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February 10, 2012 / Erik Ritland

Heroes and Friends

Sometimes inspiration comes from the least likely of sources

from Volume 1, Issue 4 of Ramblin’ On

I discovered Randy Travis when he appeared on the Marty Stuart show. Stuart is the foremost ambassador of traditional country music today. His show, which appears on RFD-TV, is a must-see for anybody interested in what is best about America.

Growing up in the early ‘90s I had heard of Travis even though my parents were not fans of country music. You couldn’t get away from songs like, say, “Forever and Ever Amen.” When I began to like country as I grew up I still saw Travis as a boring 80s/90s country artist that it wouldn’t be worth listening to.

I’ve since dropped such pretense and come to enjoy many ‘80s and ‘90s country singers including Travis Tritt, early Alan Jackson, George Strait, and others (still not a huge Garth Brooks guy though). Top of the list for me is Travis, whose mellow, well-paced, lovingly arranged brand of country is endearing.

“Heroes and Friends” is one of the best country songs of the ‘80s (the video is also cool, click the link to check it out). It is a lilting piece of 80s country with a tight, traditional arrangement and touching, thoughtful lyrics.

Travis simply and effectively sets up the song in the first verse:

I ain’t lived forever but I’ve lived enough
I’ve learned to be gentle and I’ve learned to be rough
I’ve found only two things that last till the end
One is your heroes, the other’s your friends

There is a simple beauty to those lines. A song called “Heroes and Friends” could easily be preachy, simplistic, or overbearing. Travis avoids those pitfalls by relying on simple statements and truths.

“Heroes and Friends” is an ode to Roy Rogers, a cowboy icon of the 1950s and one of Travis’ childhood heroes. Travis more explicitly refers to him in the second verse, but in a subtle way:

I grew up with cowboys I watched on TV
My friends and I sometimes pretended to be
Years have gone by but now and again
My heart rides the range with my heroes and friends

Tribute songs often suffer from lyrics that are too up-front, personal, or obvious. Travis instead puts Rogers in the broader context of his childhood by reminiscing about when he used to watch, and look up to, cowboys on TV. Anybody who looked up to and imitated their heroes growing up can relate to this.

The chorus simply and directly brings the song together:

Your heroes will help you find good in yourself
Your friends won’t forsake you for somebody else
They’ll both stand beside you through thick and through thin
And that’s how it goes with heroes and friends

At its most basic level “Heroes and Friends” is a classic country song with a message that is simple and uplifting without being trite. But beyond that it is a subtle, emotive piece of songwriting that has stood the test of time.

Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His writings on culture, music (including his own projects), sports, religion, and many other topics are cataloged regularly at Ramblin’ On. You can reach him via email here.

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