The National Catholic Review

Here are the lyrics to Hank Thompson’s Wild Side of Life. In 1952, it was #1 for 15 weeks on Billboard’s Country Charts.

You wouldn’t read my letter if I wrote you
You asked me not to call you on the phone
But there’s something I’m wanting to tell you
So I wrote it in the words of this song.

I didn’t know God made honky tonk angels.
I might have known you’d never make a wife.
You gave up the only one that ever loved you
And went back to the wild side of life.

The glamour of the gay night life has lured you
To the places where the wine and liquor flow
Where you wait to be anybody’s baby
And forget the truest love you’ll ever know.

Like most country songs, it captured something real, but was it something needing to be said?  A man has lost his love to the Honky Tonk, because that’s the sort of woman she is, heartless.  The glamour of the gay night life has lured her to the places where the wine and liquor flow.

Kitty Wells was a thirty-three year old wife and mother, about to give up on her dream of singing country music, but, needing money, she agreed to record a song for union scale wages of $125.  It was called Honky Tonk Angels.  The song was an immediate hit, especially with women, because it responded to Hank Thompson’s song, which had put the blame for failed love upon women’s morals, their greater sexual and social freedom.

Kitty saw it a bit differently. Here are the words to her song:
As I sit here tonight the jukebox playin’
The tune about the wild side of life
As I listen to the words you are sayin’
It brings memories when I was a trusting wife.

It wasn’t God who made Honky Tonk angels
As you said in the words of your song
Too many times married men think they’re still single
That has caused many a good girl to go wrong

It’s a shame that all the blame is on us women
It’s not true that only you men feel the same
From the start most every heart that’s ever broken
Was because there always was a man to blame

It wasn’t God who made Honky Tonk angels
As you said in the words of your song
Too many times married men think they’re still single           
That has caused many a good girl to go wrong.

Wild Side of Life drew such a simple line between goodness and sin.  Honky Tonk Angels asked us to look again. 

In the gospel, Jesus is presented as the very presence of God because he feeds his people. Obviously St. John is interested in more than loaves of bread. Jesus isn’t simply a wonder worker; he himself is the Bread of Life because his life, his mission from the Father, is to nourish the souls of men and women. 

Of all the creatures on earth, humans have a singular need. We have to find life meaningful. We can’t live in a world without purpose, sense, reason. That’s why we can’t stop creating songs, plays, novels, and movies. We need them to help us to understand life, to find it meaningful. There’s a song called Muskrat Love, but muskrats themselves do not sing it. Only humans keep on writing, because we need to be fed. 

That’s why the church, in her mission of sharing Jesus, her Bread of Life, with the world must be attentive to the sounds and sighs of the world. If the church is to be faithful to the gospels, she must do more than recite them. She must ponder their words, wondering what they should mean for our contemporaries. To do that she must listen and learn from the world.

The church’s divine origin doesn’t obviate dialogue, it demands it. In the gift of the Incarnation, God attends, God awaits a response from humanity. We train animals, but we teach humans. What’s the difference? We only want an animal to follow our commands, but we desire to dialogue with other humans, eventually to learn from them as they learn from us.

Some Churches, perhaps too enamored of the popular, seem to think that The New York Times is the very voice of God. It’s not that simple. God’s voice sounds in too many places, in cadences and contexts that require great discernment. But discernment can’t happen without first listening. 

Hank Thompson saw a bit of what was real — “You gave up the only one that ever loved you and went back to the wild side of life.” — but Kitty Wells saw even more — “It’s a shame that all the blame is on us women.  It’s not true that only you men feel the same. From the start most every heart that’s ever broken was because there always was a man to blame.”

Here’s a hopeful little fact. Kitty Wells sang Honky Tonk angels, but she didn’t write it. A man did, J.D. Miller. You don’t have to become the other. You only need to listen with empathy to understand, it wasn’t God who made Honky Tonk Angels.

Rev. Terrance W. Klein

 

Comments

Maggie Rose | 7/29/2012 - 9:10am
*wowza* - that's possibly the sound of hope springing alive. ;-)