After I got home from a run yesterday, my wife told me there was some sad news. Naomi Judd had died. We never saw Naomi and her daughter, Wynonna, perform in concert live, but they were a big part of our lives back in the 1980s.
I’ve always loved music, in large part because of my mom, who was a professional cellist in the Utah Symphony. I pretty much love all music and tend to go through stages of active listening. These days it is Bach, and much of my spare time is spent trying to learn to play Bach on classical guitar. The Bach cello suites have been one of my favorite music for many years, and they provide a strong motivation to practice and continue taking lessons from an amazing teacher, Daniel Bolshoy.
But in the early 1980s, it was country western. I guess that it just goes with shoe repair, saddle making, and cowboys. Every shop that I worked in had a radio that was always tuned to the best local country radio station. It started with Tip Top Shoe Repair, where my boss Wayne would always turn off the loud machines when Mac Davis “Oh Lord Its Hard to be Humble” came on the radio (which was a few times each day back then!).
This morning, my wife and I listened to some songs from the Judds. When “Why Not Me” came on, she said that this sounded like the saddle shop in Santa Fe. During that time, our radio play lists were Ricky Skaggs, Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, and of course the Judds. Naomi and Wynonna had those harmonies that would always turn our attention away from our work, and John and I would often join in. When my wife and I lived in the cabin that we built in Santa Fe, we had a radio that we attached to our car battery, and the Judds regularly played there too.
Naomi Judd had a tough life. The New York Times has a nice obituary of her that outlines some of her many struggles and amazing accomplishments. In the 1980s, I didn’t know anything about her hurdles, abuses, or political views. I just loved her music. I probably should have been more aware, but I wasn’t.
One of the lessons from saddle-making days that stays with me most is that people from all walks of life can actually get along quite well. We still had difficult issues then: the cold war was raging, it had not been long since the end of the Vietnam war, and the USA had gone from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan as presidents. Our shop had clients who were working cowboys, regular people needing custom leather goods or repairs, tourists, artists, movie stars, and politicians. I made dog collars for Divine, a belt for Jessica Lange, and spur straps for Malcolm Baldrige, Commerce Secretary under President Reagan. But politics were never a part of our time in the shop.
Politics today are so polarizing that they are splitting us into groups that don’t talk and start to hate each other through social media, even though they often never meet in person. In a rare, but very welcome, exception to the polarized politics, the Georgia General Assembly recently unanimously voted to approve the Mental Health Parity Act. This rare bipartisan effort is especially fitting, given Naomi Judd’s recent death.
It was so nice to just chat in the saddle shop with people from all walks of life and enjoy their company, along with the beautiful harmonies of Naomi and Wynonna Judd playing on the radio.