Like most people my age, I listened to the primary performers covered in Ken Burns’ Country Music documentary as well as the stars who were 15-20 years before my time. Our popular American music is a mix of blues, jazz, folk, gospel, bluegrass, country, ragtime, and rock. I liked everything but rock when I was in high school, but tended toward folk, though it’s hard to say where one form began and another ended.
I liked Joan Baez and Patsy Cline, among others. The episode of Burns’ documentary that ended with the death of Patsy Cline was difficult for me to watch, especially with her voice over the closing credits. I remember when it happened. I took it hard then, and Burns’ documentary brought it all back. When Cline sang, it felt like she was in the room with me. Yes, I know, a million other people thought the same thing because her voice was personal and perfect.
As I watched the documentary, I knew we were leading up to the 1963 plane crash that killed Cline. I hoped they would leave that until the next episode. And I hoped maybe knew evidence would show the crash never happened or, if it did, that everyone survived. No such luck.
No, I didn’t have a crush on Patsy Cline. I just liked her music from her recordings to the shows we heard on the clear-channel radio station WSM from the Grand Ole Opry. My wife and I once heard Gordon Lightfoot sing from Nashville’s Ryman auditorium. He’s a favorite of mine, too. As we sat there in those church-pew style seats, I could imagine what the place would have been like in the days when the Opry originated there.
I’ve listened to the music of almost every performer who’s appeared in Burns’ documentary. Seeing it all again has been a trip back in 4/4 time.