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Giving Thanks for My Wife and Family, Louisville’s Ear X-tacy, and Tom Freakin’ Jones

November 27, 2010

During this Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I’m reflecting on getting married earlier this year, and I’m filled with gratitude. Obviously, I’m thankful for my marriage and all the possibilities that await my wife and me in our future. But my specific purpose in this writing is to convey my gratitude to the universe for a really awesome wedding day and what the simple fact of making it to that day means to me.

In so doing, I must of course give thanks for my wife and my family, both the one I’ve always belonged to and my new family that has welcomed me warmly since I met the incredible woman who became my wife this year. But a couple of pop culture elements also factor into my memories of my wedding day, and always will, and I’m deeply thankful for them as well. Those unlikely cultural icons are a Louisville record store called Ear X-tacy….and Tom Jones. Yes, that Tom Jones.

My wife and I had our wedding on her family’s beautiful land in southern Indiana. With my wife, her family, and her best friend doing pretty much all the work, the back yard/patio area was transformed into an idyllic, lovely venue. While they did all the work, I spent the morning of my wedding day in the Louisville area, taking care of some minor last-minute details. Buying the bride a little wedding present. Writing my vows. You know, the small stuff.

The wedding present purchase went quickly, so I decided to kill a little time at Ear X-tacy, the retail bastion of the Louisville music scene, before returning to my hotel room and putting the final version of my vows to paper. I’ve never lived in Louisville, but I’ve always been fairly close by, and for most of the last 20 years I’ve stopped in Ear X-tacy whenever I was in town. For the first decade or so, I had a love-hate relationship with the store. As in, I loved the store’s selection and its inherent culture of music discovery and appreciation, but I frequently disliked the employees, who often had the tendency toward generalized unpleasantness. Said another way, a lot of ‘em were dicks.

But for many years now, I’ve found the staffers with whom I’ve interacted to be good folks. In ways that their predecessors simply weren’t, these people were nice and helpful, but no less knowledgeable about the kinds of music I most appreciate. From my perspective, throughout most of the 2000s, if you still thought the Ear X-tacy workers were arrogant or snooty (akin to the professional assholes who worked in the record store in High Fidelity), then you just weren’t paying attention. No surprise, then, that the guys working in the store on my wedding day were great. As my very southern family would say, “Just nice as could be.”

Best of all, after I’d been in the store a few minutes, the staff started playing a record that caught my ear midway through the first track. What I heard to kick off the album was a soulful song that defined “goodness” as being compassionate, living responsibly, and loving your neighbor as yourself. The next track was a rousing gospel-blues stomper with lyrics that beseeched God to help the world’s least fortunate, not in the next life but this one, because that’s where they’re suffering now. In both tracks, the man’s voice was unapologetically big, bold, and exuberant—the product of an obvious showman. It was the kind of voice I initially wanted to make fun of for its utter lack of the ironic detachment that suffuses much modern music, but it soon won me over with its purity and lack of guile.

As much as I liked the first two, the third track pretty much knocked me on my ass, mostly because it sounded rather like it had been written to be my wedding day theme song. The coda to the journey that led me to that day. The last sentence in the pre-wedding chapter of my life story. It was a song about conscience, and learning, and suffering, and humility, and insight. Every bit of it rang true to me. At that point, I had to ask the guys in the store what I was hearing. It turned out to be Praise and Blame, Tom Jones’ 2010 album of gospel spirituals, and the song was “Did Trouble Me”:

When I closed my eyes so I would not see

My Lord did trouble me

When I let things stand that should not be

My Lord did trouble me

When I held my head too high too proud

My Lord did trouble me

When I raised my voice a little too loud

My Lord did trouble me

Did trouble me

With a word and a sign

With a ringing of a bell in the back of my mind

Did trouble me

Did stir my soul

For to make me human, to make me whole

Listening to the track in Ear X-tacy, and then on repeat all the way to our hotel room after buying the album, I recalled the many wrong turns, the poor judgment, and the selfishness and weakness that had filled so many of my days leading up to that one. I thought of friends and family who kept me afloat during my late 20s and early 30s as I swam against strong surface currents of grief and deeper, even more insidious undercurrents. I recalled a moment or two where pretty much the only thing that kept me going was a sense of duty to family and friends in the present, and a sense of obligation to give some future version of my better self a chance to emerge from what had come before. To continue being, so that the becoming might one day occur. I called forth the sense of redemption and possibility that had, in the past couple of years, gradually come to replace the sense of encroaching doom that I used to wear like a sweater that had shrunk in the wash.

In other words—credit where it’s due, in the words of Tom freakin’ Jones—I thought of the things that, against odds that felt long at times, helped to make me human, to make me whole, and to bring me to the joyous day that awaited me.

If ever there were a day to reflect on such things, it’s your wedding day, and I remain overcome with gratitude that I found “Did Trouble Me”—more accurately, that it found me—just in time for it to lead me on an internal journey toward putting one of the best days of my life into its appropriate context while it was happening. Shit, I even wrote the idea into my vows at the last minute. Thanks to the guys at Ear X-tacy and the cosmically happy accident that they played Tom Jones and “Did Trouble Me” in the early afternoon on my wedding day, it occurred to me that I should look into my wife’s eyes and tell her, in front of our families and beneath the heavens above, that being with her makes me the best version of myself that I’ve ever been.

On my first Thanksgiving as a married man, these are the great blessings I am counting. I look forward to the year ahead, in which I will do my best to remember that the spirit of gratitude should fill all my days, not just the fourth Thursday slot on the penultimate page of the calendar.

Postscript: Go spend your money at Ear X-tacy. It’s far more than an important setting in this story, of course—it’s a central component of Louisville’s unique local culture, and it’s a damn fine record store.

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