Remembering Patsy Cline: September 8, 1932 – March 5, 1963

Patsy-ClineThere were two reasons I wanted to write (and learn more) about Patsy Cline.

First, “Crazy,” one of Cline’s signature songs, was written by Willie Nelson. While I did not grow up with Patsy Cline playing on the hi-fi at home, I did grow up with tons of Willie Nelson (courtesy of my dad’s half of the household record collection).

Second: Patsy Cline was a real singer with a signature sound. No other singer sounds exactly like her. In a time when Auto-Tune is applied liberally to the voices of singers (and the people who play them on TV): to listen to a real singer is exhilarating.

In fact, I’ve become obsessed with singers and singing. It’s a reactionary thing. The obsession began about the same time I experienced a violent unhappy reaction to modern pop music. In general, I like pop music. I like pop music a lot, in fact. But in modern pop music, almost every singer sounds as if he or she has swallowed a robot (Auto-Tune).

Maybe it’s the same robot, singing all the songs.

Or maybe it’s not a robot. Maybe all modern pop singers sing their own songs. Maybe all of them are also fantastic singers. But perhaps, the music industry has decided the voices of great singers should be run through the robot machine anyway, because this will make it easier on the rest of us WHEN THE ROBOTS TAKE OVER.

Haha! Kidding.

(The robots aren’t going to take over. I mean, how could they? What can robots do that humans can’t?)

Right. Back on topic: Patsy Cline. Patsy Cline is definitely not a robot. Patsy Cline is a singer, with a capital “S.” After I have worn myself out raving about robot singing, I realize the best thing to do is to zip it and listen to singers like Patsy Cline.

I’m fascinated by her performance of “Crazy” on Pet Milk Grand Ole Opry in 1962. She stands in front of a mic wearing a modest floral dress. She makes minimal eye contact with the camera, though you can tell she knows the camera is on her.

She’s not belting. She’s not dancing. Her facial expressions are subtle. She’s not doing anything but singing her heart out.

She is perfectly in tune. She is in charge of her technique. And without any flash or glamour, she draws you right in.

Using her voice – rich, warm, resonant – she tells you a story of unrequited longing and devotion. You ache for her. You want to help her to get what she wants, or, to help her move on.

“Crazy” is not Patsy Cline’s autobiographical statement. Willie Nelson wrote the song. But when Cline sings it, you believe she is living it. When you hear someone sing like that, it kind of hurts. It also feels so, so good.

Patsy Cline, born as Virginia Patterson Hensley, lived 30 short years before she died in a plane crash on the fifth of March, in 1963, near Camden, Tennessee. Before that, however, she survived two husbands, the birth of two children, and a head-on collision with another car in Nashville. She was known for joking around like “one of the boys.” She was a close friend of Loretta Lynn. She lived her dream of being a singer, joined the Grand Ole Opry, and established herself as a country music star.

Maybe someday, a robot will be able to live a life like that. But until that day, I’d rather listen to Patsy Cline sing.