Written by Jerry Holland
Every once in a while, I read something that sparks a post. This week, it was The Boot’s countdown of the Ten Best Friend Songs in Country Music.
As I scanned the list, I saw expected gems like Tim McGraw’s “My Old Friend”, along with curious selections such as Shania Twain’s “Come On Over.” Even #2 on the list was questionable: Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” is as much about friendship as “The Dance” is about the Fox Trot.
Left off the list completely is the country song that I think best describes the nature of friendship. John Michael Montgomery’s “Friends” may not have the scope and death of Plato’s Lysis, but it captures the essence of friendships as well as anything else I’ve seen this side of ancient Greek philosophy.
The framework of the song is that a woman has told Montgomery that she just wants to be friends, which he describes as “a newly sharpened blade” and “a dagger to the heart of the promises we made.” Well-written stuff, to be sure, but not exactly ground that wasn’t already efficiently covered by Lobo.
It’s in the chorus, when he describes what he fears their relationship will dwindle down to, that friendship is perfectly defined:
Friends get scattered by the wind
Tossed upon the waves
Lost for years on end
Slowly drift apart
They give away their hearts
Maybe call you now and then
But you wanna be just friends
As much as the artificiality of today’s social networking may obscure it – You have 864 Friends! – all friendships have an ebb and flow that is directly impacted by time, distance, and common goals and interests. Even many marriages do not survive the life changes that occur as people grow older, so a relationship as tenuously constructed as “friends” is far less likely to survive such changes.
Montgomery’s best known for his wedding standards, but I’d argue that he made his most believable and long-lasting statement on an entirely different type of relationship.