Country Music Reclamation Project: When I Stop Dreaming

There’s an old, sort of funny joke that asks “What happens when you play a country song backwards?” The punchline has something to do with having your dog come back to life, uncrashing your pickup and getting let back into the trailer park. I admit — I couldn’t find the actual joke anywhere on the internets, but I did see that some awful “hot new country” band did record a song loosely based on the joke.

It’s appropriate that a new country act idiotically enforce the stereotype. After all, it’s new country artists and their fans who have trashed this important and noble art form. Contemporary jazz artists and jazz fans don’t tolerate their early heroes being described as anything less than innovators and artists, and they shouldn’t.

Robbie Fulks’ song “Every Kind of Music But Country” describes the current attitude about country music better than I can — the girl he sings about says she loves music, just every kind of music but country. It’s an attitude expressed almost as a default. It’s not until she hears real country music that she changes her mind. Which is the remedy for anyone who is country-phobic.

I love music — especially country music. Part of it is due to the exposure I’ve had to country music all my life. But a big part of it is learning to love the depth and insight of the lyrics, which were often based on heartache, guilt and desperation.

I chose to name this blog after the Louvin Brothers song “When I Stop Dreaming,” which is one of the most haunting songs in all of music, and a great example of what I call real country music. So I’m going to make it the first in a series:

When I Stop Dreaming (recorded by the Louvin Brothers)
written by Ira & Charlie Louvin

The worst that I’ve ever been hurt in my life
The first time I ever wanted to die
Was the night when you told me you loved someone else
And asked me if I could forget

When I stop dreaming
That’s when I’ll stop loving you

I’d be like a flower unwanted in spring
Alone and neglected, transplanted in vain
To a garden of sadness where its petals will fall
In the shadow of undying pain

When I stop dreaming
That’s when I’ll stop thinking of you

You may teach the flowers to bloom in the snow
You may take a pebble and teach it to grow
You can teach all the raindrops to return to the clouds
But you can’t teach my heart to forget

When I stop dreaming
That’s when I’ll stop crying for you

The lyrics alone express a defiant declaration of unrequited love, but with Ira and Charlie’s harmony, the song becomes a plea. It’s the kind of song that makes you feel alive — whether it feels good or not.

If you like every kind of music but country, you’re missing out.