Friday, April 01, 2005

The sacred music of CW McCall

Uh, breaker one-nine, this here's the Rubber Duck - you got a copy on me, Pig-Pen, c'mon?...Uh, yeah, 10-4 Pig Pen, fer sure, fer sure, by golly, it's clean clear to Flag-Town, c'mon?...uh, yeah, that's a big 10-4 Pig-Pen...yeah, we definitely got us the front door, good buddy...mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a convoy...
It was 1975 - the year I graduated high school (put your calculators away...the number you're looking for is forty-eight). In the front seat of a blue 1972 Olds 88 sedan somewhere on I-90 east of Toledo, Ohio sat my father and I (he's the one behind the wheel, of course). He was the engineer, military man, Republican, and Silent Generation standard-bearer; and I was the pompous, arrogant, intolerant liberal 18-year-old...probably detoxing from one last drunken party before being dragged on vacation with my family. Mom and my twin sisters were in the back seat, silent passengers.

I'm not sure where we were going - memory grows fuzzy after three decades - we were probably headed east to his brother Russell's house in New York for Thanksgiving weekend, but it doesn't matter. All I know for sure is that Dad and I weren't getting along all that well (and hadn't been, for some time), and we didn't have much to say to each other on that trip. The AM radio was on, muted down so Dad could hear any warnings about the highway patrol come over the citizens-band radio slung under the dash. The CB-radio was a constant companion for Dad while he drove, and hearing it took priority over anything else we passengers wanted to hear.

Of course, it didn't help that Dad didn't have much use for rock music, or much contemporary music for that matter. As a teen in the 70's, I'd been listening to AM top-40 stations all my life - powerhouses like WABC in New York City, WKBW in Buffalo, and CKLW in Windsor, Ontario. Just coming onto the radio playlists about that time was this one song that really made me laugh. In fact, I thought of my father, his travels, and his CB-radio "good buddies" on the road whenever I heard it. I was almost sure he'd never heard "Convoy" before, but I never thought he'd ever get the chance to hear it...

So we were roaring down I-90 (at a rate well above the posted speed limit) when I heard the tell-tale strings of the "Convoy" intro, and C.W. McCall's drawl call out Uh, breaker one-nine.... I just grabbed the car-radio volume-control and cranked it up, and said something cogent and mature like "Oh, WOW, Dad, you've gotta hear this!" I remember getting the look that said, "Who told you that you could touch the radio volume control?", but then Dad actually did start to listen...and an amazing thing happened.

He smiled.

Then he smiled some more, and it became a grin.

By the time we got to the song's bridge...
...Well, we shot the line and went for broke
With a thousand screamin' trucks
An' eleven long-haired Friends o' Jesus
In a chartreuse micro-bus...
...something amazing had happened. In fact, I really thought my father was going to do one of two unthinkable things: he was either going to lose control of the car, or he was going to lose bladder control...he was laughing that hard.

We both were.

One of the many definition for sacred is "that which evokes the presence of the divine." And for me, C.W. McCall's music is sacred - because listening to songs like "Convoy," "Wolf Creek Pass," and "Four Wheel Drive" was some of the last few things my father and I shared as common ground. In fact, it's one of the last really joyful memories I have of him.

By the time of that trip, Dad had abandoned any obvious practice of faith, and the rest of the family had followed suit. My parents' marriage had been in trouble for several years. And sadly, because he and I were both stubborn and prideful, the relationship between Dad and I deteriorated, and one morning of hateful words brought an impenetrable wall of silence between us. My father would move away in search of work, and eventually find a new job and a new life in New York state - one that was cut tragically short by the reoccurance of cancer, which killed him in August, 1978.

There was never any reconciliation between us.

But whenever I am on the road, like this last Easter weekend's travel to Ohio to visit my sisters, I invariably slip C.W. McCall's Greatest Hits into the CD player. I hear the luscious strings, arranged by a young Chip Davis, who was already busy founding a little group called Mannheim Steamroller. And a holy, sacred thing happens: my father is present, and laughing with me, once again.

And I smile...and more than a few tears fall...and I pray for forgiveness, and peace, and eternal rest. And I think God smiles, too.

Sacred music, indeed.


New Life said...


Thanks for sharing that story. It was very beautiful. You took me back a few years and helped me recall cruising with my family to the beach in Dad's gigantic 1974 Puke-green Cadillac with an 8-track tape of Conway and Loretta playing on the Delco brand stereo.

I often am reminded of my times with my dad through the tunes we listened to. That is why Hank Williams, Loretta, and a few others are sacred.

Peace, my friend,

Michael Dodd said...

One of my strongest memories of my father's love for me is connected to me driving his 1957 Plymouth into a tree. I won't go into the details, but I wonder how many guys have important memories about fathers connected to cars, driving and things of that nature. At any rate, your story is another example of the amazing places that God chooses to break into lives. Peace to your dad, peace to you, and may God keep the surprises coming.

Anonymous said...

That was just *so* beautiful. Thank you for sharing that with us.