Soundtrack of fall at full volume

Published 3:00 pm Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I felt it today; did you? Despite the heat and the calendar, I felt fall. It crept under my sweaty collar and put a good face on the damp there.

In that cool instance, I wanted to be back at Rusty’s Oyster Bar near the Auburn campus, ordering another half-dozen and listening to Merle on the jukebox. Fall feels good anywhere, but those autumns of our youth were uncluttered by sorrow and memories. They were flat-out fun.

For one thing, we played our music louder. Dormitory Six was a super-sized stereo speaker with different songs coming out of each window. Aretha might be ordering a little respect from one, while Elton John lit a candle in another. Foghat had blown out a window on the third floor. We were nothing if not diverse. Musically, at least.

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I’ve spent the past year thinking and writing about music and its power, and, as studies go, it’s a swell assignment. Every night I feel obliged to do “research,” flopping on the denim sofa in the new room that Maxie and EE bonds built, turning up my music to a respectable volume and working through it. Music moves the world.

“They didn’t even know who I was,” the late Jimmie Davis once said. “I recorded a couple of songs, and before I knew it, I was governor of Louisiana.”

In an expensive catalog the other day, I saw a pillow emblazoned with the words to Davis’ most famous song: “You are my sunshine; my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray.”

We aren’t still quoting his political wisdom — there wasn’t much — but we’ll hum that song forever.

Music doesn’t always end in political power, not everybody with a song on a honky-tonk jukebox wants to be governor of Louisiana, but music can move mountains. Dig graves. Launch spaceships. Fuel grudges. Hang moons.

Powerful stuff.

Fall also meant marching-band music, something for the fabled Auburn majorettes to strut to. I believe a Nobel laureate would have traded places with any of those prancing vixens, so powerful was the allure. They were high-stepping and sequined versions of our imagined selves, the self-confident, dancing, smiling entertainers all we coeds knew we could be given half an opportunity.

Men may dream of being Alan Greenspan, but I doubt it. Deep down, they’d all rather be Javier Bardem or Cam Newton, at least in the fall.

There was other outdoor music in the falls of my youth. There were weekend concerts in the Auburn amphitheater, bordered back then by Quonset huts used as married-student housing. If those poor young marrieds were existing on pork and beans, at least they had music just outside the door.

Good, loud music.

Nowadays most of my music is not live, but on the CD player that lightning dances around on these hot summer evenings. I try to remember to unplug it when I see spider veins of light in the sky.

But on calm nights, when the weather is nice, I turn back the years by turning up the volume.

(To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit