So before we get started with the countdown, I’d like to provide y’all with a little Klostermanly backstory about where I’m coming from with my love of early 90s country.
If you will kindly excuse me while I gorge myself on a Madeline for a second or two here…
OK. Here we go. The year is 1993. The place is Forsyth County, about midway between Gainesville and Cumming. I have just started 1st grade; my sister, kindergarden. My parents have recently informed us that they are seperating.
They gathered us all on the living room sofa at our house in Alpharetta to tell us this. My mom did most of the talking. They didn’t love each other anymore, but were still going to be friends, they explained. They still loved us both very much, and this was certainly not our fault. We nodded that we understood. My sister and I would live mostly live with my mother, and continue to go to the same school, they told us. They still loved us both VERY, VERY much, and by no means were they splitting up time so they could each see less of us. We would stay with my father on Mondays and Wednesdays, and every other weekend. He was very excited to have us stay with him, because he, like our mother, still loved us so CRAZY FREAKING MUCH that it hurt. He would pick us up at my mother’s house, and drive us to his family’s lake house, which he had recently bought back from my aunt and uncle. My mom and dad used to get shit-drunk with their friends at that lake house when they first started dating; it’s been in the family for a little while.
And this is where my father is currently taking us, my sister and I nestled in the bed of the ugly brown camper truck my dad has just bought (next year he will buy a brand new Lincoln Continental, and it’ll be a toss-up which vehicle he shows up in to pick us up on any given night.) We are spending our first night with him at the Lake House. They used to bring us here when we were toddlers, but we haven’t seen this place since we started using complete sentences on a regular basis.
We arrive. The house looks and smells like you would expect a cheap house in Forsyth county that my father’s somewhat redneck grandparents purchased in the 70s to look and smell like. The second my dad opens the door, my sister bolts off, hell bent on claiming her bedroom first. She doesn’t show it yet, but she’s taking the divorce really hard. In a few months, she’ll sob every time my father comes to take us away from my mom. For now, though, she’s completely buried her angst beneath the all-consuming urge to get what she wants. This will prove to be her preferred M.O. for years to come. She’s a complicated person, my sister.
I, however, am not a terribly complicated person, and in addition to the ample supply of large sticks in the yard with which I will be able to play, and the attractive selection of sodas in the pantry (full sugar content — none of that diet bullshit my mom buys), I have just discovered a cable television in the basement room that is to be mine by default (my sister must have overlooked it in her fevered dash for first dibs). I’m pretty damn sure this whole divorce business is going to suit me just fine.
I turn on to the television to make sure it works, unable to believe that I will now be one of those chosen children who is able to watch TV in his room (my mother would never, ever dream of letting me have one). The screen ripples to life. I am heartened to see full-color commercials. The commercial break ends; instead of Under the Umbrella Tree or the McNeil Lehrer News Hour, this graces the screen.
It is the most spectacular thing I have ever seen in my whole entire life. It’s like the radio, except I can actually see the person singing the song, and she’s looking right at me — almost as if she’s singing it to me! It’s not like the mainstream music videos my father occasionally watches that are obtuse and completely unrelated to the message of the song. (This is the early ’90s, remember.) Further, the lyrics are so straightforward and easy to understand! And the articulation is clear: I catch every word that she’s saying.
I am smitten. For the next 2 and a half years, I will fall asleep every night to pop songs disguised by twangy guitars — on CMT at my dad’s; on the radio at my mom’s. I will constantly be humming “Way Down Yonder on the Chattahoochee” by Alan Jackson. I will make my mother borrow Reba McEntire albums from the library for me. I will consider country music to be the only music there is. I will be afraid of other genres, which I perceive to be unfriendly and full of corrupt adult ideas.
And then I will abruptly abandon it all, become mortally embarrassed that I ever listened to it, and pretend it never happened for more than a decade.