A few days ago, for the first time in probably decades, I started thinking of Carl and Pearl Butler. Would they be on YouTube?
Sure enough, there they were in their flashy Country music suits singing “Don’t Let Me Cross Over,” their only No. 1 hit, released in 1963.
As kids, my brothers and I knew them — as well as George Jones, Buck Owens, Tammy Wynette, Merle Haggard, Mel Tillis, Loretta Lynn and others.
Crystal Gayle is three years older than me. I kissed her once back when she was known as Brenda Gayle. I was 15, she was 18. I had a thing for her.
About this music stuff: You see, my mother wanted her three boys to be Country music stars, wanted to live her dream through us. Thing is, while we had some talent, we just weren’t interested. I know she went to her grave disappointed with this.
Why I find myself thinking about my weird life lately, I’m not sure. Maybe it has something to do with a friend who mentioned the other day that I should write a memoir of my life. Maybe it got me thinking.
Instead of making music, I’ve always loved writing. Back in the sixth grade, James Thurber was my hero. I read everything he wrote and once crafted a short story copying his writing style as a class assignment.
I remember Mrs. Hyde calling me up to her desk, giving me an A on the story and saying I was good. She said I had a talent for writing. How weird it felt to get some praise for something I wanted to do.
Back at home, I remember my mother looking at my paper, and saying, “That’s nice.” That was it. That wasn’t weird. That was normal.
After high school, I had my chance to break away. I informed my parents I was interested in journalism and wanted to attend a college in Louisville. I think the college was named Metadata Institute, but this has been more than a few years ago.
I visited the college, signed up for the classes but, to make a long story short, I got talked out of it.
There was no money in writing, my parents said. It would be better to attend a college closer to home and take business courses and have that to fall back on in case the music career didn’t pan out.
Well, of course, the music career didn’t pan out. I could never understand my parents’ way of thinking. You had to be super-talented to make it in that business. My brothers and I weren’t, and we didn’t even want it.
I remember going to Nashville for the DJ convention in the fall of 1974. I knew in my head this would be the last time we would have to make this trip.
Carl and Pearl Butler had just been dropped from Columbia Records and they signed on with Chart Records. Their career was in major decline.
“Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” hadn’t yet happened for Crystal Gayle, but she had just signed with United Artists Records and had a Top 10 single out called “Wrong Road Again.” I knew she was going places.
I kissed Crystal for the second and last time in Nashville. I was 20, she was 23.
With the music career finally over, instead of having journalism to fall back on, and because of them damn business courses, I fell right into accounting.
Being an accountant never felt right — it felt weird — but as the years went by and as I got married and had children, it provided a decent income for my family and me.
It was easy work. Debits to the left, credits to the right. Easy, but dull. The urge to write never left me.
Years went by. After a divorce in 1994 and with the kids now older in the fall of October 1997, I found myself fired from an accounting job. After weeks of thinking about it, I thought, “What the hell. Let me try to be the writer I wanted to be.”
It’s now approaching 13 years since I made that decision. While I’ve had to take some regular jobs along the way — and still do — the focus has been on the writing.
Look what’s happened. Some success. Hell, I’ve been writing for CityBeat for more than 10 years now.
In 2005, I released a collection of short stories. Later this month, I’ll have a book of essays out, mostly based on this column.
The book publishing business is weird, too. All I can say to other writers who want to get into the book world is to find someone who believes in you and has some money. Me? I’m too old to deal with New York publishers and the suits.
My father passed away in 1998 and my mother in 2000. My dad never saw any of my writing published, but my mom did.
She never said much about it. That didn’t make me feel weird, but she had to know I was finally doing what I wanted to do.
Thinking back to my old world of Country music, Carl and Pearl Butler are long gone, but Crystal Gayle is very much alive. I went to YouTube to look her up, too. She’s as beautiful as ever.
I wonder if she reads alternative newspapers? Is it possible she could read this column? Would she remember me?
Now that would be weird.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: [email protected]