Life makes more sense with pop music.
Life makes more sense with pop music. That’s why I’ve gone back, year by year, and chronicled the song that meant the most to me then. This song may not have been released that year, it may not have been big that year, but it was relevant to me in a personal way that defines that period of my life.
Also, I didn’t do too much research to make sure I got these years right. This is my life, after all, and if I confuse 1998 with 1999, well, that’s my right.
2006: “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” by Kenny Rogers
In looking back at the past seventeen years of my life, I have tried to find an overarching theme or idea for each particular year. 2006, however, belies such categorizations. What happened in 2006? Why, a lot of pleasant surprises and lucky accidents. For example:
In February of 2006, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. They won seven straight games—six of them on the road—in order to reach a Super Bowl that had seemed cherry-picked for Peyton Manning’s Colts. The Brame family watched the victory with glee from my parents’ house in Germantown.
That year, I became obsessed with Nicholson Baker, an author who I first heard of via a question in Trivial Pursuit. I read The Mezzanine and loved it, then The Fermata, then A Box of Matches, then Vox, then Checkpoint, then most of Room Temperature. I read a little of The Story of Nory, but couldn’t get into it and never got to the end. (The Fermata remains my favorite.)
My brother got us tickets to see Belle and Sebastian in Milwaukee, so Renee and I traveled up there for the show. Belle and Sebastian! In Milwaukee! They were touring on The Life Pursuit at the time. The album was a little precious for me, though I did like “Another Sunny Day,” mostly because the lyrics concerned a soccer match. Renee preferred “For the Price of a Cup of Tea.” They played them both that night. I think, not to mention “Fox in the Snow.” I read U and I, by Nicholson Baker, on the flight home.
My brother Jason made me watch R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet with him three times in a row.
But of all the unexpected events of that year, none seemed more so than the circumstances that led to me playing guitar for an ad-hoc country band called Grinder Switch. To make a long story short, Renee and her friend Jeff Godsey needed a backing band for a one-off country benefit show, so Justin Burks, Renee Kemper, and I had to fill in. We learned a lot of country songs we had never heard before—”D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” (Tammy Wynette), “Did I Shave My Legs for This?” (Deanna Carter), and “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,” (Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty).
The song I loved the most, though, was Kenny Rogers’ “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.” I had never heard anything like it. It’s about an emasculated and crippled Vietnam War vet who is pleading with his trashy wife not to go out on the town and cuckold him. He can’t do anything to stop her, though as he’s unable even to get out of bed. While she does her hair, he watches the shadows that creep along his wall. His wife ignores him, and in the end she leaves to satisfy the “wants and the needs of a woman [her] age.” All the narrator can do is contemplate his imminent death and bitterly remark that he would like to “get [his] gun and put her in the ground.” And the song ends.
If Gregor Samsa had written a country song, it probably would have sounded like this.
“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” is a perfect memento of a year of gratifying surprises. But one surprise remains, and that is the video that follows this blog. That’s Kenny Rogers, performing “Ruby” on a television show in early 1972. He’s playing the bass and appears to be quite high.