In the Jailhouse Now

Soggy Bottom Boys

We’re in a tight spot!

I have a big ol’ rack of CDs that I just don’t listen to much anymore. The truth is that my taste in music has shifted a lot since the days when I bought physical music. I don’t listen to most of those old albums anymore, and the ones I still listen to have long since been ripped into an electronic format. But I still have a car that only plays CDs, so that’s where they get play. Last week I somehow was hit with the urge to listen to the sublime soundtrack from O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which was a surprisingly popular album in the early 2000’s. I bought it after falling in love with the movie and getting swept up in the fad of listening to the soundtrack.

It turns out that it was a better purchase than I thought it’d be. First of all, it’s such an evocative bunch of songs. It instantly puts me in mind of the bizarre situations and stirring visuals of the movie, and of the emotions that come with them. Secondly, my tastes in music have gotten more organic the older I’ve gotten. It’s a soundtrack that actually maps a lot closer to my tastes than it did when I first bought it. But mostly I remember the moments of listening to the album itself, because it did something that music is very good at: it was a connection point.

After showing the movie to my dad at some point, it was one of those touchstones between us, the rare movie that we both really love. I bought him the CD as a Christmas present, and I distinctly remember my mom once telling us that she was ready to listen to something else after we tried to give it one more spin in the car stereo. But my greatest surprise and delight was when I visited my dad’s parents once in college. They often said I could put on my music while we played cards in their living room, which in hindsight showed an enormous amount of grace. But when I put on O Brother, Where Art Thou? Well, they knew those songs. Not just from cultural osmosis, but because they actually remembered when they were popular. My grandpa, who has been known to take great delight in singing poorly, knew most of the words to “In The Jailhouse Now.” And yes, we got a serenade.

All of this has come flooding back to me this last week as I’ve listened to that album over and over again. The Big One has started requesting different songs on it, which means it might be the second album after Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories to stay in the car as a family staple. Tonight as we drove home from a church thing, I played “In the Jailhouse Now” for him, and I was sure to yodel as loudly as I could. He thought that was great and told my wife about the “silly song” that daddy played on the way home. One more generation falls for the charms of the Soggy Bottom Boys.

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