I took guitar for a little over a year. I'm so pleased that I did. I was single here in Birmingham and had plenty to do at work and socially, but guitar, once a week for 30 minutes gave me a little respite from the real world. It gave me a space and a time to think about things that were purely pleasure for me. Music. Lyrics. Artists. And then as life got busier, relationships blossomed, I gave it up. There wasn't time or money for it. And I've been fine with that. My guitar time has been replaced with time on the phone with a certain farmer from Prattville (similar to how his golf game has been replaced with time with me). Until tonight. I heard the song yet again and had to try to play it.
I've never been to Talladega. I had some guy friends in high school who went frequently, but if I'm honest, I've never been. What kind of Alabamian does that make me? I've been to numerous Iron Bowls so I'm happy to chat with anyone who would like to question my credentials.
Regardless, when Eric Church's "Talladega" came out last year on his "Outsiders" album, I was obsessed. I was thrilled that this bastion of songwriting sanity remaining in country music had honored a hallowed place and tradition in my home state. And at first, that's all it was. An ode to my state. Church is a proud North Carolinian and his previous hit "Carolina" bears testimony to that. He is particular about the subjects for which he sings and so I felt honored. He is one of my favorites.
But, as the months have gone by and I have continued to listen to the lyrics to "Talladega," I have realized this is not simply a song about a phenomenon in Alabama. No, this is a song for everyone. It is, once again, a country hymn to nostalgia. Everyone has a "Talladega." What's yours?
The opening line: "It was the summer before the real world started..." For me that was 2007. My "Talledega" could be named "Youth Intern" or "Atlanta," as those were the key phases and places for me that summer.
Or the line later in that verse: "five best friends on four bald tires." We weren't five best friends on four bald tires, we were multiples friends on so many metaphorical "bald tires," having no CLUE where we were going. And yet, like "Billy" in Church's lyrics, I can still see the smiles on so many faces as one by one we "made it." We got married. We moved. We got jobs. We settled into adult life.
Because, as Church reminds us "like a storm, time rolls on..." and despite the fact that, as he and his friends, there were times we would have "liked to stay in Talladega"we rolled on. With time. We followed the paths set before us. To Atlanta. To Birmingham. To DC. To New York. To Nashville. To Dallas. And hey, even to small towns in Alabama that, though not named "Talladega," would prove to be vitally important down the road.
And as I'm barely two months away from making one of those small towns in Alabama my home, there is something about that last verse of Church's ode to youth that makes my eyes a bit misty. "When the winds go cold and it blows October, I think about us shoulder to shoulder, Like those cars my thoughts roll over and over and over, In my mind...I'm in Talladega..." But in my mind I'm not in Talladega. I'm in Auburn. When "the winds go cold and it blows October" I'm in Jordan-Hare. I'm in Graves Hall. I'm in Arlington, Virginia--fresh faced and not a clue as to what to do with the world. And that feeling that Church puts forth so well of youth and innocence and naivety and ignorance floods over me and I realize I'll never have it again.
I'm too old. I've seen too much. In 30 short years I've learned that I'll never be "Billy." I'll never do things the way I did at 18. Or 22. Or 25. Or even 28. But that's okay. Now that I'm 30, I'll be 30. I'll marry my best friend. I'll leave my dream job and my hometown (again) and I'll start a new life where my children will form memories of their own "Talladega." There will be new Octobers where I stand "shoulder to shoulder" with this new best friend and though we may not be youthful, we will still possess a bit of naivety and ignorance. We will still brace the cold breezes we face together. And in 10, 15 years, I'll look back with nostalgia on this "Talladega" and wonder what will be the next to come.
Perhaps that's why Church's song brought me back to guitar. Perhaps that's why it conjures the emotions it does within me. Because I know that there will always be that feeling. That nostalgia. That the past will always fondly remind me of where I've been, but that the present and the future will constantly be bringing me back, good or bad, happy or sad, to whatever is my current and next..."Talladega."