Friday, 14 September 2012

Alive at the Johnny Mack Brown High School

Sometime in 1972/73, I remember wandering into my father's basement office in our apartment in New Haven, Connecticut, where he was working furiously on his doctoral dissertation. He was listening, as he often did at the time, to the only country music radio station in the area, which was true Yankee territory, make no mistake about it. This was well before the days of crossover country. George Wallace was firmly on the scene. The South was still largely an object of derision up north.

But back in those naive days of free-form and format-agnostic FM radio, it seemed anything was possible, and all sorts of things used to find their way onto the airwaves. On this particular occasion, the station was playing the entire first side of the "Country Music Then and Now" album by the Statler Brothers, which featured what was, in retrospect, a very daring experiment for the hyper-conservative Nashville music machine of the time: a pastiche of a live local radio broadcast of the type my parents would have been very familiar with in their childhoods in the 1950's.

The hapless and inept fictitious group featured therein was Lester "Roadhog" Moran and His Cadillac Cowboys, and it was gut-wrenchingly funny comedy-of-embarrassment of the highest order. I was initially a bit baffled, but my dad was in tears of laughter, which I enjoyed immensely, and when he later explained the context, it really meant a lot to me to have had this moment of seeing him so in touch with his own childhood, and so thoroughly amused.

A couple of years later, we ended up in Memphis, and I remember this weird little "Alive at the Johnny Mack Brown High School" album was one of my Christmas presents of 1974, which thrilled me immensely. I listened to it repeatedly for years thereafter, and it is still a very meaningful touch-point between my dad and me. We both dissolve into uncontrollable laughter at a mere single reference to it. And I have been amazed to find a lot of friends for whom this odd creation holds a similarly important place in their childhoods.  

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