HomeSouthern VoiceFor The Heroes & The Has-Beens

For The Heroes & The Has-Beens

by Chris Canterbury

The refreshing sting of a cool raindrop on a muggy September morning. The pitch black
sheen of forty-year-old seasoning on Mamaw’s cast iron cornbread skillet. The simplicity of
a flashing-light pothole town with a Dairy Queen that closes at dark. A ghost repeater radio
signal slowly fading from southern gospel to constant static over the course of a midnight
drive. And I’ve made that midnight drive so many times now that it’s a piece of my
character. A badge they’ll pin to the flannel shirt or ball cap I’ll be buried in.

I’m a singer-songwriter. The kind of songwriter that you more than likely won’t hear on the
radio any time soon. I can’t write a Billboard hit, even when I try. God knows I’ve tried to
cash in on that line more times than I’d like to admit. I write what I see. And, frankly, it’s
mostly slow and sad.

I grew up in the 80s and 90s in Haynesville, Louisiana—an unassuming little oilpatch
hamlet on US Highway 79 with a couple of traffic lights, a drive-thru liquor store, and 17
high school football state championships. Navigating the social landscape in Haynesville
(and pretty much every community in my neck of the woods) was simple: Play football, go
to church, work a reliable job, and vote for a good ol’ God-fearing Republican. It’s the
blueprint for the working class townsfolk down here in Dixie, and it works for the ones that
don’t want to leave. The ones that are content with only dreaming of what’s beyond that
rusted green city limit sign. Turns out, I was a dreamer, but not the kind of dreamer I, or
anyone else around me, thought I’d be.

I left Louisiana at thirty-one and landed in Nashville, Tennessee and immediately started
looking for my place in this town. There were a lot of Me’s doing the same thing. Still are it
seems. Six months turned into twelve, and that year has turned into ten. In the past decade
I’ve settled into my role in this town. I’m a storyteller. I tell stories about things that other
people are too busy to waste a song about. Poets, drunks, thieves, drifters and grifters,
from heroes to has-beens, and everyone else struggling in between. I try to give a voice to
the ones that can’t find their own at the moment. I mean, I am a dreamer after all.

These proverbial dreams that became my literary fuel are all roused from people and places
that made an impact on me at points in my life. These footprints of memories that linger in
the mud, they’re like short films. Artsy cinematic experiences that play in the ether behind
my eyes. They are not always joyful. Hell, most of them are the polar opposite. But the one thing that they all have in common is that they’ve all left a very lasting impression on my
everyday life.

As a songwriter, the notion of slowing down seems simple. You sing slower, you play
slower, and you write slower. Slowing down the song gives the lyrics more room to
breathe. It takes the anxiety out of the tempo and puts it in the storytelling. Honestly,
lyrical anxiety is what I live for. Slowing down also means taking your time. I never start a
song that I think I’ll finish that day. There’s a certain magic that happens when, instead of
rushing through a writing session, you let it simmer, like a proper pot of chili or the first
gumbo of the season. Letting those little cinematic memories marinate in my mind allows
me to vividly describe exactly what I’d like to say about the setting, and that’s exactly what
the character deserves.

Slowing down also affords the monumental opportunity to reflect on someone else’s point-
of-view, and it allows more time to dig into the visual storytelling of the song. Back in 2016,
I wrote Broken Man, a song about my father robbing a liquor store. Hindsight says I
probably should’ve dropped a heads-up before I released it, but I digress. My dad never
robbed a liquor store. He might have accidentally shaken the snack machine at the golf
course once, but there’s only circumstantial evidence of the fact. I got the idea from an
article I’d read seven or eight years earlier about a laid-off millworker robbing a Mr. Thrifty
package store, taking the money to a Walgreens around the corner and buying food and
diapers for his wife and child in the car. The paper mill where he’d put in 30 years of
service had suddenly closed shop and moved to Mexico. I tell people it’s a love song. A love
song about how far one father would go to make sure his family was fed. It’s also a murder

Over the years, I’ve come to find a very conspicuous elegance in those seemingly-
innocuous details—that welcomed fresh-autumn raindrop, the texture of that holy
cornbread skillet, the harmonies of that gospel quartet slowly fading into the constant
rhythm of AM static—and I’ve learned that ordinary ideas aren’t always as lackluster as
they often appear. You really have to slow down to fully grasp the beauty of the sunrise of
an old dog-trot cottage nestled in a hardwood thicket, the taste of midnight coffee from a
mom-and-pop truck stop parking lot, or a good turn-of-phrase destined to make someone
go, “I wish I’d thought of that.”


Born and raised in North Louisiana, Chris Canterbury began writing songs and stories about life from a unique but oddly-familiar point of view. Songs about liquor stores, truck stops, low-rent motels and the grifters and transients that frequent them. He takes a critical look at some of the topics that often get discarded in the writing room, and he presents them as though they’re a casual kitchen conversation.

Canterbury has toured the country for the better part of the last two decades, sharing the stage with the likes of Guy Clark, Steve Earle, Chris Knight and many others. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pool hall or a theater, a festival or a front porch, his live sound is the whiskey-laden narrative that anyone with a struggle can relate to.

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  • Hannah Perdisci / March 6, 2023

    What a beautiful and lyrical article! How wonderful to write songs about the stories of simple, real life people and the things they experience. In the fast-paced world of Tik Tok and Instagram, and the content-saturated world of instant book and video publishing, it’s hard for readers and listeners to slow-down and take the time to really appreciate good art. This article reminds us of that and calls us to do better. We’d all do well to slow down and lengthen our attention spans!