This is a series of stories inspired by background music. My clearest memories are often tied to the music playing nearby. Like mile markers or souvenirs from a road trip, there are songs that point directly to certain moments. Life is a highway and these are the loudest billboards.
Pontoon by Little Big Town is a song that pop country music apologists apologize for. I remember watching an interview where the band even described the process of writing “an obnoxious song about a pontoon.” However, this very same song, one I would consider just simply a fountain of dull, has an incomprehensible power to make me cry. Music is dumb like that.
After 3 months of working on a construction crew in South Boston, Virginia I had convinced two or three people that I was tolerable. One in particular, a welder named Steve, had taken me under his smelly, hairy, and thoroughly kind wing. He invited me to visit his home about 45 minutes south of the worksite where he and his girlfriend lived.
That day, I got to be a part of a working tobacco farm in the deepest part of the south I’d ever seen. The air was thick and the day felt as slow as the one thousand slugs lazily climbing the walls of the drying barn. Pontoon was staggering out of a Ford F-150 full of freshly picked tobacco. The sound was muffled and murky, like you were listening to a concert down the street.
When I hear that majestically absent song start playing, I remember being 1000 miles away from my girlfriend, living on a couch and worried about paying for it. I remember standing inside the barn, while Steve discussed the finer points of tobacco farming. I’m not sure I can recall even one, fine as all the points were. I remember the muddy sounds of Karen Fairchild crooning “you can climb the ladder, just don’t rock the boat” as I pretended I’d smoked before. I remember, while the words, “party in slow motion” filled the air like cigarette smoke, I decided I was going back to Illinois.