Saturday, July 20, 2013

Track of the Week: Waylon Jennings, "Lonesome, On'ry, and Mean"

We bought the tickets this week to fly out to Nebraska to visit my family next month, which means I've had the land of my birth heavy on my mind.  This has meant listening to lots of classic country music, something that always takes me back home.  (As if you couldn't have guessed from what I wrote about "The Gambler" last week.)  That music is more important than ever for me, since it's one of the few things from my upbringing that I've maintained.  I am no longer a Roman Catholic, I have mostly stopped caring about Cornhusker football, I have high standards for the food I eat, I am a progressive, I'd rather enjoy life than pinch pennies, I live in the northeast and work in the dreaded den of iniquity, aka New York City.

Whenever I go back to Nebraska, I am faced with the very difficult experience of feeling like a stranger in my own hometown.  Going back reminds me that I am a very different person from the one I used to be.  I am fine with having changed, but it makes me feel alien and estranged from my family and all kinds of other people who were like family to me growing up.  We live in different worlds, but they're still good people, even if we have a hard time relating to each other nowadays.

Of all the classic country I've listened to this week, "Lonesome, On'ry and Mean" has stuck out the most, maybe because it echoes some of my feelings.  It's the first track on a killer album of the same name, the first album where Waylon Jennings was allowed complete artistic control.  It's not hard to see the lyrics about getting on a bus and getting the hell out of town and "doing things my way" as a reference to his estrangement from the country music establishment in Nashville.  The basic tone of the song is "get me outta this fuckin' place before I go nuts."  That's pretty much how I felt back when I was 18 and went off to college.  That day was like an emancipation for me, a liberation from the bullying, close-mindedness, philistinism, and exclusion that I endured from a very young age.  For the longest time since that glorious day I'd felt less like I had rejected my hometown than I had fled as some sort of a refugee from a place that had already rejected me a long time ago.

These days I look back a little differently.  The kids my age treated me like dogshit, but I had two very loving parents who sacrificed a lot for me.  I didn't have many friends, but my parents' friends and their kids were like a second family, and we had a lot of great times together.  "Lonesome, On'ry and Mean" thus embodies my binary relationship to my hometown.  The song's subject matter reminds me of how happy I was to get the hell out, but it's outlaw country perfection helps me remember the good things I had that I can still take with me, like an appreciation for Waylon Jennings and badass country music.

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