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No More Four In The Morning

Mar 22, 2008
Before moving to Japan in August 1996, I called Faron Young, and we held a long enjoyable conversation. As always, he had an opinion on everything and didn't care how people reacted to his comments and actions. I enjoyed his wonderful sense of humor.

He said he'd stopped smoking - again. (He had stopped smoking and drinking when a friend and I visited him in 1992.) He told me he realized he needed to do something when breathing became so difficult he couldn't walk the length of his house. Now he felt better and could vacuum floors and walk to the end of the driveway.

When I said I was being transferred to Japan, his typical Faron response was, "That's just like the military. You find a job you're good at, you tell them you want to stay where you are, and they ship your ass to Japan."

Housebound because of his health, he mentioned no social contacts and seemed to be alone with the television. He sounded happy to hear from me and promised to write.

I still hadn't received a letter when I mailed his Christmas card on 9 December 1996 and drove to the Yokosuka naval base for a two-day meeting. The next evening I was reading a book in my BOQ room when I jerked to attention at hearing these words on the radio: "Country music singer Faron Young is in a Nashville hospital in critical condition after an attempted suicide."

No. This could not be true. The news report said Faron had shot himself in the head and that one of his band members found him. He had written a suicide note. My first thought was of Admiral Mike Boorda, the Chief of Naval Operations, who had killed himself earlier that year. How could this be happening again? I called Faron's house and left a "get well" message on his recorder.

A radio news report the next morning said he was dead. His suicide note stated he'd been depressed the past month because of health problems. Not knowing what to do, I called his house again, to find out if anyone was there, and heard Faron's distinctive voice on his answering machine: "There's no one here at the moment.... I'll get back with you as soon as possible. Bye bye."

So I said good-bye, wishing I had called him within the past several months. Perhaps he could have used some cheer to help deal with the depression. At least, I would have had one last chance to talk to him.

Being in Japan, I missed whatever radio/television tributes were held stateside. All I heard, in addition to those brief news announcements, was the deejay on an American Forces Network country music program. He described Faron as a famous country music star who had committed suicide, and then said, "But I'm not going to play one of his songs."

What a jerk! I'd never before heard a deejay announce a singer's death without then playing one of that individual's songs. If Faron was famous enough to mention, he was certainly famous enough to have one of his hit songs played.

Known as the Young Sheriff (later the Singing Sheriff), Faron called his band the Country Deputies. In four decades of recording, he had eighty-nine songs on Billboard's country music charts. Five of them hit Number One, and nineteen more were in the Top Five.

His recording of Willie Nelson's "Hello Walls" stayed nine weeks at Number One in 1961. "Alone With You," his biggest hit, held the Number One spot for thirteen weeks in 1958.

Faron founded Music City News magazine in 1963 because he wanted to give consumers a source of information about the country music industry and its artists. He helped the careers of numerous country music artists, including Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Sonny James, Charley Pride, and Patsy Cline.

But today's music industry does a poor job of remembering its pioneers and its musical heritage. This upsets me deeply, and it certainly bothered Faron. He reminded everyone in a 1985 newspaper interview: "Thanks to us old bastards, there's still a country music business for you all to be in today."

Being a star of yesteryear, he was no longer a household name at the time of his death. Few of the people I knew in Japan had ever heard of the 64-year-old singer, and I grieved alone. Part of my therapy was to write about him in my monthly newspaper column. I received many compliments on that article - both from people who admired Faron and learned to know him better through my words and from those who merely were touched by the story I told.

What helped the most was listening to his music. On New Year's Eve I pulled out all the Faron Young records and tapes I owned - some of which he gave me - and played them for seven hours. Cranking up the volume, I let Faron's voice envelop me. I repeated the process the next day, saturating myself in his music. When I put everything away that evening, I felt much better.

Upon learning his body had been cremated and his ashes scattered, I was happy his wishes had been followed. No one will stare at him. I'm sad, though, that I can never go to Nashville to visit his grave.

"It's Four in the Morning," a beautiful waltz, was Faron's last Number One recording. Ever since the song became popular in 1972, I have never been awake at four in the morning without thinking of that song and of him. It used to be a happy thought.

I still think of him at four in the morning, but now it wakes up a wanting in me that can never be filled. I'll never again talk to Faron Young.

(Originally published at Diane Diekman's blog and reprinted with permission).
About the Author
"Live Fast, Love Hard: The Faron Young Story," by Diane Diekman, the biography of Country Music Hall of Fame member Faron Young, was published in 2007 by the University of Illinois Press. Diane is currently working on her second CMHOF biography, "Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins." To learn more, visit Diane Diekman.
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