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Gazing wistfully after the taillights of Phantom 309

Country Musings by Robert Loy, September 1999

Several years ago, when I was a little younger and a lot dumber I hitchhiked from Charleston, S.C. to Denver and back. It wasn't as dangerous as it sounds. America was a much more innocent, more peaceable country back then.

In fact, during the entire trip I was only picked up by one serial killer. And he - obviously - didn't kill me. (Remind me sometime to tell you about my ride with The Unicorn.)

On the way back I got stranded one night in Freezyerbutt, Kansas. I was getting tired of walking backward in the rain, icicles dangling off my thumb. To keep myself semi-sane, I was singing Red Sovine's immortal "Phantom 309" to myself. If you've ever heard that ghost-truck-driver classic, you'll know why.

Eventually a soldier gave me a ride. As I slowly thawed out, I listened to his homemade tape of songs I haven't heard for years - The Beatles, The Platters, Sam Cooke - golden oldies from back in the days before their sheen hadn't been rubbed off by overexposure. I can't tell you how good these songs sounded. If you turn on your local oldies station you'll hear many of these same songs, but it won't be the same. Oldies stations have ruined that thrill you used to get when you heard a song you used to love and hadn't heard for years. You've got to have time to miss these tunes, and how can you miss 'em if they won't go away?

What does this have to do with country music? Country has just the opposite problem. With a much richer, more varied history than rock music, HNC programmers consider an oldie anything from last March.

Worse still, they consider anything old worthless. One of my local C & W stations ran an ad campaign accusing its competitor of the unforgivable sin of playing too much old stuff - as opposed to the exciting "today's new country" on this station. Neither of these stations play anything older than two or three months except maybe once every other blue moon.

I don't think I want to have stations that play nothing but country gold. I don't want them to ruin Conway Twitty and Waylon Jennings and Lefty Frizzell the way pop programmers have ruined Herman's Hermits and Paul Revere and the Raiders. But isn't there a happy medium? Can't we groove on the new and still remind ourselves occasionally of the great stuff that came before?

And to you young whippersnappers who think old fogies like me need to get with the program and start loving all the Hot New Drivel, I have just one question: When it's time for your long dark night of the soul and you're freezing by your own personal 1-40 in Kansas, what song are you going to be singing to yourself?