In the end, it is music that brings me back to so much: memories, philosophy, passions, family, friendships, religious thoughts, and more.
In this case, it’s been a series of magnificent country and southern rock songs that have all served to remind this career Soldier of his home state and the region of the Deep South in which he grew up.
It all started with Zac Brown’s Chicken Fried: a song that TRADOC Rock performed during my time at Fort Monroe as commander of that great band. Projecting forward in time, the AFCENT Band, with whom I and several Army Soldier-Musicians toured Afghanistan this past December, performed this almost every night and brought it back into my musical psyche. The song has so many things that hit home beginning with the first verse:
Well, I was raised up
Beneath the shade of a Georgia pine
And that’s home you know
Sweet tea, pecan pie and homemade wine
Where the peaches grow
I can’t explain to you exactly what the feelings are when I hear it, but it makes a contact with the long-term memory portion of my brain. I spent my childhood growing up in the Chamblee-Doraville suburbs of Atlanta. The whole front yard was shaded with tall pine trees. The lyrics of Zac’s song remind me of the smell of the trees while my dad was cutting the grass and I was playing with the neighbor kids. Each summer was spent with my grandparents at a little ‘place in the road’ in Carroll County, Georgia called Bowdon Junction. They also had a multitude of these Georgia Pines on their 3 or so acres of land as well as train tracks that ran along the eastern part of the property. When I stayed with them during those hot summers, the rumble and shaking ground of the train at 2 A.M. would help to lull me to sleep.
Zac Brown describes their house:
And my house, it’s not much to talk about
But it’s filled with love
That’s grown in southern ground
A singer by the name of Shooter Jennings, Waylan’s son, brings to mind the sensation of what it means to live near a railroad junction and to hear that distant train horn when he sings the following in a song entitled Gone to Carolina:
Every time I think I smell that sweet southern rain
It takes me to a station on the long black train
I wanna hear the wind blow and feel the earth move below me
Despite of all the good times, I gotta rest my soul
And yes, there was sweetness in the rain.
Perhaps my nostalgia for the State of Georgia, as with my home country, is heightened by my time on the other side of the world. If this is true, then so be it, but I’d like to think that I am really just in a musically-induced period of reflection. Most of the memories to which I’m referring here are from younger days and decidedly different times. They were far from perfect in so many categories, but things didn’t turn out so bad in the end. They make me wish for my wife- whom I met in Georgia- and my kids to enjoy the nostalgia of those things along with me.
Zac Brown helps me to say it:
Well, I’ve seen the sunrise
See the love in my woman’s eyes
Feel the touch of a precious child
And know a mother’s love
And then Zac provides lyrics that move me every single time I hear them:
I thank God for my life
And for the stars and stripes
May freedom forever fly
Let it ring
Salute the ones who died
The ones that give their lives
So we don’t have to sacrifice
All the things we love
My wife’s family lost a son of Georgia in the sands of Iraq back in 2007. He was my Brother-in-Law though he personally had dropped the ‘in-law’ part of the description. He is sorely missed. The song connects the pain of loss to the sacrifice of service to someone else who I’m sure understood what Georgia Pines smell like, the sound of a distant train, and – here’s another one: the look and feel of Georgia Red Clay.
Jason Aldean brings this up in a song describing *his* Kinda Party:
Oh baby, you can find me.
In the back of a jacked up tailgate.
Sittin’ ’round watchin’ all these pretty things.
Get down in that Georgia clay.
Why does the dirt of a place matter?
It’s really just another item that defines The Place. When we live somewhere, we often take for granted the things that make it unique. I can’t begin to tell you how many pairs of shoes I went through that ended up stained with the faint orange tint of Georgia red clay.
And, do you know where Highway 41 is?
In a song that is, at least for me, a defining part of the repertoire of the old 96 ROCK in Atlanta, the Allman Brothers put in my head a view of Kennesaw Mountain, north Georgia, and even The Big Chicken in Marietta:
Well my father was a gambler down in Georgia
And he wound up on the wrong end of gun
And I was born in the back seat of a Greyhound bus
Rollin’ down Highway 41
I’m happy to report that my father, though a Georgian from Newnan, is neither a gambler nor someone who was shot… and I was actually born in a comfortable hospital in Decatur…
My point is not necessarily to claim a connection with the exact context of the lyrics, but rather enjoy the personal memories that the words help to recall.
I am an American. In the end, with the entire multitude of issues we face, I believe in this country’s ideals, its Constitution, and its people. Within that great subset of Americanism, I am blessed to know that Georgia is where I was born. I was taught in its public schools, went to its great flagship university, and I taught in Atlanta suburbs for four years prior to my entry into the military. I grew up in a time when the Braves couldn’t even fathom a playoff game. My parents met and fell in love in Georgia and I met my wife in one of its old railroad towns. I would certainly still get a kick out of climbing Stone Mountain, love the idea of rafting on the Chattahoochee River, and would crave any chance to get to walk on the River Walk in Savannah after spending too long in Kevin Barry’s Irish Pub. I love Routes 41 and 27 and I’d go for a drive up into the mountains any chance I could get. And every time I am on 285, I think of crazy, late night antics with Andy and Ed in DeKalb and Gwinnett… especially in a little town called Doraville:
Friends of mine
Say I oughta move to New York
New York’s fine
But it ain’t Doraville
(Compliments of the Atlanta Rhythm Section… FYI: they talk about Red Clay too…)
… and my list goes on. I’m sure you have memories about your home state as well.
My perceptions of history were initially shaped by my education in the key events in the state: from MLK and civil rights to the Civil War Battlefields of Chickamauga, Revolutionary War sites in Augusta, the Indian Mounds of Etowah, to America’s first Gold Rush. The tale continues in the modern era signaled by the Olympic Torch and the great story found in the rise of a place called Terminus into the shining gem of the Deep South that is contemporary Atlanta.
I’ve now lived in enough places to know that nothing in this world is going to be perfect. One only needs to log onto AJC Online to know that Georgia is not. However, the red blood in my veins still retains traces of red clay, pine sap, and Chattahoochee River water. Just like that mud on my childhood sneakers, those things cannot be washed out. Neither can the fondness I hold for the state in which I was born.
Time to go get a Coke…