Legends in Hillbilly Heaven - Bob Paslay

Forgive me for feeling a bit old these days as all the icons of my youth are starting to fall by the wayside.

The rich baritone voice of country singer Don Gibson was silenced this week as he went to Hillbilly Heaven to join some other noted country stars of late.

For those of you who don't know Don Gibson, I feel sorry for you. He recorded the country standard "I Can't Stop Loving You" and other songs about solitude and sadness involving love, earning him the nickname "the sad poet."

"Simple is the only way I can write," The Associated Press quoted Gibson, an elementary school dropout and sharecropper's son from Shelby, N.C., as saying in reporting his death at age 75.

More than 700 artists recorded "I Can't Stop Loving You," including a version by Ray Charles.

He also penned the haunting "Sweet Dreams," made famous by Patsy Cline in 1963.

Tell me why a loon making a haunting sound over a quiet lake as I sit in a boat waiting for the sun to burn off the mist is a beautiful sound and I will tell you why I find songs by Kitty Wells and Don Gibson and Hank Williams Sr. beautiful.

Those who do not like country music do not hear what I hear n the pain, the sorrow, the frustration, the anger, the man lost in that boat afloat in a world he can't control.

Unless you have loved and that love has not been returned, unless you have loved and had that love turn to sorrow or anger, you cannot understand country music.

I have this image of Gibson arriving at heaven and being greeted by Emily Bronte, who says: "I loved your songs. They touched something inside me."

Who better wrote of unrequited love than Bronte? Her tragic hero Heathcliff could easily have been the meat of any country song. And as Gibson walks through the gates, looking for Johnny and June Carter Cash, he is greeted by Edgar Allen Poe, who compliments him on touching that electric current in people's souls that electrifies us.

Oh the sweet, sad, beautiful sounds that must be lilting over heaven these days as these artists collaborate.

I maintain that simple truths survive, whether in books or poetry or country songs. The vehicle is different, but the message is the same.

Some random thoughts

Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution? That is my general view of the whole same-sex marriage controversy triggered by a Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling this week.

Same or different sex, I cannot exactly understand why anyone would want to be married. I also don't understand why fundamentalists don't like the idea of two people committing to marriage in an era when it has become such a temporary state of being in many people's lives.

I fully understand companionship and even commitment since I understand and appreciate country music. I just don't understand marriage. Now that so many companies are providing same-sex and common-law benefits that do not require the "I do's," and since most property and will issues can be decided in legal documents, please make the case for marriage for me. Some say, if my partner was in the hospital dying I would want the right to help decide what is best, rather than his or her parents. But the Florida officials blew this theory out of the water recently, letting parent concerns triumph over spouse concerns.

I suspect that the Norman Rockwell picture-perfect marriage that both straight and gay couples aspire for is something that works only in 1940s black and white movies. Could it be that gay partners have been sold a bill of goods and aspire for marriage as they strive to be Ozzie and Harriett, instead of Ozzie and Harry? We always want what we can't have. Also, I suspect that all steps forward are countered by a push by opponents and progress is followed by retreat. That, I suspect, may be in store as too much is perceived as coming too soon.

The Ten Commandments

It should come as no surprise to most readers that we in the newsroom employ every means to keep up with the news, from listening to the police scanner to having CNN quietly playing in the background.

One recent day, one of those agnostic, atheist or whatever (I'm never sure) employees walked by as CNN was reporting about Americans' obsession about germs and cleanliness.

"You know, it is the right wing Christians that are obsessed about this cleanliness," he said seriously.

I looked at one of the other reporters and raised my eyebrows.

It never ceases to amaze me that those who profess to be agnostics or atheists worry more about religion, even obsess about it, more than we of the faith. And when you obsess you blame everything on those you dislike or distrust.

Madeline Murray O'Hare was one of those. Did she have any other life rather than staying up late at night, plotting to get the ceramic Jesus off the lawn at Chicago's City Hall?

I have said and restate that I don't give a darn if a million ceramic Jesuses or a thousand Ten Commandments adorn every building in America. It just doesn't bother me.

But having said that, I like my Joan of Arcs a little more roasted than the current Alabama judge who immediately slammed out of office starts to eye the governorship in that state. Deep believers like St. Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa give up everything for their faith and I like this. But this Alabama judge annoys me and I hope the people of the land of Bear Bryant have the sense to do what the people of Virginia did to Oliver North and send him packing.