I've been passionate about country music my whole life. I started buying Haggard CD's when I was 8, and I dressed up as Randy Travis for my elementary school’s Halloween. Even now I devote much of my time to being a part of this genre. Growing up, I never understood why I liked it so much, but I've come to realize my love for the style comes from its powerful yet simple lyrics.
Loneliness, heartache, and death aren't danced around in country music. Artists hit these topics right down the middle. That's one of the reasons it has been popular for decades upon decades! Being in the funeral profession, I believe applying the "country music" approach to the issues we deal with every day could be a game-changer.
Currently, three tear-jerking songs about losing a loved one are climbing the country charts. First, we have the up and coming star Riley with his single "I Wish Grandpas Never Died." 90% of this song is not related to death or grief. It's simply a small-town wishlist - almost a backwoods take on Lenin's classic, "Imagine." It's not until the final line of the chorus that the song comes to a point:
"I wish the price of gas was low and cotton was high,
I wish honkytonks didn't have no closing time,
And I wish grandpas never died,
Notice, death isn't taboo in these lyrics. Riley doesn't dance around the topic of losing his grandfather, he addresses it casually like anyone would in a conversation.
TAKEAWAY #1: We don't have to avoid talking about death, or sugar-coat the subject with fluffy terms. Millions of people are connecting with this song because of how blunt and honest it is.
Country veteran, Chris Young focuses on the death of his close friend with his latest single, "Drowning." In this song, Chris sings lyrics to his late buddy. If you've ever gone through loss, it's hard to hold back tears as he describes making calls to voicemail to hear his friend one more time. It's hard to think of another song that paints grief so perfectly. The chorus finishes with the line, "Missing you comes in waves, and tonight I'm drowning." It captures the feelings of going through the motions. The grief’s not always bad, but when it hits, it hits hard.
TAKEAWAY #2: People want to interact with grief authentically. This song has gained so much support because it's not pleasant. Had the lyrics read, "I miss you, but I know I'll be okay" chances are, it wouldn't be making the same impact.
The last song we're looking at is "The Father, My Son, and the Holy Ghost." Craig Morgan has been off the country radar for a while. After landing a couple of big hits in the early 2000s, he's spent the better part of a decade without making too much noise. In 2016, tragedy hit as his 19-year-old son died in a boating accident. In years since Craig has avoided the road and new music. Just a couple weeks ago he released his latest heart-wrenching ballad. In "The Father, My Son, and the Holy Ghost," he addresses life after losing a child. The first verse paints a picture of him living isolated, avoiding public outings, and staying at home. The chorus explains that this isn't a bad thing. When he's by himself, he feels connected to his faith and the memories of his boy. Regardless of your relationship with trinitarian theology, I find it hard to believe people will listen to this song without being moved.
TAKEAWAY 3: We all want to remember the ones we love and to feel connected. Remember, the point of funerals isn't to bury memories; our profession is based on kindling moments and creating environments for people to cope.
I write all of this to make one point; we don't need to hide the fact that funerals involve the loss. We don't always have to cover it up as a happy celebration, or an exciting time to relive a journey. The country songs that have impacted the most people stick to a "three chords and the truth" format. Let's learn from that.