Though we’ve never met, Mary Chapin Carpenter and I have been friends for twenty-seven years.
It was 1989. I was eight years old when I first saw the video for her song Never Had It So Good. I watched it on TNN, which was then a country music version of MTV. In my memory, I remember her walking through a forest as she sang, the whole thing bathed in blue light. I revisited it via YouTube, and my memory is mostly correct.
Never Had It So Good was a strange song for an eight-year-old to love. I doubt I had any idea it was about a woman lamenting that even though her man dropped her for an old girlfriend, she knew she’d take him back when he inevitably returned.
Carpenter sings about love, independence, loneliness, and the magic of the ordinary. She has a melancholy optimism that touches me more than any take-the-world-by-storm roar. Nearly all of her themes were over my head in my early years. Listening to those songs, I was like a little girl playing dress-up in her mother’s high heels.
But little girls grow into their mother’s heels. I was listening to Carpenter in 1994, when Entertainment Weekly called her “a spokes-singer for the thirtysomething single woman.” Twenty years later, now that I am that thirtysomething single woman, those songs I’ve played thousands of times sound brand new. They are the same, but I’ve changed.
I love music, and have a long list of favorites. For my money, nobody has a better voice than Trisha Yearwood. But she doesn’t write her own songs, so there isn’t a thematic unity across her albums. A Garth Brooks song conjures up memories of me at eighteen, but they seem lost to my life now. And Jewel, who I listened to with typical teenage obsession, now just seems a little too intense.
We make friends along the way, in music and in life. Some we believe will be with us forever, but we outgrow one another and the relationship fades. Some we believe are casual relationships that end up going the distance. This has been true for me with childhood friends, college friends, and work friends. Sometimes the people who stay with me the longest are surprises.
Such is the case with Mary Chapin Carpenter. At fifty-eight, she’s still writing songs I love, but as always, she’s tackling a phase of life I haven’t yet reached.
It’s a comfort to know I’ll have a friend to guide me when I get there.