Twang - By Julie L. Cannon


I thought the absence of a past meant freedom. I didn’t exactly have a Norman Rockwell childhood, and when I set out for Nashville with my Washburn guitar, I was determined to leave my baggage buried deep in the red Georgia clay. That April evening in 2004 when I first glimpsed Music City from the interstate, the twin spires of the BellSouth building glittering against the sky made my heartbeat speed up. The little green Vega, windows rolled down, hit Broadway in the heart of downtown, and the music floating out on beery waves from inside the honky-tonks made my feet start dancing on the floorboard. Never in my life had I spent the night away from the pitch black of a rural countryside and it felt like a beautiful dream. You’re here, Jennifer. You’re a strong, independent woman, and you’re gonna be a star.

Not that I was cocky or overconfident, but rather full up with the praise of a handful of encouragers. Looking back, I see I was also woefully ignorant about a lot of things. Time went on like it always does, and everyone I met in Nashville insisted that powerful country songs are the ones carved from the songwriter’s own experience. Well, how could I argue? From earliest memory, a transistor radio powered by a nine-volt battery was my life-support system. No matter how bad my day had been, no matter how bruised or lonely my soul, each night as I crawled into bed I tuned in to 103.9 FM out of Blue Ridge, closed my eyes and mashed the earplug into my ear, transfixed by the voices of country artists who sang of dusty roads and broken hearts. They painted auditory pictures of people so lonesome they could cry, of people looking for love in all the wrong places, of those whose soul mates were now on the far bank of the Jordan. I heard legends like Hank Williams, Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, Mother Maybelle Carter, and Tammy Wynette, and newer voices, like Sara Evans and Faith Hill. These artists became my friends, then my idols. They told me who I was and infused me with hope as they beckoned me to Nashville.

In the beginning, I absolutely adored making music. But then came the constant pressure to dig deeper, to stalk those painful memories that would be fodder for heart-rending, money-making songs. One place I sure didn’t want the music to take me was home, and at the height of my career, I felt like I was wearing high-heeled pumps while trying to walk on ice. I never knew when I was fixing to slip and careen into some ugly memory.

Tonilynn, my hairstylist, was acting like a psychiatrist, saying I’d never move past certain issues in my life until I forced myself to dig them up and look them in the eye. She said, “Jennifer, I’m convinced your healing is through your music. Don’t be afraid to use your pain ’cause pouring it into your art would be therapeutic. Plus, you’ll touch other people, and ain’t that what music’s really about? Giving expression to experiences and emotions we all have? And if your music can help some girl through a rough spot, ain’t that reason enough to brave the heartache?”

Although my journey’s been fulfilling to me in a way words can’t explain, although I can hardly ask for more than the feeling I get when I hear that something I wrote or a performance I gave touched somebody, there are still those shaky moments when part of me still asks, Would I have been willing to allow the music to call me home if I had known the cost?





Those first days in Nashville were happy. Happier than any I could recall. It was no accident that I had Mac’s cousin pull his sputtering Vega to the curb on the corner of Music Circle East and Division Street. The Best Western was in walking distance of Music Row.

All my belongings were stuffed into two huggable paper sacks, and when I marched down that strip of red carpeting into a marble-floored lobby with a chandelier, I knew it was a palace compared to that drafty cabin in Blue Ridge with peeling wallpaper and warped floorboards. Room 316 had pretty gold and maroon carpet, gold curtains at a window with an air conditioning unit beneath it, two queen beds, and two glossy wood tables—one in the corner with a lamp, an ice bucket, and a