I recently listened to Loretta Lynn’s Me & Patsy Kickin’ Up Dust: My Friendship with Patsy Cline.
There’s a satisfying amount of name-dropping and dishy stories about country music legends. The book also offers sprinklings of Lynn’s creative path as a songwriter. But most of all, it’s the story of a great friendship.
Here are my favorite parts, quotes, facts, and other takeaways from the book:
The audiobook is narrated by Loretta Lynn’s youngest daughter, Patsy Lynn Russell. (Yes, she was named after Patsy Cline.) She tells her mother’s story with just the right note of intimacy and authority, in a lovely down-home accent. The effect is that of a grown daughter reading a story, soothingly and lovingly, at her mother’s side.
The forward is written by Dolly Parton. There’s nothing I don’t love about Dolly. In the last year alone, she has been the star of a hit podcast series, been a major investor in Moderna’s successful COVID-19 vaccine, and produced a brand-new Christmas Album. Lordy, this girl can work it!
I didn’t know Shel Silverstein wrote country music songs. I know him as the author of the children’s books of poetry. So it surprised me to read that he wrote some songs for Loretta Lynn. Once I had this piece of information, Shel Silverstein’s voice became obvious.
And you'll say Hey Loretta I love you more than my Irish Setter
Shel Silverstein also wrote for Johnny Cash. Who else but a boy named “Shel” could write with such conviction about a boy named “Sue.”
Loretta Lynn got good at songwriting by copying artists she liked. Reminiscing about the time she was invited to sing on Ernest Tubb’s Midnite Jamboree, Lynn writes: “I was over the moon hoping to meet Ernest Tubb. He was my favorite male country singer. I tried to meter my songs and word rhythms like him when I wrote. My first song, ‘Whispering Sea,’ could have been his.”
But Loretta also recognized that, at some point, she needed to write her own songs:
“I’d figured out that listening to the radio messed with my songwriting. I’d hear something that was maybe a tad close to some song I’d started, or maybe in the same line of an idea, and it would stop me from finishing a song.”
Insert “blog” for “song” and that is my experience also.
First and foremost, “Me & Patsy” is the story of a great friendship that transformed the trajectory of Lynn’s life as an artist, a mother, and a wife.
Their friendship was tragically short-lived. Loretta first met Patsy in June, 1961. Patsy died in March, 1963.
They extracted the greatest possible fun out of that moment. Though brief, their friendship was marked by togetherness and a union of artistic pursuits and family life. From the start, they shared meals, shared clothes, and shared rides. They chased their kids and their husbands, dressed for stage, and wrote their feelings into songs.
It reminded me of Duchess Goldblatt’s description of her friendship with Lyle Lovett: “You ever see two little kids running around together? They’re only aware of extracting the greatest possible fun out of that moment. That was our friendship. “
“Patsy rooted for me like she rooted for herself.” It’s a powerful thing when women encourage each other. A friendship that is hitting on all cylinders lacks stinginess or jealousies. There is a wide-open exchange of love and support.
“The truth is, if you have a girlfriend on your side, somebody who knows the real you and believes in you, no matter what, it can make all the difference in the world. It did for me. Patsy was that friend. We understood each other and we had each other’s backs. When you have a friend like that, it changes you. It gives you strength and gives you faith in yourself….Everybody deserves their own Patsy Cline.”
Friends are a source of artistic inspiration and appreciation. It seems an obvious thing, that friends help shape our tastes in music, books, and other culture. Among artists, this influence becomes a remarkable thing:
“When Patsy had folks over, there’d always be a radio on, a record spinning, or tapes on the reel-to-reel. Patsy listened to all kinds of music. She’d open my eyes to blues and R&B and swing. I remember she played me Etta James singing ‘At Last.’ I was amazed. I loved it!”
It’s thrilling to picture this scene, with Patsy excitedly calling Loretta close to her as she put on the record, Patsy closing her eyes to receive Etta James’ exquisite voice, honoring it and building on it with her own voice, and sharing it freely with her friend Loretta, whose eyes must have been wide open at the newness and sacredness of these musical voices.
This is how I feel when my own Patsy Clines recommend a book or music to me.