≡ Menu

Riley Green and Friends Sing “I Wish Grandpas Never Died” (Annotated)

Sometime in early September, this song came over the radio as I was driving back from Sacramento. As it unfolded I found that after the year I’d just had in which I lost my house and my mother it quite unmanned me. I had to pull off the highway onto a side road and stop for a bit listening. Then I drove on.

The song, it turns out, found its audience that way; one person at a time. It was initially not going to be on Green’s new album but then he played it at a concert and a phone video made went viral on YouTube. When that happened it was moved onto the album where he lists both his grandpas as co-writers of the song.

Today, Green released this new performance video in which his audience is his backup group.

Here’s the song as recorded for the album.

And yes, it is firmly in the genre of Country Music List Songs, but what a list. It’s a list that everybody can see as it is sung and that, I think, everyone can find something that resonates in their own life. Here are a few liner notes from this song as it played out in my life. I’m sure something in it also touches yours.

I wish girls you loved never gave back diamond rings
I wish every porch had a swing
[Mine was on my house in Queen Anne, Seattle, looking out on the playground across the way. I sat in it on the afternoon when I died.]
Wish kids still learned to say “sir” and “ma’am”, how to shake a hand
[I remember my father telling me that a man’s handshake had to be short but firm.]
I wish every state had a Birmingham
[Mine was Paradise]

I wish everybody knew all the words to Mama Tried
[Still don’t.]
I wish Monday mornings felt just like Friday nights

And I wish even cars had truck beds
And every road was named Copperhead
[Mine was that no name gravel road that ran along the banks of the American River in Sacramento where we’d go at night with girls or beer. ]
And coolers never run out of cold Bud Light
[Lost two cases of the cheapest worst beer ever when we buried them on the beach in Santa Cruz and never could find them again.]
And I wish high school home teams never lost
[Encina High School in 1962 had an undefeated season. I was on that team but was such a bad player that I only got sent in in the last quarter of the last game when we were ahead by 29 points. Still, I was on that team and it did get me a great date to the Junior Prom.]
And back road drinkin’ kids never got caught
[We were busted in the 49 Hudson down by the American River. There were six of us and five got away by running into the fog. Not so, the driver and owner of the Hudson, Win, but he went on to become a member of the Secret Service guarding Carter so I didn’t slow him down that much.]
And I wish the price of gas was low and cotton was high
[Oh yes, that 49 Hudson had some holes in the floorboards when you could watch the road below roll past your feet. But it could hold about 9 of us and gas was 25 cents a gallon. Cotton? No idea.]
I wish honky-tonks didn’t have no closing time
And I wish grandpas never died
[I remember when, as a third-grader, I lay in my bunk bed in Paradise and listened to my father comfort my weeping mother on the night her father died in Fargo. Decades later, after my father died, my other grandfather — having had two of his three sons die before him — simply lay down on the couch most days and turned his face to the wall. He was gone within a year.]

I wish Sunday’s on a creek bank would never end
[In Paradise my mother would pack the picnic hamper and we’d drive off in the station wagon to Nelson’s Bar where we’d jump off the sun-heated rocks into chill waters of the creek below. Then it would be chicken sandwiches and cold Cokes in the small bottles, and we’d drowse like lizards on the hot rocks until the sun moved behind the ridge above and the cool shadow came and we’d drive home sleeping in the station wagon like victims of fresh air poisoning.]
Wish I could learn to drive again
[I wish I could talk to my father again. Square that account better than I did,]
Wish the first time, seventeen, she was my everything kiss in a Chevrolet could happen every day
[It was a Studebaker out in a cornfield at the University of California in Davis. It was warm and the windows were down and when we looked out from the back seat we were surrounded by about a hundred head of dwarf cattle, no more than four feet high at the horns,]

I wish everybody overseas was gonna make it home
[One man of my family didn’t make it home from the Second World War, his body never found. Another man from my family did make it home from Korea. It doesn’t balance out. It never will.]
I wish Country music still got played on Country radio
[Since this song appeared mine does]

And I wish even cars had truck beds
And every road was named Copperhead
And coolers never run out of cold Bud Light
And I wish high school home teams never lost

And back road drinkin’ kids never got caught
And I wish the price of gas was low and cotton was high
I wish honky tonks didn’t have no closing time
And I wish grandpas never died

Never died

And I wish good dogs never got grey and old
[King, Potemkin, Storm, Perriwinkle.They say a man can have, at most, seven dogs and then it’s his turn. I guess I’ve got three to go.]
I wish farms never got sold

And I wish even cars had truck beds
And every road was named Copperhead
And coolers never run out of cold Bud Light
I wish high school home teams never lost

And back road drinkin’ kids never got caught
And I wish the price of gas was low and cotton was high
I wish honky tonks didn’t have no closing time
And I wish grandpas never died

{ 24 comments… add one }
  • azlibertarian November 7, 2019, 10:27 AM

    One of the reasons I love your site, and why I keep checking here day-after-day, is that I see things that I wouldn’t see elsewhere. I believe it was here that I first saw Mark Twain’s line that the two most important days in your life are the day that you’re born and the day that you find out why.

    I consider myself very fortunate that I know the date of “My Why”. I was born not to be just a grandfather, but a “Papa” to my 3½ grandchildren. Our host recently told us of his re-birthday, and I consider the day that I first became a grandfather in a similar vein. My date was 5 years ago in January of 2014 (although my granddaughter would remind me that she’s 5 and a half, Papa). And it was just this morning that Daughter#2 sent Halloween pictures of her son and one of her and her baby bump due in March.

