A Boy Named Sue





I read recently that no music ever moves us like the tunes we encounter in our teenage years – for me, those tunes were by the Bee Gees, Aerosmith, and Willie Nelson. Yes, I realize that is a crazy combination. Also included: the Carpenters and AC/DC. But my musical background was very confused.

Hearing the Bee Gees How Deep is Your Love?, I’m immediately transported back to the 1970s, riding with a friend from church in his moss-green Satellite Sebring. On my mind: my on-again, off-again love interest, Gena. She mystified me, and seemed to enjoy driving me crazy. Granted, taking the 14-year-old me to “crazy” was not a long drive, and my life’s background music only sped up the trip.

When I was a little boy back in Illinois, one of the few records in the house that wasn’t Southern Gospel was A Boy Named Sue, by Johnny Cash. To this day, I’m not sure why we owned this 45. Dad pastored a small Pentecostal church in a farming town, and the lyrics to this song couldn’t have been more foreign to my life:

Well, my Daddy left home when I was three / And he didn’t leave much for Ma and me / Just this old guitar, and an empty bottle of brew

So, my musical tastes were a bit confused to begin with. Just before we moved from Illinois to Texas, the daughter of one of our deacons introduced me to a song by the Partridge Family: I Woke Up in Love This Morning. This was Bubblegum Pop – I had never heard anything like it! That led to further discoveries, like the Jackson 5.

When I was in junior high, my big brother often drove me to school on his way to high school. His 8-track tape collection consisted of two: Best of Bread and Grand Funk Railroad’s Survival. Total opposites: laid-back love songs and anti-war protest. The next year, he started listening to John Denver and Olivia Newton-John, so I did, too. I could soon sing every line of Rocky Mountain High and Let Me Be There.

In high school, I listened to the same music everyone else did (whatever was playing on the dominant Pop radio station), and I had a few 8-track tapes of my own, of the Carpenters and some early Contemporary Christian music. Then a church friend (another deacon’s kid!) introduced me to Aerosmith – and there’s still nothing like the opening guitar riff to Walk This Way, though the lyrics were (like A Boy Named Sue) exactly opposite the life I was living.

Which is why I began listening to mostly Christian music, even though I really missed the cool guitar riffs (we eventually got them in Christian music). My music collection today contains Christian music ranging from instrumental worship to Skillet, but I also have The Best of Vince Gill, Lyle Lovett’s Joshua Judges Ruth, and Jazz from Fattburger. If you visit our home, you never know what you might hear, from the 1960s to the latest releases, Dean Martin or Spanish Christian Rap.

What tunes moved you “back then”? Does any of it still move you today? Let me know – I’d love to hear from you at the e-mail address shown above. And thanks for reading!