Waylon Jennings, or “Hoss,” or “Waymore,” is the original Nashville Rebel. When he wasn’t allowed to have long hair, or play his own guitar in recording sessions, or use his own band in recording sessions, he did it anyways. Nashville recording giants, moving into what later became known as the Countrypolitan Nashville sound, the variety of pop-country still teeming in Nashville to this day, what with the orchestral sets, choral backdrops, and slick-crooning lead vocalists expected Waylon to follow suit, and Waylon simply said, “You start messing with my music, I get mean.”
It was at this fork in the road that Waylon met Willie Nelson at an airport out of Nashville and, with him and Johnny Cash, became the triune colossus of cowboy, a return to classic country themes and instrumentation by way of, ironically, going rogue. From this point on, no one flew the Outlaw flag quite as valiantly as Waylon, who was becoming so well-loved RCA feared losing him and so gave him complete artistic license for production purposes, the first of which was Lonesome, On’ry and Mean which came after Ladies Love Outlaws.
Lonesome, On’ry and Mean has some great songs, including a song written by Cash but never recorded by Cash, “Gone to Denver,” and the Nelson-penned hit, “Pretend I Never Happened.” It was an album that gave a voice to a force that was standing up to the Law of Nashville. And it is so outlaw. Wandering and wandering and dealing with the “cold love” he’s left in leaving. There’s love, but also, there “Ain’t No Road Too Long.”
And then there’s “Freedom to Stay.” It’s a song written by Will Hoover (the Outlaw songwriter that also wrote “Jesus Don’t Drive No Fastback Ford”) that takes the outlaw as he is, as we are, and tells us the only way he can be loved. Hoss sings about his elemental yearning to leave, bag at the door, and yet, because he is free to leave with this person, he feels completely free to stay.
I tied my bandana, took my pack from the floor
You were still sleeping, as I stood at the door.
Once more I was heading to God-only-knows-where
That’s when it hit me, I was already there.
I could ramble a thousand miles or more,
Never find the light I’ve seen in your eyes before.
You gave me the freedom to go on my own way
But you gave me much more, you gave me the freedom to stay.
Why keep on running, just to wish on a star
Searching for Heaven, when I know where you are?
Life is just empty, when you’re walking alone.
So wherever we’re going, Lord, it’s good to be home.
It’s a depiction of love by way of intimate knowing. Intimacy is often so quickly equated with love, but this song makes an important distinction. Intimacy is not love. Though it is love’s prerequisite (you can’t love someone if you don’t know them), intimacy as knowing does not necessarily mean love. Plenty of people smell dirty laundry and hightail it. Love, though, by way of “Freedom to Stay” is intimacy and staying. It is really knowing someone–knowing their propensity for packing their bags and rambling–and yet freeing them to be nothing more. This is loving fidelity: knowing and yet abiding.
And the song explains that this love begets love. Waylon can wander all he wants forever and ever, and yet because he can, he doesn’t want to. Because he is loved whether he leaves or stays, he sincerely wants to stay. Going his own way no longer seems attractive because there’s that someone he’s been looking for all along. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t still want to pack his bags, but when he does, he realizes he’s already arrived into a love that is home, and he can finally say, “Lord, it’s good to be home.”