Saturday, August 29, 2015

Soft Southern Winds in the Live Oak Trees



You learn stuff when you travel. For instance, during our recent trip down South I finally learned what a Live Oak tree is. It's a remarkable tree, with strong serpentine branches that radiate out maybe thirty feet or more and sometimes dip so low to the ground that a kid could just jump right on without a boost for some first-rate climbing. Visually, the branches present a pleasing tangle that Brice Marden might admire.

Every time someone would point out a Live Oak to us I would start reciting in my mind the chorus from the great Don Williams hit, written by Bob McDill, "Good Ole Boys Like Me."
I can still hear the soft Southern winds in the Live Oak trees
And those Williams boys they still mean a lot to me (Hank and Tennessee)
I guess we're all gonna be what we're gonna be
So what'll you do with good ole boys like me?
This is a song much admired by songwriters, and rightly so. And I confess that I've become a bit obsessed with it over the last couple weeks. So much exact and diverse imagery and reference matched up so well with such a strong melody. I like to see how McDill solves the puzzle of keeping everything flowing and coherent, fitting lines together in service of the story. Especially cool is how he tosses in Hank and Tennessee as sort of a parenthetical aside. Speaking of references, I now know what a Live Oak tree is, but I had to look up Cape Jasmine and John R, the former, according to Wiki, an evergreen flowering plant with "heavily fragrant white summer flowers," and the latter a DJ who rivaled Wolfman Jack in the 50s as a popular DJ playing black R & B music and employing hip street talk as part of his on-air personality.

It helps to know the background of how McDill came to write it.  It was 1980, and America was infatuated with all things Redneck, from "Smokey and the Bandit" to "The Dukes of Hazzard." Good Old Boys were big. So McDill thought to himself, Well, I'm a Texan, born and raised, but I don't see myself in this fad. So the song is an attempt to tell the story of a Southern man whose story doesn't revolve around the usual cliches of guns and Confederate flags and pick up trucks.

I chose this obscure version by Brad Paisley because I love the way his voice soars when the chorus comes around, especially for the third and final time. It feels earned, and true -- for him and Bob McDill, and for all of us, Southern, Northern, and everywhere else outside and in between. We're all gonna be what we're gonna be.

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