Music : Oh Fair New Mexico

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by Karen Fayeth

The Song That Changed Your Life

On the way to work this morning, I listened to legendary San Francisco radio station KFOG. They’ve recently had a bit personnel shakeup and it turns out their new morning guy is former MTV VJ Matt Pinfield. I’m not totally thrilled with the change, but I will say this: he is able to pull pretty decent guests.

This morning it was Matt Nathanson and it was a good interview. They talked music and influences, and Pinfield asked what I thought was an intriguing question.

“What is the one song that changed your life?”

For Mr. Nathanson, it was “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls. He said it made him want to play acoustic guitar and changed the course of his music. Pretty cool answer and song.

When they cut to commercial, I was left wondering what my answer would be. What is the one song that changed my life?

Well sheesh, that’s hard question. Music is so integral to my life that it can’t possibly be one song. There have been many songs that have changed my life and there are unwritten, un-thought of songs on the path ahead that will certainly change my life again.

As I drove and pondered, I was able to come up with a bunch. Here are just four of a much longer list.

Let’s dig in:

1) It’s 1991 and I’ve just gotten an undergraduate degree and about to start my MBA program. Right before the new semester began, my boyfriend broke up with me. I was quite into that particular boyfriend, pretty sure he was “the one,” and the breakup hit me like a ton of bricks.

I wallowed deep into a lot of sad country music, but one song in particular was a constant companion.

“Are You Still Within The Sound of my Voice” by Glen Campbell

There was a place down on the Rio Grande where he and I used to go, so I would drive there, bring out a blanket and my boom box and find a place on the banks of the river. I would play that song over and over again while crying, sobbing, keening. I rose the level of that dusty ol’ river with my salty tears.

Glen and that song got me through it. I can still hardly listen to that song, it’s so etched into my memory and DNA. But that song helped me make the transition back to good. It made me stronger. It did, indeed, change my life.

2) It’s 1994 and I’m living in Albuquerque, fresh out of college, gainfully employed and living that single girl life on my own. I’d lost a lot of weight and was feeling sassy and strong.

My musical tastes still ran toward country, but I was starting to listen to a lot of other music. In fact my musical education expanded a lot since there was a whole lot of music in the 90’s that was changing the world.

I’d caught the end of a song on the radio that got my attention, but I wasn’t sure what it was.

A few days later I was riding in an old Jeep CJ that was open to the wind with radio playing loud. That song came on, those now easily identifiable guitar chords, and I asked the driver to turn it up.

I was super late to the party on this song, but on that day, really hearing the song, my life changed.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana

Oh muh lord. Of course we all know the impact of Nirvana now, but back then, it was unlike anything I’d ever heard. I just knew I needed more. A lot more.

I bought “Nevermind” on CD and played it over and over and over. I had never heard an artist express themselves like that. I sang along with angry lyrics while the music (and musician) spoke to me in ways I still don’t understand.

3) It’s 1997 and I’ve moved to the Bay Area and I’m spending all of my time in San Francisco’s North Beach where my musical education took a turn toward the Blues.

There were a couple bars I knew how to get to and went to all on my own. A little girl with hayseeds in my hair, the employees and the musicians took me in. I became part of their family and they mine.

Blues music rolled in waves down Grant street back then and I’d start at the Savoy and work my way down. Grant & Green, Lost and Found, The Saloon.

Then there was a man named Willie who belonged to the street, but was still part of our family. More than once he protected me from the less kind aspects of city streets. He was a talented man with a bit of a drinking problem, but oh could he play that harp.

He’d tap his foot in time and play the blues. Then I’d go inside the bars and hear the musicians dive deep into history and play those same songs.

There was one that made me take notice, made me sit up. The beginning of what became a beautiful blues education. The door opened and I walked through.

“Matchbox” written by Blind Lemon Jefferson

On one night I heard four different musicians do the song, each putting their own fingerprint on it. This one song took a hold of me and never let go.

4) It’s 2015 and I’m with the love of my life, the one who actually is the one, and we’re attending a show at a small but awesomely funky venue in our new hometown. The act is Radney Foster and going to the show is like coming home.

I wrote a lot about why that night itself mattered right here on this little ol’ blog.

But more than that, Radney’s music was a core part of my college years and my life. A life I left when I moved to California. It was mostly the right decision, but damn I often feel like I left a huge piece of myself behind.

