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Finding the Philosophy of Life in Country Songs

VanSlykeSince moving to Doney Park and acquiring a horse and two (very funny) goats, I’ve been listening to a lot of country music … the real stuff. Early this morning, while feeding the hooved ones, it occurred to me that it might be fun to express some of my philosophy of life through country songs. So, here’s my philosophy of life playlist (or mix-tape if you’re my age).

First up is “Old Dogs, Children, and Watermelon Wine,” a Tom T. Hall favorite (who, coincidentally, also performed “I Like Beer”). This song reminds me to enjoy the simple things. It sounds odd, but I actually enjoy mucking the stall in the predawn. No matter what happens the rest of the day, I’ve accomplished something before the sun is up. I suppose “Old Dogs, Children, and Mucking up Stalls” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Two songs make me think about the importance of controlling what you can. The first is, in one of the greatest alignments of a singer’s name and a song’s title, “Take this Job and Shove It” by Johnny Paycheck. The song evokes someone working a job he hates until he’s just had enough. At one point the lyrics state, “When I get the nerve to say … Take this job and shove it.” The less obvious message here is that sometimes taking control takes courage. The second song is “Smoky Mountain Rain,” sung by Ronnie Milsap. There’s a line in the song that says, “I had a change of dreams, I’m coming home.” This reminds us that often the circumstances of life are out of our control, but our opinions, and the purpose we pursue, are always up to us.

Along the same lines is “King of the Road” by Roger Miller. This song expresses the idea that we can be happy regardless of our circumstances. Roger sounds pretty happy for a man trading two hours of sweeping up for an “eight by twelve four-bit room.” A song first recorded (I think) by Porter Wagoner, but performed by artists ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Johnny Cash, “A Satisfied Mind,” drives the point home with the lyric “But suddenly it happened, I lost every dime. But I’m richer by far with a satisfied mind.” Always remember that it is within your power to have a satisfied mind.

A feeling of control brings freedom. Toward the end of George Strait’s “Amarillo by Morning” George sings, “I ain’t got a dime, but what I got is mine. I ain’t rich, but Lord I’m free.” This reminds me that freedom doesn’t come from money or possessions, it comes from within. Centuries before George recorded those words, Seneca wrote “… no man is constrained to live under constraint; … on all sides lie many short and simple paths to freedom.”

Next up is C.W. McCall’s “Convoy.” (If his name were C.B. instead of C.W. he might have pushed Paycheck from the top spot on the name-title alignment list.) My wife, Tracy, and I once heard Convoy playing in the gift shop of Ireland’s very elegant Powerscourt Gardens. As a result, the song reminds me that it’s important to allow room for a little silliness.

Charley Pride’s “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” expresses my belief that when you care about someone, let them know it. Life often moves at a frantic pace (cue George Jones singing “The Race is On”); it’s easy to forget to tell loved ones just how important they are to our lives. Take a moment, every day, to tell them you care.

I could go on, but I’ll end with another George Jones song, “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair,” which reminds me that (to quote Jimmy Buffet, who started his career as a country artist), “I’m growing older, but not up.” As you pursue a life well lived, may you never lose the wonder, silliness and love of life of your younger days.

When I’m not mucking stalls, I serve as dean at Northern Arizona University’s W.A. Franke College of Business, home to over 3,500 students, and faculty and staff who are dedicated to the success of those students and the economic development of Northern Arizona. For more information on The W.A. Franke College of Business, please see: I welcome comments and feedback on these columns. Email your comments to:, or follow me on Twitter @cvanslyke. FBN

By Craig Van Slyke, Ph.D.

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