Curating the soundtrack of Wise

By Kristen Tribe | Published Saturday, September 8, 2018

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It’s no secret that music takes us to a specific time and place.

We use it to soothe ourselves, amp ourselves up, even further a pity party from time to time. A particular beat can make your heart skip, and lyrics tied to certain memories bring on waves of emotions.

Kristen Tribe

There are songs that remind me of high school track season, junior high dances and riding in my dad’s old Chevy Silverados. A few bars of a single song reminds me of a road trip, rocking my babies or dancing at Denim and Diamonds back in College Station.

I tend to sort songs in my head and pull from that playlist depending on my mood and the task at hand. Within that mode of operation, I’ve come across several songs that remind me of life in Wise County, the benefits and hardships of living in a small town.

One of the first that struck a chord with me was “Famous in a Small Town,” released by Miranda Lambert in 2007. It was written by Lambert, who grew up in East Texas, and Travis Howard, and goes like this:

“I dreamed of going to Nashville
Put my money down and placed my bet
But I just got the first buck of the season
I made the front page of the Turnertown Gazette
Every last one, route one, rural heart’s got a story to tell
Every grandma, in-law, ex-girlfriend maybe knows it just a little too well
Whether you’re late for church or you’re stuck in jail
Hey, word’s gonna get around
Everybody dies famous in a small town”

For better or worse, this is true. Of course, I’m slightly partial to this particular verse because it mentions a newspaper, and I can relate. I’ve lost count of how many photos of bucks, big fish and giant vegetables we’ve run over the years, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s just one of the many quirks of small town life and a benefit of community journalism – everybody’s famous.

A songwriter that nails small-town life every time is Kacey Musgraves. Her writing is clever, and every turn-of-phrase is delivered with a sly smile and a wink. Most of her music reminds me of life around here, but “This Town,” written by Musgraves, along with Luke Laird and Brandy Clark covers the big picture. You can’t get away with much in a small town.

“Too small to be lying
Way too small to cheat
Way too small for secrets
‘Cause they’re way too hard to keep
And somebody’s mama knows somebody’s cousin
And somebody’s sister knows somebody’s husband
And somebody’s daughter knows somebody’s brother
And around here, we all look out for each other
You’ll end up in the paper, wreck your family name
What goes around comes back around by Friday’s football game
We only got one sheriff, but we all know how to keep the peace
Aw, and don’t you forget it, as big as we’re getting
This town’s too small to be mean”

Musgraves said the idea for this song came from a trip her sister took to Marfa in far West Texas. Her sister was talking to a local about what it was like to live out there, isolated in the desert, and the young woman said, “well, I’ll tell you one thing. This town’s way too small to be mean.”

Another Wise County element: the song opens with audio of Musgraves’ grandmother, who worked in the emergency room, telling a story about a female patient who “got real belligerent and she bit one of the nurses.” It’s just so perfect.

On a more serious note, the Turnpike Troubadors have a song called “The Housefire,” which mentions volunteer firefighters and is sadly reminiscent of many a local blaze.

Written by Evan Felker, there’s a line that references the wife escaping the house with the baby and wrapping him in a Carhart coat from one of their pickups.

“Well Lorrie called the volunteers
Siren music to my ears
First I’ve been glad to hear the flashing red and blue
Can’t repay the time they gave
There was nothing left to save
Shake all of their hands and wave
They did all they can do”

These are just a few examples of songs that get right to the heart of life in these parts. There are countless others that speak to me and remind me of different aspects of existing in rural Texas, and Wise County, in particular.

I haven’t even mentioned the lyrics of fellow Aggies Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen, Slaid Cleaves or Lori McKenna. I could talk songs all day and would be curious to know what you’ve heard that makes you think of home. Email me your favorites.

I’ll create a Wise County playlist – the soundtrack for our newsroom.

Kristen Tribe is the assistant publisher of the Wise County Messenger.

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