Jukeboxes were social media, one quarter at a time

I saw something the other day that I hadn’t seen in years: a jukebox.

I don’t mean one that plays CDs. I mean a real, honest-to-God jukebox that plays 45 rpm records.

We were out in the country, about 30 miles south of Nashville, and we stopped for lunch at this mom-and-pop place by the highway. I knew there was a real jukebox in the room as soon as I walked in and heard Alan Jackson singing “Little Bitty.” I knew because the sound was grungy and a little bleary, like the band had been out partying too late the night before.

Old jukeboxes sound that way because of bad speakers and because of the records themselves. I know guys who swear vinyl sounds better than digital, but I don’t think anyone would defend the 45.

I bought a lot of singles as a kid, and I was a disc jockey back in high school, and I don’t think there was a lot of quality control at the record plant. You’d pull a 45 out of the shuck and it might be warped, or the hole in the middle might be a little off-center, so even new records sounded wobbly.

On top of that, a vinyl record dies a little every time you play it. When the needle rides along the groove, it wears the music away. The music starts to fade. The sound isn’t as crisp. The highs and lows give way to a murky middle.

That’s the sound I heard when we walked in the restaurant.

“Look at this!” I said.

The jukebox had a window, and I wanted the kids to see how it worked, how pressing A-6 makes the mechanical arm slide down a rail until it finds the record you want then grabs it and holds it upright against the turntable. My kids, who’ve grown up with iPods and Pandora, couldn’t have cared less.

We were the only ones there besides the owner, so I played whatever I wanted — the jukebox was stocked mostly with country records, so I played some Brooks & Dunn and Alan Jackson — and I flashed back to high school and the peer pressure that goes along with playing a jukebox.

When you play a song on a jukebox, you’re telling everyone within earshot who you are.

Every song is a statement, and there is nothing worse than pressing the wrong buttons and playing Barry Manilow instead of the Boss.

Pandora and Spotify share your playlists with your friends online. Jukeboxes did that in real life, one quarter at a time.

Photo by Anonymous Account (Flickr)

What the jukebox taught me about writing

Bobby Braddock’s been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. You don’t know the name, but I guarantee you know his songs:

“He Stopped Loving Her Today,” by George Jones. “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” by Tammy Wynette. “People Are Crazy,” by Billy Currington.

Here in Nashville, Bobby Braddock is a songwriting god.

Reading about him, I was reminded of something that’s easy to forget:

Songwriting, like any kind of writing, requires some talent, but mostly it takes a lot of work.

Songwriting is Bobby Braddock’s job. He can’t afford to sit around until something inspires him to write. He just has to write.

Listen to this. It’s from an interview Bobby Braddock did a few years ago with a website called larrywayneclark.com:

“Well, the people that think that lightning’s going to strike and that you can’t discipline yourself to do inspired work, I think that’s not true at all. You can make yourself write stuff, and you keep doing it and keep doing it and eventually the good stuff will come….”

That’s a great attitude when it comes to writing anything.

Here’s another example:

Couple years ago, I went to hear Bob McDill at the Hall of Fame. He’s another Nashville songwriter, one of the best: “Amanda,” by Waylon Jennings. “Good Ol’ Boys Like Me,” by Don Williams. “Gone Country,” by Alan Jackson.

Before he retired, he aimed to write a song a week. He had an office, and he went there, and he worked.

He said the song “Amanda” came in about 30 minutes, but “that’s the last gift I got. Afterward, it was blood, sweat and tears.”

He wrote a song with Dan Seals called “Everything That Glitters.” Here’s how it starts:

Saw your picture on a poster, in a cafe out in Phoenix;
Guess you’re still the sweetheart of the rodeo.
As for me and little Casey,  we still make the circuit
In a one-horse trailer and a mobile home.
And she still asks about you all the time;
And I guess we never even cross your mind.

There’s a lot of story in those six lines. McDill said he and Seals worked on that song for “months and months and months” until they figured it out, got everything just right.

Blood, sweat and tears.

Writing, any kind of writing, is work. It’s great if you’re inspired, but usually you’re not, and the only thing you can do is write through it, and if you’re lucky, the good stuff will come.