I've spent most of my life professing to dislike country music, but it's getting harder to keep a straight face.
On a recent car trip to Florida, our 14-year-old son, who is a big country music fan, noticed me snapping my fingers while listening to a song from his playlist. He immediately pounced.
"So, you're kind of enjoying this country song, huh, Dad," he said.
"No, actually I'm not," I insisted. "I have a cramp in my hand, and I'm snapping my fingers to relieve the pain."
"Oh, OK," he said.
Caught. Dang it.
Growing up in Middle Tennessee, I took pride in the fact that I never attended the Grand Ole Opry. (Still haven't.) My mother, a bank teller, had her clock radio set on a country station. Every morning, country music was in the air in our little duplex, mingling with the smell of egg-battered toast and Sanka instant coffee.
A child of the 1960s and 1970s, I remember being strongly anti-country. I couldn't have cared less if Ruby took her love to town. I was unmoved by the news, via singer Jeannie C. Riley, that "mama socked it to the Harper Valley PTA."
When I was in high school, the cool kids were obligated to hate country music. They were fans of hard rock: Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin. As a band geek, I migrated to the lush pop arrangements of Elton John and Chicago. In college I went through a funk phase (Tower of Power, etc.) and finally, as an adult, I landed on smooth jazz (Earl Klugh, David Benoit, etc.) as my music genre of choice.
That's where my 14-year-old son and I definitely part company.
"Put on some smooth jazz," I'll say while he fiddles with the car radio.
"Dad, smooth jazz is just one elevator song played over and over again," he insists.
It wasn't until Garth Brooks hit in the 1990s that I cracked opened the door to let a little country into my life. Like much of the world, I found his honky-tonk anthem "Friends in Low Places" and the bittersweet "The Dance" to be irresistible.
I recently watched a two-part 2019 documentary on Brooks called "The Road I'm On." It reminded me of his unmatched worldwide popularity in the 1990s.
My favorite scene from the documentary is a clip from his first concert in Dublin, Ireland. To Brooks' astonishment, the Irish crowd took over the concert, singing each of his songs in full throat, until, at one point, Brooks simply turned the mic around and wiped away tears.
It reminded me of another documentary, PBS' expansive "Ken Burns: Country Music," which traces the origins of American country music to the Scots-Irish inhabitants of Appalachia. My favorite quote from the documentary is an observation from legendary songwriter Harlan Howard, who famously described country music as "three chords and the truth."
I looked up Howard online. My jaw dropped when I saw that one of his songs was "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down." I felt my Scots-Irish heart swell.
My dad's family included a group of country/folk singers who would sometimes occupy our living room on Saturday nights. "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down" was one of their standards. The chorus is still embedded in my brain.
If you know it, sing it with me in your mind:
"Pick me up on your way down, when you're blue and all alone
When their glamour starts to bore you, come on back where you belong
You may be their pride and joy, but they'll find another toy
Then they'll take away your crown, pick me up on your way down"
OK, I really don't hate country music. ... That much.
Email Mark Kennedy at email@example.com.