Posts Tagged ‘Roger McGuinn’

“I like the Christian life”

January 26, 2011

Country singer-songwriter Charlie Louvin, who died today

I grew up listening to country music against my will. Mom’s radio station of choice was Atlanta’s WBIE FM, which we listened to in the car regularly, and we watched Hee Haw every Saturday night. To me it was all hopelessly corny. Even though country was, for better or worse, the music of my people. My people were all rural and southern. Country and southern gospel were the soundtrack of all family reunions, parties, cook-outs, and dinners.

But I was a mall-prowling suburban kid through and through. Unlike my parents—and their parents, siblings, cousins, and friends—I did not speak with a southern accent. And I did not like country music. And neither did my friends. Once, when I was 9 or 10, my friend Geoff was riding in our station wagon. He was unfamiliar with country music, to say the least. He said, “What’s that beow-beow sound? It’s in every song!” He was trying his best to imitate twang of pedal steel (the defining sound of country music). It embarrassed me.

My attitude toward country began to change when two events happened around the same time in 1987: I saw country songwriting duo Foster & Lloyd on Austin City Limits. They seemed like cool suburban kids who—for some reason—liked country music, which they sang (mostly) without an accent. They had a great hit song around that time called “Texas in 1880.”

The second event was my discovery of the Byrds’ 1968 album Sweetheart of the Rodeo. It was a straight-up country album recorded in Nashville by a band whose hip West Coast rock credentials were beyond reproach. The album included two gospel songs: “I Am a Pilgrim,” whose version I play on guitar to this day, and the Louvin Brothers’ “The Christian Life.” Like the rest of the album, they played it completely straight. No irony. No winking at their audience.

The man who was impetus behind their change in direction, new Byrd member Gram Parsons, jumped ship not long after the album was finished, but Byrd leader Roger McGuinn continued to explore country for the rest of the band’s career. Although McGuinn, like every other rock star in the late-’60s, was exploring Eastern mysticism at the time, he later converted to Christianity, the faith he professes to this day.

One of the composers of “The Christian Life,” Charlie Louvin, died today at 83. I’m including a Byrds version of the song below. Unlike the album version, this one features Parsons on lead vocal. (The copyright holder makes you watch the video within YouTube.)