Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Randy Travis taught me country

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
July 11, 2013 -- Updated 1442 GMT (2242 HKT)
Randy Travis performs during the 2013 CMA Music Festival on June 7 in Nashville. Randy Travis performs during the 2013 CMA Music Festival on June 7 in Nashville.
HIDE CAPTION
Country music's Randy Travis
Country music's Randy Travis
Country music's Randy Travis
Country music's Randy Travis
Country music's Randy Travis
Country music's Randy Travis
Country music's Randy Travis
Country music's Randy Travis
Country music's Randy Travis
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Strangers are baffled when they learn LZ Granderson loves country music
  • LZ heard Randy Travis when he was 16 and was blown away by his voice, lyrics
  • When he asked his partner to get married, LZ says Travis' "Forever" was the soundtrack
  • LZ: Travis has had terrible struggles and his hospitalization is more sadness

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and was a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @locs_n_laughs.

(CNN) -- Of all the parts that make up my somewhat quirky life, there are few things that raise a stranger's eyebrows faster than discovering I love country music.

Not a "I like that one song by Lady Antebellum" kind of love for country music either. Mine is a "Barack I would love to join you and Michelle for dinner next Saturday, but you see I have tickets to see Eric Church so ..." kind of love.

When did this love affair begin? January 24, 1988. The night I met Randy Travis.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

Back then, it wasn't uncommon for families to gather around the television, and mine had done so that night to watch the American Music Awards. Michael Jackson was receiving a special honor, and Whitney Houston was scheduled to perform. At the time, those two were the most popular singers on the planet but for me, the night belonged to Travis.

I had never heard of him or his mid-tempo ballad "Forever and Ever, Amen" before the show. Everyone knew who Kenny Rogers was, but usually the only country music you heard in my house was the theme song to the "The Dukes of Hazzard."

But something about the purity of Travis' voice captured me.

And even at the relatively immature age of 16, I found his portrayal of never-ending love so beautifully constructed by the lyrics of "Forever" that to this day, it eclipses almost every other love song I have heard.

Ex-ricin suspect sings Randy Travis song
Singer Randy Travis pleads not guilty

In fact, when I put together a brief video asking my better half to marry me, "Forever" was the only song I put on the soundtrack.

That's why I was so sad to hear Travis was in critical condition in a Texas hospital. He was an unlikely voice of my youth. About as unlikely as you could be.

Instead of listening to the latest from L.L. Cool J or Public Enemy, I would go to the record store and play his song "Diggin' Up Bones" over and over again. My friends would snicker and mock the twang in his voice. What they couldn't understand was that the various inflections in Travis' voice were the commas in the stories that he spun. Stories so universal that a white adult man from a small town in North Carolina could touch a skinny black kid in Detroit without ever meeting.

When I'm in the car singing "Forever and Ever, Amen," I imagine someone 1,000 miles away is cranking that song up in the car and for three minutes and 31 seconds, we're connected.

"They say that time can play tricks on a memory,
make people forget things they once knew.
Well, it's easy to see
It's happening to me
I've already forgotten every woman but you..."

Complete strangers can stand silent next to each other in an elevator and not even look each other in the eye. But at a concert, those same strangers could find themselves dancing and singing together like best friends. That's the power of music. And when you've experienced this magical bond with strangers, there is even a greater connection to the artists that provided the vehicle for that bond.

That's why it's hard for to see Travis this way.

We've all watched once-beloved music icons such as Jackson and Houston fall from grace in similar fashion -- ensnared by drug abuse, publicly humiliated, fighting for and sometimes losing their lives. As Travis lies critically ill in a hospital bed, those of us who count ourselves his fans, pray his story doesn't end in the same way.

But we've watched the declining grip he's had on his life for a handful of years now.

The bitter divorce.

The uncontrollable drinking, the arrests.

And now this. It's just sad.

Because of Travis, I learned Waylon Jennings was the man who sang "The Dukes of Hazzard" theme song.

Because of Travis, I have developed lifelong friendships with some amazing people who work in and perform country music.

Before Travis, I used to think "soul music" had one certain sound.

Because of Travis, I learned that wasn't true.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT