Bweinh! Soundtrack — Billy Joe Royal

April 7, 2007, 1:00 pm; posted by
Filed under Job, Music  | 3 Comments

Read last week’s soundtrack entry here.

I grew up along the cherry-blossomed banks of blacktop in our nation’s capital. It was a typical urban upbringing; the ice cream trucks were rigged up with bullet-proof glass and there was always a willing stray dog to feed some of that ice cream. My first home was a brick building in line with an endless row of others just like it, a dirty red river that ran on and on Billy Joe Royal into the ocean of the setting sun. The only thing that seemed to differentiate our brick home from the others was that it was a parsonage. This difference only amplified itself as I grew older, till I realized this difference was the most fundamental of them all.

Besides being a Sunday-schooled lad named “Job” in a decidedly non-Christian environment, I was all city boy. I could swear and moonwalk, I could hear the car that would interrupt our street football game before I could see it, and my mom worried about my four siblings and me to the point that she put us in God’s hands and hoped for the best.

Despite being so urban our home really only picked up two radio stations — Q107, which played rap and other “edgy” music, and Magic 104, the oldies station. Naturally, we patronized Q107 with extreme prejudice, as the Beastie Boys fought for their right to party and the Sugar Hill Gang decided to bang bang the boogie, say up jumped the boogie to the rhythm of the boogie, the beat. We engaged this music and its culture with reckless, giddy abandon until one of my brothers explained to my parents that “they just didn’t understand” — quoting a young Fresh Prince. This brought a very fast, very sound and very thorough end to our Q107 days. It was announced over a very somber meal that we would no longer be allowed to frequent the most northern end of the dial because it had begun to poison our minds. Although there was much protest, the oldies era was thus ushered in.

I remember being violently reluctant at first, feeling like I was committing some form of adultery by listening to the Four Tops harmonize, or Sly and the Family Stone jive. But I remember, with equal violence, the day I caved. It was a hot summer day — they all were in Washington; hot, I mean — when Billy Joe Royal banjoed his way onto the airwaves to explain through folk melody the tale of his pained love. Even at my tender age I could sympathize, and immediately, with this man’s alienation, and his high self-esteem in the face of such ridicule.

People put me down ’cause
That’s the side of town I was born in
I love her she loves me but I don’t fit in her society
Lord have mercy on the boy from down in the boondocks

There’s something really special about this song. Its mix of sadness and defiance is totally disarming; it musically captures a mood in a manner most other songs could only hope to emulate. The echo of the slide guitar and the fully enunciated southern twang in his voice make you feel like you’re walking in the Bayou at dusk, swatting away mosquitoes and flexing away a hard day’s work, listening to your friend’s woes.

It’s a perfect song.

I began listening to Magic 104 just to hear it again and again, and in the interim, soaked up Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Rolling Stones, the Tremeloes, and Simon and Garfunkel, until they too began to fill my conscience with a deeper love for instrumentation and lyrical cohesiveness. It’s been a weird, if somewhat predictable, path since then as I’ve gone on to fall in love with alternative rock and her British Isle-infused melodies and melancholy.

But I trace the whole journey back to one song that unlocked the gates to an entirely different world, one song, that — whenever I hear it — demands my entire artistic taste fall on bended knee. The hero who broke me free from the shackles of simple beats and inane rhymes and led me into the full, flush garden of real artistic talent.

Billy Joe Royal, you are that just that to my ears.



3 Comments to “Bweinh! Soundtrack — Billy Joe Royal”

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