If you have read any of my reviews on the E-Fix, it is easy to see that my musical interests lie primarily in rap, hip-hop, pop, and EDM. I have been trying to broaden my horizons, but at the end of the day I always come back to the familiar sound of hip-hop and rap. It has not always been this way though. This might be surprising to some, especially to people I know. Before the days of my more recent musical tastes, I used to be a big fan of country. I can attribute this to my mom. She was the one that introduced me to country.
I started listening to country back when I was living in Frederick, Maryland. I was in elementary school at the time, around third and fourth grade. I was young and did not necessarily have a choice in the type of music I was listening to. This was a time where I was not allowed to use the internet. Digital music was not a thing. Physical CDs were the norm. I was not able to pick up the latest Lil Wayne album, even if I wanted to, because…well, I was in third grade. What I listened to was usually whatever my parents were listening to. My mom was a big fan of country and I can recall countless road trips where country was coming out of the car’s speakers. Alan Jackson, Dierks Bentley, Toby Keith, Gretchen Wilson, Faith Hill, Kenny Chesney, Big & Rich, and Tim McGraw, to name a few, were some of the staples that we would listen to time and time again. We did a lot of traveling back in the day. When you are living in Maryland and the rest of your family lives in Pittsburgh, frequent road trips occurred around the holidays. I would sit in the backseat of our mini-van, listening to songs about summer, small town nostalgia, pick-up trucks, and America as I slowly developed a taste for country music.
An album I considered a favorite back in the day was Sherrie Austin’s Streets of Heaven. This is probably a deep cut to most fans of country. Sherrie Austin was not a big name in country, but this album resonated with me. Songs like “Singin to the Scarecrow,” “Small Town Boy,” and “Streets of Heaven” were some of my favorites, songs that I would play over and over again on my handy-dandy portable CD player. Ah, the days before smartphones and MP3 players. I continued to listen to country music for a couple of years, but times slowly started to change as I got older and moved on to middle school in Smithsburg, Maryland where I was introduced to new friends and different music.
It was in Smithsburg where I was introduced to hip-hop and rap. I knew the genre existed, but I was never able to listen to it because of my age. However, the friends I made in Smithsburg listened to rap, so through osmosis I started to pick it up and I quickly grew a liking for it. Remember middle school socials? Those (often awkward) experiences also opened up my musical horizons, introducing me to both classics and newer hits in pop, hip-hop, and rap. It was also around this time when I asked for Chris Brown’s debut album, and a Rihanna album, for Christmas. Yes…Chris Brown’s debut album was my first physical hip-hop album. You can laugh at me all you want, but Chris Brown was one of the first artists that I grew a liking for in my early days of hip-hop listening. Since then he’s gone south, but he was still important to me.
Time went on and I started growing up. I moved from middle school to high school and from Smithsburg back to Pittsburgh. As I grew older, my hip-hop and rap tastes became more seasoned as I broadened my knowledge of the genre. I still kept up with Country music, usually because my mom would always show me the newest Carrie Underwood track. She was my only connection to country music. Even though my musical tastes started to diverge from hers, I still felt connected to country music in a weird way. I stopped listening to it on a daily basis, but it was still a part of me.
Then my life took an unexpected detour. In the words of Carrie Underwood, “Jesus took the wheel.”
My mom was diagnosed with stomach cancer. It was the summer of last year when she started to experience symptoms like throat pain when eating. At the time we thought it was just some sort of indigestion or acid reflux, but after countless doctor visits and consultations, we were not getting answers. After ruling out everything else, they decided to test for cancer…and that is when they found the cancer…which was already in its later stages. There was still hope, but things started to look grim as time went on. This was one of the toughest times in my life, and it only got tougher as her health started to degrade.
I will never forget one of the nights I spent with my mom in the hospital. At this point, we knew she wasn’t going to make it. After countless rounds of chemo and radiation, the cancer just did not want to go away. We were sitting by her bed, me and other members of my family, and we started to go through the songs she wanted to play on her funeral slideshow. To give you some background, the funeral home that took care of us put together a DVD slideshow that would play on the TV’s in the room. The slideshow was comprised of pictures from her life and the DVD version would have an audio track with her favorite songs. We were going through the list of songs she wanted to have on her slideshow, and one of them was Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying.” We played the song in the hospital room, which might have been the most bittersweet moment I have ever been a part of. She was slowly starting to fall asleep as the song played on; family surrounding her.
At the time the song meant so much to me. In the song, a man in his early forties gets word that his father has a mysterious life-threatening illness. The song’s a bittersweet story about taking life as it is and living each day to the fullest. My mom lived her life the same way, taking each day and living it to the fullest. I could not think of a more perfect song about her life. She later passed away in March, surrounded by our family in the hospital. It was the toughest moment in my life. Losing a loved one is always tough, but when you lose parent it is on a whole other level. When you lose someone that has played a big part in raising you through your most formative years, you life changes drastically when they are gone. My mom meant so much to so many people. She was my best friend. She was also my connection to country music.
Just like all things in life, everything moves on. I took the rest of my college semester off to help around the house. It was a taxing time for me, so I thought it was best that I took a break for myself, while at the same time I was back at home to help out my dad and my little brother. I later went back to college in the fall and that is when life started to become more “normal.” I was back at school, but I always made sure to go back and visit whenever I could on the weekends.
It was on one of these trips back home when a flood of nostalgia hit me like a tidal wave. I usually like to have something on during my road trips, whether it is a podcast or music. This time around I decided to change things up and I found the country music station on the radio. It was a while since I had listened to any sort of country music, so my tastes were out of touch. My mom was my only connection to country music, so my tastes had lapsed. After a couple of songs or so, Carrie Underwood’s newest song, “Church Bells,” came on the radio and that is when it hit me. That is when the nostalgia hit me hard.
I started to think about what my mom would have thought of the song. She was one of the biggest fans of Carrie Underwood I knew, so I immediately knew she would have loved it. It was then that I looked up into the sky and I started cry. Yep, there I was, crying in my car going down the highway with a Carrie Underwood song on the radio. I probably sound like a middle-aged woman fresh off an ugly break-up, but I could not get through the full song without crying. I started to think about all the times I listened to country with my mom on our various road trips across the country. I did a lot of reminiscing on that trip back home and it was on this trip that I rekindled my taste for country.
On my weekends where I was home, I started to dig up my mom’s old country albums and I started to look at their tracklists. I didn’t recognize most of the songs, but there were still a ton of songs that I started to put into my music library. Country music now started to populate my library, taking a seat next to the other genres of music that had a handle on my library for the longest time. I also started to seek out new country music. There was a time where I scoffed at country music, but I quickly realized how silly I was.
Although my musical tastes still tend to lean towards hip-hop, rap, and EDM, I have gained a rekindled appreciation of country music. These days I still find myself mostly listening to country songs from my childhood, but I am always broadening my horizons. Country music has always been a part of me, despite my lapsed frandom of the genre, and this is all thanks to my mom. I have tons of memories that I will always remember my mom by, but country music is something I will always remember her by. She is probably up in heaven giving me her latest country music recommendations, and I could not be happier.