published Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Dalton Roberts: Savoring numerous mini-lives


by Dalton Roberts

In 2004 I wrote a column on how you can look back on your total life and see little "mini lives" hidden in the big picture. This is especially true when you are writing your autobiography.

Tonight I was writing in my journal about how I came into one of my favorite mini-lives as "the downhome philosopher from downtown Watering Trough, Tennessee" and I realized I have been doing this one-man show for 20 years -- not my longest career but longer than my 16 years as county executive.

Of course, my total political career would have to include the years as administrative aide to two mayors and the seven years as county manager, a job in which I was fired by an unpopular county judge. It probably helped get me elected as county executive.

It shows that some of your mini-lives or careers can be impacted by the decisions and actions of others.

Sometimes a failure or crushing blow can end one of your mini-lives and hit you like the end of the world, but you start something new and it shortly proves to be much better. I was riding high on the nightclub circuit with a great band called Chattaboogie when arthritis made it impossible for me to play the three- and four-hour dances. I had to reinvent myself and settle for short gigs of less than an hour — gigs relying on original songs, humor and downhome philosophy.

I just read that George Jones is soon turning 80 and is giving up the road this year. Those 33-year bus rides that Merle Haggard talked about finally ran down "Possum" (Jones' nickname).

It remains to be seen if Jones can reinvent himself. He proved one time that he can be creative when his wife was watching him like a hawk to see that he didn't take the car and go for booze. He cranked up the lawnmower like he was going to mow the lawn. Instead, he rode it to a liquor store.

Chickamauga's Charles Lee Wright, one of the most successful gospel songwriters in this area, knows about reinventing himself. He cut off his arm above the wrist and plans to continue to accompany himself on guitar by designing a steel "hand" to hold a round metal dobro chording bar.

Talk about redesigning, I have never been more proud of a human being than I was with Johnny Cash during the last few years of his life. Dropped by Columbia, he recorded a couple of albums -- just him and his guitar. The were produced by an independent producer Cash had never worked with, doing songs in a totally different bag than he had ever recorded.

The most striking of these final albums are "Americana IV" and "Americana V." While he plays the simplest chords on his guitar, his voice goes from barbed-wire rough to deep monotones and is altogether haunting. I would not say it is smooth or country, but it is the most soulful Cash ever recorded. All at a time when his treasured life companion was dying — and did die — and he knew that he, too, was dying.

If one of your mini-lives is not going right, think about redefining and redesigning yourself and taking your life in a different direction.

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