Dirty little secret

September 11th, 2007 by Jeff | Dump Core

Recently, I received a surprise in the mail. My good friend Wally (who accompanied us to our very first con, Dragon*Con 2000) and his wife sent me a much belated birthday card. I say much belated because it was several months after the fact, although I certainly wasn’t expecting it and would have been perfectly content with the knowledge that they simply remembered me on that day. (Sadly, many of our old friends are scattered across the country now, and seeing each other in person is becoming a rarer and rarer occurrence.)

Enclosed with the card was an iTunes gift card. Obviously, Wally had been reading the blog and found out about my recent iPod acquisition. After a reading over the note in the card (which was written in orange highlighter; Wally is anything but conventional), I stopped and examined the gift card itself. My first thought was that I doubted that I would take advantage of the free That’s So Raven episode download advertised on the front. (If it had been Kim Possible, maybe.) My second thought was that I hadn’t a clue what in the world I would spend it on. My brief excursions to the iTunes store in the past had borne little fruit, turning up very little that I was actually interested in. At that point, every single song stored on my iPod was either ripped from a CD I (or my wife) already owned or was a freely available download collected from somewhere else.

My first purchase choice came quickly thereafter. When I browsed the store before, I noticed my nifty little fifth generation device was capable of playing specially formatted games. Lo and behold, Ms. Pac-Man was among them. I had already downloaded the one-level demo and played it, which brought back waves of nostalgia. (For some reason, I had always enjoyed Ms. Pac-Man over her masculine predecessor, probably because of the “super speed” version that doubled Ms. Pac-Man’s speed and made it more difficult to play.) So the first thing I bought was the full game. For some reason, my thumbs have been much more tired lately.

That done, I was at a loss of what to purchase next. I searched and searched to no avail. Perhaps it’s just my eclectic tastes in music, but I had trouble finding anything that either piqued my interest or I didn’t already have on CD. (Naturally, I’d much rather have my music in physical form so if a hard drive crashes (since that’s such a rare occurrence) I’d have a handy backup.) I saw a couple things I seriously considered, but I waffled back and forth on because I’d much rather have them on CD first.

Then some little dormant trigger fired in my brain.

I’m sure that everyone has one. You know, that dirty little secret. That one album you keep squirreled away, hidden from prying eyes, that you secretly relish but you hope that no one every finds out about. It might be that one Mozart symphony stuffed between gansta rap discs, or that one bubblegum pop boy band stashed among your vast country collection. You know what I mean.

Personally, my CD collection largely consists of motion picture soundtracks (or, more appropriately I suppose, instrumental scores) from the likes of John Williams, Danny Elfman, James Horner, and Jerry Goldsmith. It also contains my wife’s and my combined collection encompassing most of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s discography and a smattering of contemporary Christian albums I’ve grown fond of over the years. Lately, a couple of lullaby CDs have been added for placating Ben in the car, but I consider those largely transient.

It is also worth noting that I have a rather adamant distaste for country music. Perhaps it’s because country is so pervasive here in West Virginia that I had difficulty avoiding it while growing up, but as soon as a country song starts playing, going on about how somebody’s spouse left them, their hound dog died, or their pick-up truck has a flat tire, my brain enters some sort of dormant protective state and shuts down. I block it out like some devastating traumatic experience and usually can only be resurrected by playing the Star Wars or Star Trek themes. About the only country artist I can really stand is Ray Stevens, and that’s because his humor is catchy enough to override my self preservation urges and let me actually enjoy the music.

However, during the days after Wally’s gift card arrived, I caught myself unconsciously humming a song I hadn’t heard in years, if not a decade or two. I was surprised at first that I remembered it so clearly and that I could recall most of the words. I was also surprised that it stirred up other musical memories, to the point that I was able to mentally reconstruct most of the album from which it came. The music became so conscious in my mind that I caught myself singing one of the songs to Ben at bath time one evening. And that album is the dirty little secret I’ve come to reveal.

You see, my dad, being a child in the 1950s, grew up on the two staples of television and films geared toward boys of that era: science fiction and Westerns. Thus, it was natural for me growing up to find classic sci-fi novels lying around as well as Dad’s favorite Gene Autry or Roy Rogers films in the VCR. And one of his favorite tapes to listen to in the car on those long family road trips was Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs.

Technically, I suppose this album should be considered a “Country & Western” album, as the genre was known as back in the day. Of course, the “Western” part has long since been dropped from the genre’s title, probably because that sub-genre fell out of favor at the same time the Western started disappearing from TV and the big screen. Most of the songs retell stories of the Old West, of gunfighters, cattle rustlers, and Arizona Rangers, although they are largely the work of fiction from the romanticized West of Hollywood than the real thing. Many of the melodies are very simple and singable, but the tales can be as graphic and violent as the period in which they are set. And as I pondered whether I should actually spend Wally’s gift on such a purchase, I caught myself humming these songs over and over. Eventually, I gave in to a combination of nostalgia and frustration over the few lines of songs that I couldn’t remember.

So now my dirty little secret has been revealed. If you’re interested, here’s the link to the album in iTunes. The link above will let you find the CD on Amazon. Either place should have samples you can listen to if you’re curious enough. Now I’m going to go hide under my desk and listen to “Big Iron” one more time.

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