I guess one takes from songs what they need to hear. I first heard this one in the early ’90s – maybe ’91 or ’92. It was released in 1991. And what I heard in those lyrics and felt in that tune are likely nothing even close to what the artist intended. But this is a really good time to talk about that song.
It’s about a place, a meaningful place that’s the most meaningful one I have ever known. Each time I hear that song, I connect with some important stuff. Some meaningful stuff.
Had it not been for an old and departed man very dear to me, I may never have been delivered to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. That’s where the man pretty much began his family. With a wife and a toddler and a GI Bill education at the university there. I began my family there, too. And like him, I was educated there as well – in so many things.
It is there that I learned of “dogs barking and birds singing and of sap rising and the sighs of angels.”
My life is so much like that man’s life was – certainly in the destructive ways. I learned from him the value of financial responsibility. Like him, I mostly dodge such responsible actions. But, like him again, if I have but one shirt to my name, and you need that cloth, it will be yours. The man’s mother said to me one time, “Joe would give the shirt off his back.” That quality was likely his downfall. It will likely be mine as well. And like him, I do not care if it is.
I have discovered of late that I have some of that man’s social skills. He was a very round man. A big guy. His clothing style was limited to his budget at the big man’s clothing shop. And most of his triple-x shirts were stained from the three or so previous meals. But somehow, in between his chubby cheeks, his vision seemed to take aim and land squarely into the eyes of the onlookers and bring smiles and laughs to the faces his smiling and laughing face and eyes always encouraged.
I am very thin. But unless one thinks that wearing twenty-year-old Converse low-cuts is more fashionable than food-stained big men’s clothes, then our wardrobes are pretty much the same. My shirt stains, though, are not from old meals. Neither are my blue jean stains. All of that comes from something else I got from the man – laziness. Washing clothes is something we both find and found to be deplorable.
But folks smile and laugh at me, too. I am not at all as funny as he was. I never will be. But I do not care about that either. I now know what the man felt when folks smiled and laughed back at him all of those times during all of those troubled years. I see such things these days through eyes not impeded by chubby cheeks. I see that stuff very clearly.
The man was not perfect. But I admire him. And while I do not try to be like him, I will always be, I suppose. Still, I have tried to master one of his finest skills. I have failed miserably. It cannot be duplicated. Not by me. It simply cannot.
The opening line of the song suggests that old folks never know why they call things the way they do. Well, I am an old guy these days. Maybe I am misguided in my simple interpretation of the song, but I will call this the way that I do – and have – since my dad died around the time of that song’s release.
Each time, during the past 22 years, that I hear James Taylor’s “Copperline,” I think of my dad.
“Half a mile down to Morgan Creek,
leaning heavy on the end of the week.”
Morgan Creek is a well known waterway just outside of the town my dad made well known to me – Chapel Hill. And, like Daddy always did, so, too, do I lean heavy on the end of the week.
And the man was quite the dancer. Even as an old man, weighing way too much and wearing seersucker jackets, the man spun and twirled and dazzled women on the dance floor. Old ones his own age. And young ones – daughters-in-law, nieces, granddaughters and even strangers who were beautiful and wonderfully amazed at the old man’s dance floor moves. The man could dance. That was maybe his finest skill.
“One time I saw my daddy dance, watched him moving like a man in a trance. He brought it back from the war in France, down onto Copperline.” (James Taylor.)
When I hear that song, I think of all the most meaningful stuff in my life. But you know what? When I hear James Taylor sing that one line, I remember the most meaningful man in my life. The man in a trance.
The man who could dance.