirits of the mountains during the early days of our settlements; others say, the superstitions came from across the cold, deep waters as prophetic tales of North American powwows extinguished almost even before the country was discovered. Certainly it might even be both. This music still continues under the sway of some witching power, which holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie and search for drunken and foolish love. They are given to all kinds of marvelous beliefs, are subject to trances and visions, and frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air. The whole of country music abounds with local tales, haunted songs, and twilight superstitions; stars shoot and are crossed with pathos and despair. The yearning that moans out of cracked mouths gives pause to the fiddles sawing out their devil rhythms.

The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this music, and seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the apparition of lost love. For what is memory if not a ghost? Give me covered bridge and headless Hessian rather than 3am memory; a memory, whose haunts are not confined to me alone, but travel like a gloomy rider to be battled nightly before dawn.

It could remain mere terrors of the night, phantoms of the mind during lonely perambulations, to which daylight puts an end, if our path were never crossed by that which causes more perplexity to mortal man than ghosts, goblins, and the whole race of witches put together, and that is–love, or, to be exacting, the memory of love.

Our hearts are soft and foolish and easily tempted. They babble and flail about like clipped chickens. And the moment our eyes light with delight our peace of mind comes to end.

No less a Halloween tale is the sad songs of country music. The crying steel guitar seems to be kin with the evening loon. The whirling first dance is desperate to keep the hounds of love at bay, but the music tells the dancers otherwise. Soon after the reverie is over the ghosts arise from slumber in all sorts of terrible and familiar forms. Pull up a piece of floor, keep the lights burning bright and don’t let the heavy chains of memories haunt these October nights.


About Iaan Hughes

Iaan Hughes is a deejay on 91.3 KBCS in Seattle. He plays country & western music.
This entry was posted in Bluegrass, Country, Folk, Honky Tonk, Music, Oldtime, Radio, Rockabilly and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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