DOLLY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (16)
February 17, 2023
One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of favorite Country singles from the Sixties (1964–1973). Series edited by Josh Glenn. BONUS: Check out the DOLLY YOUR ENTHUSIASM playlist on Spotify.
WILLIE NELSON | “WHISKEY RIVER” | 1973
One of my favorite live concert experiences was Willie Nelson at Lupo’s in Providence sometime in the late ’90s.
Maybe it was the contact high, or the company of close friends. Maybe it was the resonance with growing up in southern Missouri that I felt in being surrounded by folks who looked and moved as if they had traveled from somewhere far outside New England. For sure it had something to do with the fact that Willie played nearly nonstop for two hours and came to “Whiskey River” three separate times, each time as a transition — a beginning, a pause and an advance — a bend in the river. Each time he played with passion and never by rote, as if the depths that could be plumbed were without end. Each time, the enthusiasm flowing from the crowd grew stronger. This was not merely a performance, it was a communion. We were all grateful to be swimming in the river. The music flowed into us and the amber current flowed from our minds, now mem’ried with joys in the very act of forming.
The 1973 recording is a brilliant cover of another artist’s work, something Willie is rightly famous for. The best covers serve as both homage and reinterpretation in a way that strengthens connections between artists, art, and listeners in an audio current that flows on forever, creating altered states both individual and shared. The song itself flows like a river, unruffled on the straight-aways, with tempo changes at each bend. It repeats itself, just as the current of a river often forms an endless flux and curve — with each bend bringing a new perspective.
The third verse carries for me the most interesting variations and speaks to Willie’s ability to make subtle changes that you may not notice on the surface, adding depth and richness. The guitar-picking intro drops in new bass notes like stones dropping through the surface. He almost chuckles on “mem’ried mind” as if he is humbly laughing at himself. An accompanying solo woman’s voice echoes briefly, “take my mind,” the source of the memory still present in body and voice, just offstage. The song ends with a languorous reverberating pedal steel in the background, drifting us into the final chorus. Memories flowing into and out of us, changing over space and time.
“Whiskey River” helps me to remember — with as much humility, humor, and grace as I can — that we are all of us drowning. And yet we can all float.
DOLLY YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | David Cantwell on Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton’s WE FOUND IT | Lucy Sante on Johnny & June Carter Cash’s JACKSON | Mimi Lipson on George Jones’s WALK THROUGH THIS WORLD WITH ME | Steacy Easton on Olivia Newton-John’s LET ME BE THERE | Annie Zaleski on Tammy Wynette’s D-I-V-O-R-C-E | Carl Wilson on Tom T. Hall’s THAT’S HOW I GOT TO MEMPHIS | Josh Glenn on Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen’s BACK TO TENNESSEE | Elizabeth Nelson on Skeeter Davis’s I DIDN’T CRY TODAY | Carlo Rotella on Buck Owens’ TOGETHER AGAIN | Lynn Peril on Roger Miller’s THE MOON IS HIGH | Erik Davis on Kris Kristofferson’s SUNDAY MORNIN’ COMIN’ DOWN | Francesca Royster on Linda Martell’s BAD CASE OF THE BLUES | Amanda Martinez on Bobbie Gentry’s FANCY | Erin Osmon on John Prine’s PARADISE | Douglas Wolk on The Byrds’ DRUG STORE TRUCK DRIVIN’ MAN | David Warner on Willie Nelson’s WHISKEY RIVER | Will Groff on Tanya Tucker’s DELTA DAWN | Natalie Weiner on Dolly Parton’s IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS (WHEN TIMES WERE BAD) | Charlie Mitchell on Stonewall Jackson’s I WASHED MY HANDS IN MUDDY WATER | Nadine Hubbs on Dolly Parton’s COAT OF MANY COLORS | Jada Watson on Loretta Lynn’s DON’T COME HOME A DRINKIN’ (WITH LOVIN’ ON YOUR MIND) | Adam McGovern on Johnny Cash’s THE MAN IN BLACK | Stephen Thomas Erlewine on Dick Curless’s A TOMBSTONE EVERY MILE | Alan Scherstuhl on Waylon Jennings’s GOOD HEARTED WOMAN | Alex Brook Lynn on Bobby Bare’s THE WINNER. PLUS: Peter Doyle on Jerry Reed’s GUITAR MAN | Brian Berger on Charley Pride’s IS ANYBODY GOING TO SAN ANTONE.
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