Strange things happened Friday. I listened to a podcast and art became reality in ways that involved a local musician and a sappy song that evoked an unexpected response in me.
The podcast is “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs,” written and narrated by Andrew Hickey, a brilliant and quirky Brit from Manchester who has an encyclopedic knowledge of 20th Century music. The show has a global following that ballooned after The New Yorker celebrated it last July in an essay titled “A Music Podcast Unlike Any Other.”
I listened to the latest episode during my morning walk Friday. At one point, Hickey discussed the musicians who played with Gram Parsons when he was still a teenager here in Polk County. One was Bobby Braddock, known for writing George Jones’ massive hit “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
I didn’t listen to country music growing up and have no real connection with George Jones — other than the fact that he lived in Lakeland for about six years, leaving almost a decade before I moved here. But when Hickey played the emotional climax of “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” I unexpectedly burst into tears while walking down Maxwell Street. How strange!
I listened to the final minutes of the podcast episode that afternoon while driving home from working in downtown Lakeland. Hickey was talking about the International Submarine Band, who recorded what some call the first country-rock album.
And then Hickey discussed Jon Corneal, the band’s drummer. He talked about how Gram Parsons lured Jon to LA to join the band by falsely promising he would be able to sing on the album and that some of his songs would be used on it.
After I heard this, I knew Jon would want to know his story had been told to many thousands of people.
Jon moved back home to Polk County after a musical career in Nashville and Los Angeles. I see him regularly outside Hillcrest Coffee, where he hangs out many mornings and where he performs with his country band every Friday at lunchtime.
It was about 2:30 on Friday afternoon. I was heading south on Missouri Avenue and would pass Hillcrest Coffee in about a minute. I estimated Jon would have finished his set a half-hour earlier and might still be hanging around. I turned left on Hillcrest Street and found a spot to park right in front of the shop. My lucky day. Those three parking spots are rarely available.
I walked inside. Jon and his band were still playing. The song: “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” How strange!
The band played two or three more songs. As Jon thanked everybody for coming, I walked toward him. He acknowledged me, and I told him I had an announcement. I told Jon’s fans about the podcast and how to listen to it at 500songs.com.
I’m pretty sure I didn’t mention the George Jones song, but Jon responded by telling a story about an incident that caused George Jones to move away from Lakeland back in 1975. How strange!