So many people here in the Bay Area. Crowded. Packed in. People who don’t understand the emptiness you find in New Mexico. The wide open spaces. The ease.

A lot of people here who don’t understand New Mexico, don’t understand what matters to me, and sure as hell don’t listen to country music.

And now here was Mr. Radney Foster standing on a stage in Northern California. There were even people other than me came to see the show. People who get it. It was a mind bender.

He did a lot of the familiar songs, and late in the show he introduced a new song. Told us that his wife grew up in Oakland. How he was at his in-law’s house in the Oakland hills and watched a gorgeous Bay Area sunset. Then he told his wife “I’m going to be late for dinner,” because he had to get down a song.

“California” by Radney Foster

It made me cry a little because it’s a beautiful love ode to California, written by someone from West Texas. A desert rat like me who gets it, was there back in the day, and understands why California.

It’s hard to explain to folks back home, but now I have the perfect musical explanation. In the following weeks I played it over and over again. This song let me know it’s okay to have my heart in both New Mexico and California. This song brought peace. Healing.

Truly life changing.


Whew. Yeah. Okay. I could probably go on. This list expands and grows the more I think about it.

I bet you are thinking too. Running through the soundtrack of your life and remembering the songs that mattered. The songs that changed your life.

It’s worth the journey. Feel free to share here or on Facebook. I’d love to know which songs changed your life.

Image used royalty free and found here.

Ok, I’ll Pick A Side

Recently, as I perused the pages of Facebook, I came across a Newscastic (read clickbaity) article with a New Mexico topic. I took the bait so you don’t have to.

The title of the article is:

Pick A Side: 11 Famous ABQ Rivalries Since The Day You Were Born

They said to pick a side, so I did.

Herewith, the 11 so called rivalries (many of which came well after the day I was born, by the way) and my pick for each.

1) Comanche vs Candelaria

We can all agree not Montgomery, right? My preference always was and will always be Comanche, since it was quite close to the house where I grew up.

Sideline here, I looked up the house where I grew up on Google Street View. Wow, hardly recognize it. Brought a little tear to my eye.

Back in my day Comanche had way less traffic than Candelaria and made it worth taking, even with all of the stoplights. Who knows how it goes today? Maybe my ABQ folks can let me know.

2) Twisters vs Golden Pride

Have I been out of the state so long I don’t know what Twisters is? Had to look it up. Established in 1998. Psh! No.

Golden Pride (est 1972) all the way.

3) Sadies vs El Pinto

Isn’t the right answer first one then the other?

Okay, okay, look, I grew up in the days when Sadies was located in a bowling alley. That’s the kind of clientele they drew. El Pinto was always nice, a little more upscale (and pricey).

So to me it’s Sadies if you want casual and El Pinto if you want nice. Even with the lovely Sadies stand-alone restaurant, I stand by that rule of thumb.

Verdict: No pick, love ’em both in different ways

4) Rio Grande vs Alameda

Shrug. No opinion. I was a Northeast Heights girl. Didn’t get down either very often. Probably Alameda, based on my limited memories.

5) The Shins vs Brokencyde

Who? I thought this was “rivalries since the day you were born.”

Let’s go with neither. How about Joe King Carrasco, who is not from ABQ but played the hell out of it back in my day. Yeah.

6) UNM vs New Mexico State

I believe my feelings are this matter are abundantly clear.

And when we win this game, we’ll buy a keg of booze, and drink it to the Aggies til we wobble in our shoes.

Best. Fight song. Ever.

7) Eldorado vs La Cueva

Richie rich versus the really Richie rich. Who cares? Not me.

Del Norte for the win.

8) Sandia vs Rock Quarry

For skiing? Sandia. Oh Sandia and your bare dirt patches. Your hard icy spots. Your imperfect but nearby skiing, how I miss you.

9) La Cueva Skatepark vs Los Altos Skatepark

Hey! You children get off my lawn!

10) Scorpions vs Dukes

Those Dukes are comin’ up swinging. No contest whatsoever. Love the Dukes. Likely because I am a huge fan of the sport of baseball.

While I love the sport of hockey and have nothing against the Scorpions, it just never seemed…right…to have hockey in the middle of the desert. (Yes, yes, I know about the Coyotes)

Side note, the Dukes used to have dollar dog and dollar draft days. Wow there are some games I can’t remember but had fun.

