News of Mindy McCready's death yesterday really left me feeling sort of empty. I grew up on Mindy's music, and she truly helped me through a very difficult period, so I thought I would share how she touched my life. As I've said before, music is one of the biggest inspirations on my writing, and I definitely absorbed Mindy's music growing up. It's ingrained in me, and I think some of her art comes through in mine because of it.
Coming out as gay in high school is a pretty bold move, especially in a small Midwestern town in the middle of nowhere, but I didn't so much as come out boldly as I did so accidentally. Word of me seeing a boy in a neighboring town where I worked made it's way around the small community, as things tend to do in small towns, and my rough high school years got even rougher. Middle school was worse than high school for me honestly, as I was pretty much as outcast, overweight with acne and braces, and before moving to Big Lake, Minnesota, I got those braces off, my skin got reasonably clear, and I worked to shed that weight to start fresh. But fresh starts aren't so easy. While I didn't look the part of the outcast any longer, I was an outsider coming into a tight-knit community, and while I made some friends, I for the most part blended into the background. Until I came out. Then I was right back in the same boat as middle school, but perhaps a little worse, since everyone in the small school knew who I was. I was the gay kid, and people teased me constantly. I was called fag, taunted. I was even punched by a guy while his friends looked on.
My friend Kat Wyttenback came to Big Lake from a city a little further north, Foley. We became fast friends, and I often went to her house to just escape life. She's the one who introduced me to Mindy McCready. She was a big fan of country music, and from the moment I heard the sassy song "What If I Do" from the pretty blonde singer, I was hooked, delving head-first into country music for about two years, where I discovered several artists that I love to this day. But none of them struck a chord like Mindy did. I listened to her CDs obsessively, and she was my first "favorite" singer, and the track "Long, Long Time" (a remake) was my first "favorite" song.
I met Mindy McCready in one of the few times I ever sought out a celebrity for their autograph. I traveled to the Mall of America with someone (I can't remember who, but I couldn't drive at the time) and waited in a relatively long line for the chance to meet her. I remember the exchange exactly, since I ran it through my head over and over afterwards for years, and she signed a sheet that was handed out, a photo of the album cover for "If I Don't Stay the Night." She was very pretty in person, and as she was signing, I told her that I loved her music. She was very gracious and stopped to listen to me as I told her that she should release "Long, Long Time" as her next single, and that it could cross over to pop stations (as was the trend at the time with artists like Shania Twain and Faith Hill). She said "Oh, yeah. It's going both ways, baby." I still have that autographed picture.
While Mindy released few albums, I waited patiently for the next one's release. When her self-titled fourth album came out, it was the first time I had to have a CD immediately, and went to a local Walmart, since they would be open at midnight, to get my copy. I had to ask the girl working in the music department if they had it. I remember babbling a bit, saying that it was coming out, but maybe they wouldn't have it because she wasn't as popular as she used to be. When I told her whose CD I was looking for though, she knew who I was talking about and tracked it down for me, and I listened to the CD on my way home, happy as can be.
I'm not a fan of live music, but when I heard that Mindy was coming to Minnesota for a concert, I had to go. The only concert I'd been to previously was when my parents brought me to Roxette when I was really little, but this was the first time I would be going myself. I was in college, and drove down to Granite Falls, Minnesota (a good couple of hours away) just to get the tickets, before going back for the actual concert weeks later. I'd just started dating Patrick, who I've been seeing for nearly twelve years now, and it was one of the first opportunities we had to just talk and get to know each other, a very fond memory for me. I went to the concert with someone from a college course I was taking who also liked Mindy. I remember Britney Spears had a new CD that had just come on (Oops...I Did It Again), and I played that first thing, but then insisted on listening to Mindy the rest of the way down, and back. She was playing at a little casino that I thought was beneath her, but once she started singing, I was in Heaven. I remember that it was the first time I heard a new song from her before I had the CD, and she did a cover of Bonnie Raitt's "Something To Talk About."
I try not to dwell too much on her slow, sad decline into prescription drug abuse and scandals, leading to her eventual suicide. I want to remember her for the great music she made and how I felt listening to it. Her cheeky lyrics, her strong voice, and the beauty and strength of her voice sort of helped me feel strong too. I really looked up to her. And I thought that every CD she released just got better and better. I wish she'd been recognized more for her talent. I think that it's a shame that she's not known more than she is. Country music had a real gem sitting under its nose and after her first multi-platinum album, just let her flail, even though her music was fantastic. And now, some of her best songs aren't even available for purchase (how can one of the best CDs ever, I'm Not So Tough, just not be available?)...it makes me sad to think about it, that the great music she made just sort of faded away. I have other stories, like how I painted different Mindy headshots onto canvas for a college art course, or how I used the song Ten Thousand Angels as a mantra to not return to an ex-boyfriend, but I think you get the point. I'll leave you with an ultimate playlist with my favorite songs, of which I can probably still recite every lyric.
1. What If I Do (from If I Don't Stay the Night)
2. Scream (from Mindy McCready)
3. Ten Thousand Angels (from Ten Thousand Angels)
4. I'm Not So Tough (from I'm Not So Tough)
5. The Other Side (of This Kiss) (from If I Don't Stay the Night)
6. A Girl's Gotta Do (What a Girl's Gotta Do) (from Ten Thousand Angels)
7. I've Gotta Feeling (from I'm Not So Tough)
8. You'll Never Know (from If I Don't Stay the Night)
9. Lovin' Your Man (from Mindy McCready)*
10. If I Don't Stay the Night (from If I Don't Stay the Night)
11. Take Me Apart (from I'm Not So Tough)
12. Walk In Glory (from the soundtrack to Prince of Egypt)
13. You Get To Me (from Mindy McCready)
14. Over and Over (from I'm Not So Tough)*
15. Only a Whisper (from If I Don't Stay the Night)
16. Maybe, Maybe Not (from Mindy McCready)
17. All I Want Is Everything (from I'm Not So Tough)
18. Breakin' It (from Ten Thousand Angels)
19. Let's Talk About Love (from Country Cares For Kids)
20. Maybe He'll Notice Her Now (from Ten Thousand Angels)
21. Long, Long Time (from If I Don't Stay the Night)*
22. Lips Like Yours (from Mindy McCready)
23. Guys Do It All the Time (from Ten Thousand Angels)
24. Have a Nice Day (from Ten Thousand Angels)
25. Oh Romeo (from If I Don't Stay the Night)
* = My all-time Favs