By Request: the Music I Grew Up With

After reading The Hum and the Shiver, musician Andrew Brasfield asked me, “What kind of music did you grow up on?” Given that music is such a big part of the Tufa mythology, and that almost every one of my other books has at least some musical element or inspiration, it seemed a valid question.

Being from the rural south, I learned a lot of music at church. I realized just how much, and how embedded it was, when I brought the family back to my little country church for Easter this past year, and didn’t need to reference the hymnal even once during the service. The songs were simple, unquestioning statements of belief, with no room for doubt. At church camp, though, the songs were different: I still remember how spooky it was to sing Larry Norman’s post-Rapture classic “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” sitting around a bonfire, which couldn’t help but put you in mind of hell.

“Only visiting this planet” to remind us we’re all going to HELL!

Then there was the secular stuff, from two main sources: WHBQ AM out of Memphis, and Rock 104 FM out of Jackson. The former was one of those classic radio stations that played everything that was popular regardless of genre: you might actually hear Kenny Rogers, Parliament and Paul McCartney, in that order. We listened to that station in the morning before school (and on the way if you had a portable radio), so it formed a common basis for social interaction. The flip side, so to speak, was Rock 104, which we listened to at night. Here I learned about genuine rock, the heroes (and villains) you never heard on AM pop radio. Which led to the Great Divide: Led Zepplin vs. Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Cover of Led Zeppelin IV, aka “ZOSO,” aka “We’re too stoned to name our album.”


Zeppelin was hard rock, which meant drugs, British men who dressed like women (i.e., 70s-era Robert Plant) and essentially songs you sat slack-jawed and listened to on headphones, possibly while under the influence of illicit substances. Skynyrd were your pals, long-haired to be sure but not effeminate at all. When you listened to them, you wanted to drink beer and do rebel yells (the cliche about requesting “Free Bird” did not arise in a vacuum). It was a divide that you could not straddle*: you were in one camp or the other. I was, proudly and unapologetically, a Skynyrd fan. That meant I could also like Springsteen, Bob Seger, Molly Hatchet and the pre-Michael McDonald Doobie Brothers.

The last true Skynyrd album.

That, then, is the musical foundation of my life. My tastes have broadened significantly since then (some would say softened), and now I’d like to think I can enjoy any good song of any genre. I’ll never again have that same enthusiasm of discovery, though, as I did the first time I heard “That Smell” or “Rosalita.” You only get that once, and that’s only if you’re lucky. Thankfully, I was.

*Now, ironically, both bands are grouped together as “classic rock,” and if the stars align you might hear “Stairway to Heaven” immediately after “Free Bird.”

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