< Nashville Bob


Friday, May 31, 2013

BOB GARFIELD:  You know, George Plimpton wasn’t American journalism’s last Walter Middy. The new documentary reminded our producers that earlier in my career I myself tilted at a windmill or two, bowling in the White House, writing a Hollywood script and, in an All Things Considered piece from 1996, I went to Nashville to write a hit country tune. So here, for your listening pleasure, a heavily abridged version of that saga. It picks up with me and my real deal songwriting collaborator Rivers Rutherford trying to capture both my inside the Beltway issues and familiar country themes. We ended up writing a song about being too dang busy to connect with your sweet gal.

BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, I mean what - what if it tells a story - what story can we tell on the basis of two people who are just like electronic ships passing in the night?


RIVERS RUTHERFORD:  [SINGING, STRUMMING GUITAR] Don't know, know, know -  and I miss you.

BOB GARFIELD:  I love you. I think you should leave the – a tag here – da-da-da, call me when you can - something, something, something, I'm a busy man.

RIVERS RUTHERFORD: [SINGING, STRUMMING GUITAR] Tag, you're it. Call me when you can. Oh -

BOB GARFIELD: All told, it took us about six hours. And I don't mind telling you I was dripping with satisfaction, like gravy over hot biscuits. All we had to do now was play the song for his publisher, Jody Williams, president of MCA Music, Nashville. Then it would be demo'd and then shopped to likely artists  -  Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson, and what have you, and my career would be launched, even as I boarded the 6:05 pm flight back to Washington. 

Rivers was a little less enthused than I was, in the very narrow sense that he thought, upon further reflection, that a song about telephone tag was pretty stupid and unlikely ever to be recorded, much less hit the charts. And Williams, before he sat down to hear the thing, was none too encouraging either.

JODY WILLIAMS: The numbers are against you tremendously in this business. A thousand songs a day get written in this town. Two percent of those songs get recorded -- not ten percent, two percent. Sometimes it's -- it's supposed to work like this: the best song wins. It doesn't always work like that. There are politics involved. There are people doing people favors.

BOB GARFIELD:  Politics, favors? For this, I left Washington? Whatever happened to just being an artist and succeeding on your God-given talent?  I don't need any political connections to make it in this town.


Just listen to the song. Just listen to “Tag, You're It.”


Hello, I'm sorry darling

I missed your call again

If you'd have tried at 10 to 5, I might have squeezed you in

I really want to reach you

But time is kind of tight

I love you, hon but I gotta run,

So kiss the kids goodnight


Tag, you're it

Catch me if you can

I'd love to say I love you

But I'm such a busy man


I know we'll reach each other

It's just a question when

I'm calling you

But I can't get through

So try me back again


Tag, that's it!

Believe me if you can

I'm here to say I love you

And I’m such a foolish man

We haven't touched each other

Since I don't remember when

Hang up….


BOB GARFIELD: The president of MCA Music Nashville had just heard our song about telephone tag, and for a moment he just sat there, quietly stunned.

JODY WILLIAMS: I've never heard that idea before.

BOB GARFIELD:  Judging from the look in his eyes, I don't reckon he ever needed to hear it again. I was hoping for him to get a blank contract out, but instead he and Rivers went back and forth on how the song could be rewritten.

JODY WILLIAMS:  A guy who's just busy, I mean, have a mid-tempo song or have a ballad saying our, our lives are –


JODY WILLIAMS:  You know, this is ridiculous, you know, and start sympathizing with each other. I don't think it's –

RIVERS RUTHERFORD:  …. just Tag You’re It ain’t gonna do it.

JODY WILLIAMS:  Tag You’re It ain’t gonna do it.

BOB GARFIELD: Ain't gonna do it! Tag – That’s It. Believe me, if you can. If I thought I was a songwriter, I'm such a foolish man. Just like that, my dreams of more than 30 hours were crushed.

Later, as he was packing me off to the airport, Rivers spoke to me as if I were Dorothy and he were the Good Witch of the South. He could have told me that playing that song for Jody Williams would get me sent back to Washington, but I had to find out for myself.

BOB GARFIELD: At what point did you just completely lose hope in this song?

RIVERS RUTHERFORD:  [LAUGHS] I think the -  at the point when you said something about - you know we could write a song about, about phone tag, that's when the, the hope pretty much flew out the window for me.


BOB GARFIELD:  So what you’re saying is the - beginning.

RIVERS RUTHERFORD:  Pretty close to the beginning, Bob.


Crazy, I'm crazy for feeling so lonely...

BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, Patsy, you said it. I must have been out of my mind to think I could pull this off. I can't get a record cut any more than Reba McIntire can do a five-part series on health care reform.

But as I sat in my airplane seat, dejected, I couldn't help but notice someone familiar sitting across the aisle. It was someone who knew not only the inside of the Beltway but the epicenter, the ultimate Washingtonian, and yet, someone equally rooted in the cultures and rhythms of the rural South. I traded seats with the Secret Service agent next to him and asked Jimmy Carter about his taste in music.


JIMMY CARTER: Do I listen to a country music station? Well, in Americus, Georgia and I listen to a whole gamut of country music.

BOB GARFIELD: Is it possible, do you suppose, to bring a Washington sensibility to country music?

JIMMY CARTER: I'd be amazed.

BOB GARFIELD: Okay, well then I just want to play this for you. Would you just listen to this?


BOB GARFIELD: Okay, thanks.


Whereupon the former President of the United States strapped on my headphones and listened to my song, flashing his famous toothy grin and, if I’m not mistaken, tapping his toe securely beneath the seat in front of him.


BOB GARFIELD:  So what do you think?

JIMMY CARTER:  I think the song is good, and the music's good. I'd like to hear it every now and then on my country radio station. And, you know you might get in touch with - I’m not - I think the performer's very good but if somebody like Willie Nelson - or Tom T. Hall is one of my best buddies, I think they would like it and they could give you some good advice.

BOB GARFIELD: With your compliments?

JIMMY CARTER: Of course, sure.

BOB GARFIELD: I'll see you at the Country Music Awards, Mr. President.


BOB GARFIELD:  Upright bass, Dave Pomeroy, Robbie Turner on dobro, Tom Rody on drums, Aubrey Haynie on fiddle, Rivers Rutherford on vocals and acoustic guitar and, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Willie Nelson.


Hello, sorry darlin’

I missed your call again

If you'd have tried at 10 to 5

I might have squeezed you in

I really want to reach you

But time is kind of tight

I love you, hon but I gotta run,

So kiss the kids goodnight


Tag, you're it

Catch me if you can…



BOB GARFIELD:  That's it for this week show. On the Media was produced by Jamie York, PJ Vogt, Alex Goldman, Sarah Abdurrahman and Chris Neary. We had more help from Alexandra Hall and Ravenna Koenig. It’s the last week for Alexandra and Ravenna. They have been fantastic, and we wish them the best. And our show was edited this week by our senior producer, Katya Rogers. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was Justin Gerrish.

Jim Schachter is WNYC’s Vice President for News. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. Brooke Gladstone will be back next week. I’m Bob Garfield.




Senator Lamar Alexander, President Jimmy Carter, Rivers Rutherford and Jody Williams

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield