A Guitar and a Pen: Stories by Country Music's Greatest Songwriters
Edited by Robert Hicks
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2008, Volume 15, #11
Written by John Metzger
Wed November 12, 2008, 06:30 AM CST
Judging from the current state of country music, a person logically could question whether its songwriters know anything about telling stories. This wasn’t always the case, however, as Vince Gill forthrightly addresses by summarizing the plot of Marty Robbins’ El Paso in his forward to Robert Hicks’ A Guitar and a Pen: Stories by Country Music’s Greatest Songwriters. Even today, tucked amidst the video-friendly, pop-leaning tendencies of country’s dominant players, there are those who are striving to craft something far more than a simple rhyming scheme. Hicks’ vision, then, is a tribute to those who continue to toil to keep the genre’s artistic past alive.
In creating A Guitar and a Pen: Stories by Country Music’s Greatest Songwriters, Hicks gave 25 poets an opportunity to broaden their horizons and work within a different format. Some opted to elaborate upon events in their own lives, while others chose to draw upon their personal experiences to create fictional worlds. In Career Day, for example, Robbie Fulks humorously discusses his humbling attempt to enlighten a classroom of high school students. Elsewhere, Hazel Smith uses He Always Knew Who He Was to revisit a trip to the White House that she took with Bill Monroe, while in Of Guitars & Righteous Men, Janis Ian searches for a stolen instrument that is close to her heart. By contrast, Kris Kristofferson spins a yarn around an oddly shaped rock that is uncovered by a flood, and Bob McDill upends the delicate balance that is holding a hunting camp together.
The finest tale in A Guitar and a Pen: Stories by Country Music’s Greatest Songwriters, however, is Tom T. Hall’s The Day Jimmy Killed the Rabbit. Although it immediately is apparent how it will end, Hall pours over the complex emotions of his plot with a cinematic eye as he leads the reader further and further down a dark, sorrow-filled passage to a preordained outcome. Nothing else in the book comes close to matching Hall’s remarkable attention to detail.
In truth, A Guitar and a Pen: Stories by Country Music’s Greatest Songwriters provides what is, at times, an uneven journey. A few of its narratives — such as Hal Ketchum’s The Clock Struck Nine — feel like exercises because their authors fail to dig deep enough into their characters’ hearts and minds. Nevertheless, the beauty of a short story is that it passes quickly, and at the very least, the works that fill A Guitar and a Pen: Stories by Country Music’s Greatest Songwriters are never anything less than entertaining. ½
Of Further Interest...
A Guitar and a Pen: Stories by Country Music's Greatest
Songwriters is available from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box