by Brent Beaumont
When I was a young boy and my father wanted to impart to me some wisdom about human life, he often turned to his favorite philosophers—Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, and Merle Haggard, just to name a few. These honky-tonk poets, from a time when country music singers actually grew up in the country, sang songs about cowboys and drifters, heartbreak and loss, or in the case of Tom T. Hall, “old dogs, children, and watermelon wine.” In the pantheon of hillbilly philosophers, it was Tom T. Hall that always held the highest seat in my father’s estimation. With songs like “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died” and “I Like Beer”, Hall managed to balance the tragedy and comedy of the human experience while creating vivid characters for my childhood imagination. No two characters from the songs my father played are more memorable to me than the old cowboy philosopher and the young idealistic poet who meet up in a bar to discuss the meaning of life in Tom T. Hall’s classic, “Faster Horses.” The young poet finds he is no match for the aged cowboy and gives up his idealistic visions for the “reality” of the old man’s simple philosophy. Of course, the cold, hard, steel of the cowboy’s gun may have something to do with him shattering the illusions of the poet. Regardless, when I hear the song I can’t help but imagine Hall laughing to himself as he wrote it. The song certainly put a smile on my father’s face when it would come on the radio and he would point to me and say, “Son, this what life is really about, ‘Faster horses, younger women, older whiskey, and more money’.” What I learned from my dad in those moments was not some truth conveyed in the lyrics themselves, but rather that humor is a powerful medium for truth and that laughter is essential for navigating life’s perplexities and absurdities. The song is rather ridiculous, but so too are we, and part of growing up is learning to laugh at our own ridiculousness.
A few years ago my younger brother, who was also a student of the Tom T. Hall school of life, introduced me to the music of John Prine, another songwriting sage with a flair for both the tragic and the comic. The son of Bill Prine, a factory worker who moved his family from Paradise, Kentucky, to the outskirts of Chicago in order to find work, John Prine hit the country-folk music scene in 1971 after spending a few years working as a mailman and playing in clubs around Chicago. Discovered by Kris Kristofferson, Prine was immediately recognized for his unique songwriting style which Bob Dylan later called “pure Proustian existentialism…Midwestern mind trips to the nth degree…beautiful songs.” His songs are filled with colorful characters, offbeat humor, laugh out loud one-liners, tragic heroes, and immense sadness. His songs are filled with the human condition in all its beauty, pain, hilarity, and fragility. His songs are filled with truth. In our household, we can all quote the homespun wisdom of Prine’s “Spanish Pipedream”:
Blow up your TV, throw away your paper,
Go to the country, build you a home.
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches,
Try an’ find Jesus, on your own.
The song makes us laugh while also connecting with our longing to cultivate a simpler life in the midst of the stress and anxiety of the modern hustle and bustle. In an odd twist of fate, it’s taken a global pandemic to help us find the peace, quiet, and simplicity of life that Prine sings about.
And yet this global pandemic is not without its tragedies. It has taken from us much of what we consider normal and essential—face-to-face fellowship with friends and co-workers, large family gatherings to celebrate birthdays, weddings, and graduations, and in-person worship with the body of Christ. Perhaps it has even taken one of your loved ones. For me, the realities of this virus hit home when it took John Prine. On March 29th I was taken aback when my older brother texted the news that Prine had contracted the virus and was in critical condition. This was family news because Prine had become a kind of poet laureate for my brothers and father. We have connected over our love of his songs, sharing our favorite lines, and laughing at his zany depictions of humanity. Knowing that Prine was 73 and had a history of health problems, it was no surprise when the news came that he passed on April 7th. Still, it was a shock to see how quickly we could lose a man that in his 70s was somehow in the prime of his career.
One of the enduring lessons of this season ought to be the fragility of human life and society. In a matter of days, toilet paper became the most coveted commodity on earth, supply chains came to a grinding halt, and the world’s financial markets were brought to their knees. This kind of fragility can tempt us to despair, especially for those who find themselves isolated and alone. However, it also provides us an opportunity to take stock of those things that truly are essential while hopefully laughing at our own ridiculousness when we struggle to live without the conveniences and activities we thought were essential before. If you need help laughing, or perhaps crying, during these times, might I suggest you explore the “midwestern mind trips” of John Prine or the honky-tonk philosophy of Tom T. Hall? That’s what my father taught me to do.
This week, we hear from senior humanities teacher and department chair, Brent Beaumont. Whatever Brent puts his mind to learn, he does so to the utmost. It is a treat to watch his mind work, and to enjoy whatever he has passionately applied his most recent energies, a perfect cup of coffee, a key lime pie, or a perfect fly-caught fish.
Habersham teachers are at the heart of a Habersham education. Some of the best from around the country, have chosen to call Habersham home. As a private school in Savannah, this is significant to what makes Habersham unique.
Hailing from Pasadena and Silicon Valley, from Texas and Louisiana, from Massachusetts and England, from Tennessee and Uganda and Arkansas, our teachers lead interesting lives dedicated to Christ and care deeply for their students. They live out our mission daily, working toward restoration, understanding children as image-bearers of God. By virtue of living alongside our teachers for many hours a day, Habersham students see the life of a believer in action. Inspiration and imagination are awoken. An atmosphere of joy provides students a rich environment to learn to take responsibility and work hard while developing skills of active thinking, effective communicating, disciplined self-governing, and integrated understanding. Students and teachers learn together through ups and downs, strengths and weaknesses, apologies, and triumphs. There is no better place to learn to Explore, Restore, and Live than alongside a Habersham teacher.
Our teachers as writers spotlight gives you a glimpse inside what makes Habersham most special.