Your Musical Community Is Where You Find It

Music as a communal event is difficult for someone like me, who doesn’t play any instrument and doesn’t (or shouldn’t) sing. I’ve attended concerts where the sense of community was created by the shared music we all knew, or by the intense efforts of the performer to make sure that connection happened. But for the most part, I’ve always been an observer, watching a show and enjoying it, but never really being part of it.

However, I do recall one particular connection, a communal act of music that, while it lasted, joined a roomful of disparate people in a single tune at the same time.

Back in the 80s, I attended college at the University of Tennessee at Martin, and hung out far too much at a pool hall called Cadillac’s. It’s still there, although obviously many things have changed; you can get a sense of the original place in my Firefly Witch stories, where the narrator hangs out at the place as I remember it.

Cadillac's, the bar where I grew up.

Cadillac’s, the bar where I grew up.

Cadillac’s, like its immediate neighbor Hillary’s (now long gone), was a place where the students and the locals had an uneasy truce. Hillary’s was known as the rougher place, a bar where the bikers had their own room and the students knew to stay out of it. Cadillac’s was far mellower, a simple pool hall with a live “ball racker,” at the time a slightly befuddled older man named Billy, who would collect your money from the non-coin-operated tables and then rack them for the next game.

In those days, the music was provided by a juke box that actually played 45 records. A guy came in every so often and replaced older records with more current songs, but there were always a few that were never changed, unless it was simply to add a new copy in place of a worn-out older one. And the one that I’m sure everyone from my time at UT-Martin remembers is David Allen Coe’s “You Never Even Called Me By My Name.”

You can read more about the history of the song here. Basically it’s a middle finger to the country music industry, written by Steve Goodman and an uncredited John Prine. After the second verse, Coe goes into a spoken word section in which he says Goodman told him it was the perfect country and western song, which Coe disputed because it did not mention “mama, or trains, or trucks, or prison, or getting drunk.” Goodman then provided a final verse that included this list.

What I remember most, though, is the way the crowd at Cadillac’s would acknowledge the start of the song with a loud whoop of recognition and then, no matter what else you were doing at the time, join in to sing along with that final verse:

“Well, I was drunk the day my mom got out of prison
And I went to pick her up in the rain
But before I could get to the station in my pickup truck
She got runned over by a damned ol’ train!”

To this day, the memory of a bar full of people, many of whom would never associate with each other in any other circumstance, bellowing out that last line makes me with smile.

Any of my UTM alumni friends remember this?  And have the rest of you got any similar musical memories?

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