Well the race is on and here comes Pride at the backstretch,
Heartaches are going to the inside.
My tears are holding back, they’re trying not to fall…
The race is on and it looks like Heartaches.
And the winner loses all.
written by Don Rollins
immortalized by George Jones
In May, 1964 I graduated from Columbia High School in West Columbia, Texas. There were eighty-seven other seniors in my graduating class that year. Two weeks later I was standing in registration lines in a gymnasium at the University of Texas in Austin to enroll for summer school as a freshman along with 19,000 other students. The dorm I moved into had seven floors – with elevators, thank goodness – and was huge to me. No wonder – I looked up the size today and it had 69,754 sq ft. The home I came from was a tiny cottage of maybe 1,200 sq. ft. that my parents rented from the people who owned the grocery story we lived behind. To paraphrase one of my grandmother’s favorite sayings, I was country come to town when I moved to Austin, and I felt it.
Three months later in September, 1964, a fellow Texan named George Jones released his hit single The Race is On. Supposedly the song was one of his personal favorites and one that he usually sang in concerts. He definitely tried to sing it at a concert I attended on the UT campus in the spring of my first full year (1965) but as I recall George was under the influence of alcohol and forgot the lyrics of that song and several others before making an early exit. No Show Jones was an appropriate nickname for him that night, but I really didn’t care because I was also under the influence for the first time ever in my nineteen years.
The two friends who invited me to go with them to the concert had brought a bottle of scotch to mix with Seven-up. They poured my drinks with a heavy hand, and No Show Sheila walked back to her room on the third floor of the 69, 754 sq. ft. – dormitory…and threw up. I never drank scotch again.
Thirty-six days from today until the election of 2016 on November 8th.; I heard that on the news this morning, and I have to say that seems like a long, long time to me. When I was a teenager, I couldn’t wait until I turned twenty-one. I thought that day would never get there. Starting on my sixteenth birthday, I counted each birthday in relation to that twenty-first. The wait was painfully slow. After the momentous twenty-first birthday, however, the years picked up speed; and the race has been on toward an unknown finish line at the speed of light…
Until this election year when time has apparently stood still. The race has been on to the White House and the houses of Congress for the past two years with primary debates, billboards running rampant throughout the landscape of our cities and interstates, thousands of television and radio and cyberspace commercials approved by the people who are promoting themselves and unending polarization of the country that has a divided view of its direction. Yes, my friends, the race is on.
Please forgive me, spirit of George Jones, for my transgression of making your love song into a political one. In this 2016 race for the White House I have seen Pride at the backstretch and Heartaches going to the inside and have had to hold back my own tears. I could weep for the absurdity of this race with its personal punches and counter-punches. I could weep for a nation so divided that I wonder if our house will stand. The race is on alright, and I feel Heartaches as it heads into the last days. My fear is that the winner loses all.
It’s old Blue Monday for me, and I’m thinking about one of my favorite country music artists and his songs. George may be gone, but the race is still on.
I’m voting early and often, as Lyndon Johnson used to ask us to do in Texas. I urge you to join me.