Diane Diekman
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Legends Lost

[I wrote this for Newsweek's "My Turn" column but didn't get my turn.]

Country music legend Faron Young died December 10, 1996, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. News reports said depression over health problems and a feeling that the music industry had passed him by contributed to his suicide.

My friendship with Faron began St. Patrick's Day 1970, when I attended his concert in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and stayed late to collect autographs. He wouldn't let me walk back to my college at midnight. Instead, he took me there in his tour bus.

Over the years, after graduating from college and joining the Navy, I went to every Faron Young concert within driving distance.

Whenever Faron noticed me in the audience in front of the stage, he'd render a salute.

Faron called his band the Country Deputies, and he was known as the Singing Sheriff.

Beginning with Goin Steady, which reached Number Two in 1953, he had over eighty songs on Billboard's country music charts. More than forty were in the Top Ten.

His recording of Willie Nelson's song Hello Walls stayed nine weeks at Number One in 1961. Faron's last Number One record was It's Four In the Morning, in 1972.

In 1963 Faron co-founded Music City News magazine to give consumers a source of information about the country music industry and its artists.

In addition to his recording career, he was a successful businessman.

He also helped further the careers of numerous country music artists, including Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Johnny Paycheck, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Sonny James and Charley Pride.

I last saw Faron in July 1992 when my best friend and her two daughters drove with me from South Dakota to Florida.

As previously arranged, we met him on the edge of Nashville and followed him to the large three-bedroom house where he lived alone. He took us to lunch, after which my friend's daughters swam in his pool.

Saying he no longer toured, Faron told us he performed only on weekends. He played in golf tournaments, was in demand for talk shows and celebrity events, and had stopped smoking and drinking.

A letter he wrote me in March 1995 said, "I retired last year--I could still work if I wanted to but after 43 years I'm enjoying the change--I may go back in a couple of years but right now I have no plans."

The letter included a new telephone number. Faron said he was tired of getting calls from drunks in the middle of the night (acquaintances from his touring days). Since he wasn't accepting engagements, booking agents no longer needed his number--and he didn't want people bothering him.

He mentioned once that he wanted to be cremated after his death, and his ashes scattered. I said I thought it was important to have a grave people could visit.

He told me he didn't want anybody staring at him, and who would want to visit the grave of a forgotten old hillbilly singer anyway.

Perhaps he was already feeling forgotten by the industry he had worked so hard to build.

I don't know whether Faron felt a lack of attention in Nashville, but there certainly is a lack of his music on the radio. Why don't we hear his songs?

For that matter, why don't we hear Charley Pride, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Ray Price and Carl Smith? How many country music fans today have heard of the Carter Family?

Radio stations ignore our country music heritage when they play only the latest releases by the newest singers. Fifty years worth of classics sit in the archives, unheard, instead of being mixed with current hits. What a waste!

Who really wants to hear the same song every hour throughout the day, when thousands of wonderful older recordings are available? Good songs never go out of style.

Yet the legacy of such talents as Marty Robbins, Lefty Frizzell, Red Foley and Jim Reeves is being lost.

I last called Faron in August 1996. He told me he had stopped smoking (again), that he'd realized he needed to do something when he could no longer walk the length of his house.

I hadn't known he had health problems and he didn't dwell on them. He merely said he was feeling better now, and could vacuum floors and walk to the end of the driveway.

When I told him I was being transferred to Japan, his typical Faron response was, "That's just like the military. You find a job you're good at, you tell them you want to stay where you are, and they ship your ass to Japan."

Housebound because of his health, he mentioned no social contacts this time and seemed to be alone with the television.

He sounded happy to hear from me and promised he'd write (which he didn't do).

I learned of his death while listening to the radio.

In shock, I called his house, in the vain hope someone would be there to tell me the report was false.

Faron's distinctive voice on the answering machine said, "There's no one here at the moment....I'll get back with you as soon as possible. Bye bye." So I said good-bye.

Looking back, I wish now that I had called him from Japan. Perhaps he could have used some cheer. At least, I would have had one last chance to talk to him.

I mailed his Christmas card the day before he died.

Fulfilling the promise in his first Number One song, he lived fast, loved hard, died Faron Young, and left a beautiful memory.

Let's not allow him and his contemporaries to be forgotten, or all that beautiful music to be lost.

Let's make our voices heard--by writing letters and calling radio stations. Then the legends will be heard--loud, clear, and on the radio.

As Faron said in a 1985 newspaper interview, "Thanks to us old bastards, there's still a country music business for you all to be in today."

2000 by Diane Diekman