11) Sandhill cranes vs Balloons

Stop it Newscastic, you’re drunk. This is a ridiculous question. What, because they both fly?

Here’s the answer, hot air balloons in the morning, sandhill cranes at sundown. Owl burgers all day long.


Okay, ABQ folks, what are your picks?

Image found here.

Slowly Fading Out of Sight

I drove a 1979 Mercury Bobcat. It was a Ford Pinto made by Mercury. Less flammable.

It featured a rigid manual clutch and four speeds on the center console. With a good tail wind and a steep New Mexico hill, I could get some speed in that tin can of a car.

Its vintage meant that it was too new for an 8-track player and too old for a cassette player. Only an AM radio was provided. You’d pull the button out and shove it back in to save your favorite station.

There is a lot of wide open land in New Mexico. So uninhabited that radio signals from faraway populated areas don’t always reach. Spin the dial and listen to different kinds of static. Only static.

I grew up in Albuquerque and went to college at New Mexico State in Las Cruces. The same day I moved into my freshman dorm, my parents moved to Carlsbad.

To go from Las Cruces to Carlsbad, you get to the other side of El Paso and face about two hours of nowhere and nothing. No people. No animals. No radio.

The seatbelt on the passenger side fit nicely around my boom box, a Christmas present from my mom. A stack of cassette tapes queued up to take a turn in the dual slots.

The Mavericks, Patsy Cline, Foster and Lloyd, Dwight Yoakum, Buck Owens, Alan Jackson, Keith Whitley, Marty Stuart, Willie Nelson.

Merle Haggard.

And that’s the point of telling this story, isn’t it?

Those voices, those songs, those musicians. Then and now, they are a part of telling my life’s story. The music of Merle Haggard lives in my DNA. It’s a short hand between friends. An access code for memories, to instantly revisit a time and place.

There was this blue eyed cowboy. He loved to sing. Occasionally he’d even sing to me. There was this dance in Mimbres. The band let him do a song, “Silver Wings.” Merle’s music and that cowboy’s voice. Everyone talked about it for weeks.

I wasn’t even there (he and I had parted ways by that point) and it’s still a part of my story, the collective story of all of us Ag College kids from that era.

Back then a band or a jukebox or a cassette tape would play a Haggard song and we had to dance, had to sing along.

When I was taking acoustic guitar lessons, I spent a lot of time learning how to play “My Favorite Memory.” I never quite got it right.

Merle Haggard told stories. His stories became our stories. His stories became timeless. The opening cords of any number of his songs thrum a string in my soul.

Seventy-nine years is a lot and yet somehow not enough. I had recently been trying to get tickets to a show. He’d rescheduled February and cancelled March. I knew he was having trouble.

Knowing the end is near and the arrival are two very different things.

We last got to see him in December 2014. He came out to the stage looking tired and at half a lung down his voice was a little thin. By the end of the show he had energy and that smooth Merle Haggard sound rang clear, filling the venue and spilling out onto the streets.

We left the show full up to the top with the music of Merle Haggard. Though we’ve lost the man, his music lives on. In that way, we’ll always have Merle.

I’m saddened for his family who lost a husband, father and friend. We lost a good man yesterday. Today seems a little paler for the loss.

Rest easy, Hag.

December 2014 at the Uptown Theatre in Napa, CA

Black and white photo from Ben Haggard’s Facebook page all rights stay with the originator. Color photo ©2014 Karen Fayeth, taken with an iPhone6 and the Camera+ app and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page.

Were You There?

This one goes out to all of us who found ourselves attending New Mexico State University back in 1989. Maybe it was 1990. Memory is funny.

This one is for the Ag College kids. I’m about to drop a memory on you. Come along with me.

I can’t really recall what time of year it was, but it was sunny. That much I recall. Then again, it’s sunny in Las Cruces an awful lot.

The band Foster & Lloyd were on the radio. Remember them? Back then we were all listening to Foster & Lloyd. A lot. And Dwight Yoakam. And the Mavericks. And more.

So along came the news that Foster & Lloyd were opening for a Los Lobos show at the Pan Am Center. Yeah, I wanted to go to that show real bad. Alas I was a broke college kid and couldn’t afford tickets. I heard the ads on KGRT over and over and pined, but knew it wasn’t meant to be.

So instead I popped my Faster and Llouder cassette tape into the boom box I carried in the car. Or maybe it was Verision of the Truth. Or maybe first one then the other. And I held my own car concerts as I rolled around Cruces.

