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Music can bring back memories

It’s amazing how music can affect us.

Just a line from a song can remind us of a loved one who has passed; remind us of a love from years past; or remind us of a time in our lives that somehow got sent to the back of the brain – only to be brought to the forefront by a few notes or lines from a song.

It happened to me Sunday night.

I’ve watched most of the PBS documentary on country music by Ken Burns, and have learned some interesting facts about some of the people I’ve listened to over the years.

The documentary had reached a phase about the California influence on country music, how folks like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard paved their own way with their own sound. It mentioned – and played a portion of the Buck Owens song “(I’ve Got A) Tiger By the Tail.”

It made my mind race.

It sent me back to cold January mornings in 1965. After lifting the heavy quilts off me in the bed, it didn’t take long to head to the kitchen. That’s where the wood-fired pot-bellied stove was located. It was the only source of heat for the old house, and usually, there was plenty of activity going on. Kids getting ready for school. Both parents getting ready for work. Breakfast was being prepared. It may have been fried bologna, cut into little triangles to ration among the hungry kids. It could have been as simple as a bowl of cereal. But the one constant was the radio. Bits and pieces of news. And music. Glorious music. I distinctly remember hearing “Tiger By The Tail” on cold mornings, along with other classics.

I’m sure I had no idea what the song was about back then.

“I’ve got a tiger by the tail, it’s plain to see;

I won’t be much when you get through with me

Well, I’m a losing weight and turnin’ mighty pale

It looks like I’ve got a tiger by the tail.”

I knew nothing about that kind of love in 1965, but I knew the song had a good beat, the kind that when it gets into your head, it’s hard to get out. In my mind, I pictured a man actually trying to tame a tiger. Now, I know that the real tigers in the jungles are easier to tame than the kind Buck Owens was singing about. Much easier.

I remember other songs like Roger Miller’s “King of the Road,” which opens with “Trailer for sale or rent. Rooms to let 50 cents.” I imagined every line of that song as being real, picturing someone in my mind as I listened to the song. And Little Jimmy Dickens “Bird of Paradise,” which even a youngster could recognize as humor: “May the bird of paradise fly up your nose. May an elephant caress you with his toes. May your wife be plagued with runners in her hose. May the bird of paradise fly up your nose.”

Ahh, the memories of childhood.

I guess I grew up as a country music fan and didn’t know it; although rock and roll was not only on it’s way, it was here to stay. And with and older brother and two older sisters, there were plenty of records in the house.

Mom liked Eddy Arnold and Tennessee Ernie Ford and Dean Martin and other crooners. My oldest sister was into the pop hits of the day, and my brother liked to listen to the rock and roll. He probably still has original Beatles albums that haven’t even been played.

I grew up appreciating all types of music, and still do. But I gravitate back to country, where the stories are, stories of life and love, of heartache and pain, of drinkin’ and ramblin’, of sticking it to the Harper Valley PTA, of  “swanging” on the front porch with pretty Charlotte and of falling into that ring of fire.

But now, how do I get “Tiger By the Tail” out of my head?

– Mike Barnhardt