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Friday, October 26, 2012

Good Dance Music

by Christina Holzhauser


Patsy Cline’s songs came at me from all directions during my childhood, especially from the direction of my neighbor, a voluptuous woman with too-big glasses who was deemed “the best singer” in my town of 85. She sang Crazy at all karaoke nights at the one bar we had. She sang I Fall to Pieces, with only a tractor’s chug to accompany her, on those fall hayrides. She sang both of them out at Green Acres, the bar ten miles down the highway, while her rocking hips strained the seams of her denim mini-skirt against those thighs. I’m sure, though, that Patsy’s voice was on the radio up at Grandma and Grandpa’s house and on old, black and white episodes of television shows I watched on our satellite dish.

I knew Grandpa loved her. So, one day when I was about twelve, I told him of my interest in Patsy. Within days I had a whole album on a cassette tape that he had copied from his scratchy vinyl. Using the belt clip feature of my pink and red Walkman, I clipped it to the gear wires of my Wal-Mart ten speed and pedaled up and down the trail by the Missouri river until I'd listened to the entire tape, belting out those sultry tunes. I did this so often that I could flip the tape without stopping, without losing pace, without, even, having to look away from the canopy of trees over the trail or the bugs dancing through the air over undercurrents near the banks.



When I was seventeen, Ska bands went Swing and the alternative radio stations pumped out brass noise; a generation who had previously been head-nodders became sweaty, goofy-smiling dancers. Having grown up singing and dancing in musicals, the obnoxious melodrama of swing was an easy transition. As a gymnast and athlete, I learned the Lindy Hop in seconds. But instead of wearing a cute dress with Mary Janes, I wore black and white wing-tips and collared, button down shirts. Boys wanted to dance with me though; I was one of the only girls at the clubs who didn’t mind being thrown in and around the air, my strong arms allowing me to be upside down on male shoulders, my chain wallet clinking as I kicked my legs.

 I confessed my love of the music to Grandpa, a man who’d been around when the whole thing started. Soon after, he made me mix tapes and wrote, in his scratchy, boxy handwriting, "Good Dance Music." He put them in a tiny cedar box and handed them to me and said, "So you can remember me. I won't always be around."  I laughed and shook my head. The things older people say. I put one in my boom-box expecting to hear "In the Mood," or another old classic I’d learned recently. I pictured my grandpa throwing Grandma around in the air, her dress billowing, their feet bullets machine-gunning a 40’s dance floor. Instead, the first song sounded like country, like the whiny, twangy country I’d grown to associate with small towns and small-minded people. There were no trumpets or trombones, just fiddles and steel guitars. I was sad that grandpa didn't understand what swing music was.

        When he died a few weeks later, I took those tapes and shoved them in my cargo pockets and set out for the trail.  I was surprised to hear Marty Robins, someone Grandpa loved, someone whose song about El Paso I’d grown to love, too, even as the chain wallet became a permanent fixture of my wardrobe and my hair grew shorter and more colorful.  I listened to a song about a rose in Texas, something about sixteen tons, and again, I heard Patsy. I pumped my legs hard, leaned forward, tried to sing as tears dried cold on my face. With every song I turned up the volume until the world was a place only of ear-splitting fiddle solos and wobbly steel guitars. Until finally, I couldn’t hear myself.


Christina Holzhauser was raised in a town of 85 along the Missouri river. Since leaving home she’s worked as a ranch hand, a pee collector at a nuclear plant, a histology technician, an archaeologist, and an expert hiking boot fitter. While living in a cabin with no running water in Fairbanks, Alaska, she earned her MFA in nonfiction as well as the right to say she’s put on her coat to use the outhouse in the middle of the night, seen the northern lights, and watched the sun never set. Currently, she lives in Columbia, Missouri with her wife and son. She teaches Basic English and Creative Writing at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri.

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