Then something unbelievable happened. My best friend called, out of breath and excited, to tell me that Los Lobos had to cancel the show and Foster & Lloyd were going to do a free concert just outside of Corbett Center (the student union building at NMSU) in this little amphitheater area.

We gathered up all of our friends, an armful of blankets and made sure we went to that show. My best friend walked with confidence right to the front of the small stage area and staked out our place. Up close and personal. We sat, we listened, we sang, we were a bunch of kids feeling an awful lot like family on that day.

For a bunch of Ag College kids from NMSU (hands up now, “I believe in the Future of Farming…”) having a national act come out and do a show FOR FREE was, well, that was about the coolest thing in the world.

That was a best-day-ever kind of a day. Back then anyway. Sitting here today I do have to admit that my wedding day is my best day ever, hands down. But back then to this New Mexico kid wearing dusty beat up goatskin ropers, that sunny Las Cruces day was really the best day ever.

My best friend and I slip into the Wayback Machine an awful lot when we get together, and that free concert is one we land on quite a bit. What I wouldn’t give to have a real Wayback Machine and dial it to back to that day. I might never come back.

Toward the end of the show, Foster & Lloyd were really swinging. We were all riding a sonic high and at one point, Mr. Radney Foster wandered out into the audience and put a hand out to my best friend’s little sister. He plucked her from our blanket and spun her around a little bit with the music.

My best friend and I were both elated and jealous as hell. In fact in the now twenty-five years hence, I know for sure that my best friend has never really gotten over it. Neither have I, if I am honest.

My best friend’s little sister was and is a beauty. Gorgeous and sweet and funny as hell. She is pure awesome and I love her madly, so of course I can’t be upset with her. Just jealous, I guess.

When we were in college, Little Sister was in high school and she’d find her way to Las Cruces and we’d take her out with us. When a cowboy would start to get a little too interested in her, my best friend would wander by and whisper “Um, just thought you should know…she’s sixteen.” That usually put an end to things.

So we were used to her getting a lot of the attention. On that day after Mr. Radney Foster twirled her under the bright New Mexico sky we laughed and hugged her and loved every second of that show.

It is a beautiful memory. Were you there too?

A few months ago I happened to stumble across Radney Foster’s Facebook page and hit “like” so I could see what he was up to. I’d lost track of him after his Del Rio, TX 1959 album.

Then came the fateful day where he posted that he’d be playing a little venue called Freight & Salvage in mid-July. That’s not too far from where this New Mexico kid is living these days.

Well, I hopped on those tickets so fast my credit card started smokin’.

And that live show happened just a week ago, July 15.

The Good Man had never heard of no Radney Foster until I showed him a bunch of YouTube clips in the days before the show. Then he was totally onboard. We stood at the front of the line when the doors opened and found second row seats in the general admission venue.

Aw yiss!

Photo Copyright ©2015 Karen Fayeth

It was just Mr. Foster and his acoustic guitar and he put on one hell of a show. Storytelling, songs, laughter. Man alive, it was really profound. It was like seeing a really dear old friend and picking up right where we left off twenty years ago.

Photo found on @valisaschmidley Twitter stream because I was too gobsmacked to actually take a photo myself during the show.

I almost started crying when he hit the first notes of the first song. It felt so right.

And then…oh and then…

After the show, Mr. Foster came out to the front lobby to sign a few autographs and I jumped in line.

I practiced what I was going to say and when I got there, I let roll the story of that day, 1989 (or was it 1990?) in the grass outside Corbett Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Given the sheer number of shows he has performed in the last 25 years, I was surprised that he actually remembered that one day. But he did.

“Oh yeah, we were rocking that day,” he said.

“Yeah you were!” I replied.

Then I thanked him, I told him how much that free show meant to all us New Mexico college kids.

Then I reminded him about coming out into the crowd and dancing with my best friend’s little sister. About how my best friend has never quite gotten over it.

Then I held out a copy of his new CD and said “Her name is Kate and you are going to sign this for her.”

(The album is titled “Everything I Should Have Said” and it’s awesome and you should pick one up. Here is the Amazon link and here is the link ($3 cheaper!) Go on, click one of those links. You know you wanna)

And he did sign that CD. Oh boy did he ever.

Here’s what it looks like. In case you can’t read it, it says “Kate, You get the next dance.”

