I watched my father's music choices change as he gave his life over to the Mormon church.
When I was five years old the record collection occupied a prominent place in crates in our living room. I used to thumb through the albums and put the ones I wanted to hear on the top of the television. It was one of those wood veneer Zeniths large enough to hold the record player, with space left for a stack of records. The player was a turntable with a smoked opaque top on hinges. It had this cool blue strobe light near the base of the needle arm. When the player was at the perfect speed, the silver dots on the turntable looked like they weren't moving under that light.
Dad had an impressive Elvis collection. He also had all the Johnny Cash records. There were records by Hank Williams, Conway Twitty, Dolly Parton, and Charlie Pride, the only black performer my father owned.
My dad really went for the rebellious songs by Johnny Cash and the wild drinking songs by Hank Williams. He liked buddy songs, where two of the musicians would sing back and forth impromptu, like they were just hanging around having a good time. Roy Clark and Buck Owens performed that way on albums as well as on Hee Haw, one of the few shows that followed us to every military base across the planet.
He returned from the war reconverted to Mormonism, but his love of those performers didn't disappear. He still had the records, and he still listened to them, but with meetings and obligations he didn't have as much time for music. The other difference was that he used to have friends over: neighbors, guys from work, or war buddies passing through the area. After his reconversion he didn't have anyone over to the house who didn't have scriptures in hand and he didn't turn on the record player for company.
Dolly Parton was the first casualty. Her albums disappeared from the boxes. “Ricky,” he said, “a man can't keep chaste thoughts in his mind if he fills it with unchaste images.”
Hank Williams sang too much about drinking, partying, loose women and loose morals. His records were inviting the devil into our home. They stopped being played, then they left the house.
One by one, these performers and their records disappeared. Listening to them, Dad would discover a lyric that the Lord didn't approve of and the record would join others in the basement or garage. The collection thinned until the crates themselves were moved out of the living room and the entire collection fit right on top of the television, next to the record player.
Once or twice a year I'd find him sitting in the basement with a child's record player box, playing one of his old favorites. It was like watching him recalling his previous life with sadness. When he noticed me, he'd turn off the player, put the record back in its sleeve and head back upstairs to do something important.
Johnny Cash, Charlie Pride, and Roy Clark were still producing records, but my father never bought another of them. He didn't stop buying records, however. He bought two or three Mormon Tabernacle Choir albums a year. Every Christmas he came home with someone's Christmas Album. He also put together a nice collection of the Osmond Family and Donnie and Marie.
“Dad, where's the Johnny Cash with the flames?”
“Son, sometimes you have to put aside worldly things. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's.”
“But there's nothing wrong with that one, is there?”
“I don't think it invites the spirit of the Lord into our home. Do you?”
I hated Johnny Cash from that day onward. I hated all his records at that moment because Johnny Cash was stopping the Lord's spirit from entering our home. He was keeping me from getting to heaven. Later on I stopped using that reasoning, but I kept my dislike for Johnny Cash and I didn't really know why except that he was country and I hated all country music. Then I hated Johnny Cash because I knew my dad still liked him even if he refused to listen to him.
Johnny Cash cut a version of Depeche Mode's “Personal Jesus,” one of my favorite songs. I heard it and I was completely blown away. Damn, that dude can fucking sing, I thought. So, I started listening to Cash and his early works. He'd always been good – damned good. While he might keep the spirit of the Lord out of my home, I think the trade off is worth it.
Have you ever watched someone doing something they're supposed to enjoy but you can tell they really don't? That's my dad listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He fidgets and reads and is in and out of the room so much there's no way he can be paying attention. Not like when he used to listen to Roy Clark and Buck Owens doing buddy songs, when he laughed and slapped his knee and told me, “listen to this part.” It's not like that anymore. The records, what's left of them, are all behind the food storage shelves in a sealed box. I don't think the spirit of the Lord knows they're down there.