Photo Copyright ©2015 Karen Fayeth

C’mon! How awesome is Radney Foster? The correct answer is amazingly awesome!

I told him that he had just created some healing twenty-five years in the making and he laughed. Then I had that “hey, let’s go grab a beer” moment and of course thought better of it. He’s just the kind of musician you feel like you know well because he writes the kind of songs that feel personal.

Then I asked him to sign a CD for The Good Man and me, and he did.

I walked out of that venue smiling from ear to ear and remembering and laughing and just at peace with the world.

And so this entire post today and all of these stories are intended to bring all of my NMSU Ag College friends along with me into that Wayback Machine.

Were you there? Do you remember? Wanna reminisce?

This post is also to thank Mr. Radney Foster for helping create another amazing memory.

Whew. Today as I wrote this I listened to The Essential Foster & Lloyd album and it was almost hard to hear. So many memories both beautiful and sad captured in all of those songs.

Well, thanks for staying a while and reading all of these words. I’m serious about you grabbing one of those new albums. Get to clicking! And if you can catch Radney Foster live? Well even better.


P.S. If you have ever wondered how a New Mexico girl could ever live in California, I suggest you obtain a copy of Mr. Foster’s new album and listen to the song “California.” (I believe it is also on YouTube) Then you will understand. According to the story, that song was inspired by a beautiful Bay Area sunset as viewed from the Oakland Hills. Saaaalute!

If We Make It Through December

If we make it through December
Everything’s gonna be all right I know
— Merle Haggard

Every year “If We Make It Through December,” a classic Merle Haggard song that was released for the first time all the way back in 1973 becomes the theme for my holiday season. I have been playing it on repeat in my car as I drive back and forth to my job.

I also play it when it’s dark in the morning and when it’s dark in the evening. As the rain comes down. As protestors shut down access to my home and helicopters hover in the sky. As my feet ache and my head hurts and I wonder why, for another year, I’m anxious, depressed and overwrought during the happiest time of year.

Every year I look forward to December and the holiday season, hoping to capture some small bit of that childhood joy and anticipation and magic. I watch movies like “White Christmas” that are filled with optimism and dancing and songs about snow.

Every year I feel crushed by an avalanche of end of year business activities. It’s the nature of the profession I have chosen that December is just always going to be craptastic.

And then current political events put a little exponential anxiety to this year’s festivities.

Now I don’t mean to hate December
It’s meant to be the happy time of year

Happy, yeah. Full of cheer. Ho, ho, ho. Yesterday should have been a really good day. My boss held a breakfast holiday celebration for all of her team. Then one of my main client teams had a holiday luncheon for us too. A day of eating? Hell YES!

But in between those two events, I had a bunch of other meetings. I was late to most of them and got chewed out. I was running hither and thither to get to these “fun” events where my attendance was fully expected.

At the end of the day I had an inbox full of emails and angry voicemails from people expecting me to get my other work done.

So I stayed late at work (again!) and tried to get somewhat caught up. I worked off most of the code red items and left the code orange for another day.

Then I went home exhausted and emotionally shut down. I was not a good spouse to The Good Man or a good human to my Feline.

Hell, I didn’t even plug in our Christmas tree yesterday. Yes, last weekend I managed to get our fake tree put together, but it is not decorated. I usually love to make cookies for the holidays, but not this year.

Instead I made toast for dinner and then went to bed. Feliz Navidad.

If we make it through December we’ll be fine

But as I whine on and complain loudly, I suppose all is not lost. This year I introduced The Good Man to December’s theme song. This happened while we were taking a drive to go see Merle Haggard play a live show at my favorite concert venue in Napa.

How bad can my month be if I get to see one of my all time favorite musicians play live? A musician who has written songs that make up a lot of the soundtrack of my life.

The Good Man is going through his own turmoil this December and so the lyric we most often repeated to each other on our hour long drive was this one, “If we make it through December we’ll be fine.”

And we will. We’ll be fine. This hell and highwater (literally, one of the highway exits in our town was flooded out so we had to seek an alternate route) will recede and we’ll find our way back to level ground.

I don’t mean to hate December. It’s just sometimes it feels like December hates me.

Photo copyright ©Karen Fayeth, 2014

Photo copyright ©Karen Fayeth, 2014. Taken with an iPhone 6 and run through Instagram. Photo subject to the Creative Commons license found in the far right column of this page.

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