    Thanks for the song, Gerard. I’m having the best time of my life.

  • An Appreciative Reader November 7, 2019, 10:34 AM

    Between you and Ken Burns…you’ve got me hooked!
    Here’s one. “I’ll Just Take These” by Dwight Yoakam
    https://youtu.be/x4TpSrp31lk

  • azlibertarian November 7, 2019, 10:35 AM

    One of the reasons I love your site, and why I keep checking here day-after-day, is that I see things that I wouldn’t see elsewhere. I believe it was here that I first saw Mark Twain’s line that the two most important days in your life are the day that you’re born and the day that you find out why.

    I consider myself very fortunate that I know the date of “My Why”. I was born not to be just a grandfather, but a “Papa” to my 3½ grandchildren. Our host recently told us of his re-birthday, and I consider the day that I first became a grandfather in a similar vein. My date was 5 years ago in January of 2014 (although my granddaughter would remind me that she’s 5 and a half, Papa). And it was just this morning that Daughter#2 sent Halloween pictures of her son and one of her and her baby bump due in March.

    Thanks for the song, Gerard. I’m having the best time of my life.

  • Vanderleun November 7, 2019, 10:51 AM

    Love Dwight. Seen him three times in concert. My favorite is Fast as You.

    (7) Dwight Yoakam – Fast As You – YouTube

  • Dan Patterson November 7, 2019, 11:16 AM

    Caught that one between the screws.

    Are we just old and sad, or were those days that magic and those people that special? You know the answer and so do I. Aching for the times before – before we became corrupt and dishonest, before we knew so much, and before our paths were so clearly marked by our mistakes – is alloyed with a spiritual craving for unreachable truth and beauty; unreachable in this life but maybe waiting to be discovered in another. When we were sheltered from harshness by innocent hearts we scarcely knew that beauty and truth even existed, at least I didn’t, and now the loss of what we once lived is more painful as each day passes.
    I guess it is a common theme. Here is another example:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Czw4HjgZ9Fs

  • Carol November 7, 2019, 11:53 AM

    I have never heard this song – LOVE IT!! Thank you for posting.
    Love your blog and inspirational posts –

    These days I seek out sites that cleanse the soul..

  • tim November 7, 2019, 11:54 AM

    I wish American Digest never goes away.

  • Sam L. November 7, 2019, 12:29 PM

    I couldn’t understand most of the words he sang. Thanks for the words, Girard!

  • Mary Ann November 7, 2019, 4:14 PM

    @tim Ditto. Need to pull myself together before I have anything else to say.

  • Gordon Scott November 7, 2019, 4:17 PM

    Speaking of country music, if y’all haven’t seen Western Skies, the movie about Bruce Springsteen’s album of that name, you oughta. Now truly, Bruce is about as country as a bagel, and he’s kinda lost touch with the working folks he always celebrated. But it’s interesting, truly, to see him perform in such a compact space. They filmed the music in a hayloft of a barn, with a 30 piece orchestra, Springsteen and his wife, Patty. He’s got the same mannerisms as he does on a big stage, but he has to keep a lot of the energy inside in this space. The between-song pieces were filmed in Arizona, apparently. There’s a nice added bonus part after the credits also. And the last song–well, it did my heart good to see Bruce singing that old classic.

    Catch it while you can in a theater with good sound and a big screen.

  • Gordon Scott November 7, 2019, 4:22 PM

    Okay, sorry. The Springsteen album and movie is Western Stars, not Western Skies.

  • steve walsh November 7, 2019, 5:21 PM

    I’m a grandpa, Pops is my name, and while I know I will die some day endeavor to be the sort of guy my grandkids hope never dies.
    Great song and post.

  • Terry November 7, 2019, 5:39 PM

    When my grandpa (my fathers father) passed away I was devastated. He was my idol and my best friend. He taught by example, not words. Fly fishing, firearms usage, baseball, how to dress like a man and on and on. Took me almost ten years to let him go in my sadness.

  • Anonymous November 7, 2019, 6:55 PM

    Gerard- Thank you for posting this Riley Green song. We are Country music listeners from the time it was called Country Western Music.

    Oh, and by the way, my wife Susan and her older sister Bonnie graduated from Encina HS also. Bonnie graduated a year before you and my Susie two years after you! And I graduated from Sonora HS a bit south of you in 1963. Susie read your comments below the videos and Encina caught her attention. I promise not to call you ‘Jerry’. You will always be Gerard to me. Saw your picture in the 1961 online yearbook. Your picture shows the makings of a budding ladies-man. Susie has the yearbooks here somewhere.

    The cheap beer we drank back in those days was branded ‘Manchester’. We drank that stuff up on a road on Yankee Hill just east of Columbia.

  • Terry November 7, 2019, 8:10 PM

    Sorry. Not anonymous but Terry above.

  • Vanderleun November 8, 2019, 5:23 AM

    You’ve seen my yearbook photo? Arrrrrgh! Now I’m going to have to dig up that beer and drink the whole case.

  • Larry Geiger November 8, 2019, 6:24 AM

    I don’t make New Years resolutions. Never have. Went 55 with never making one. But one year it came over me that I needed to make one. It was to be the best Grandpa ever. On January 1 I just decided that. Well, wonder of wonders both my son’s wives got pregnant that year. Now there are 6 of them. The youngest is coming next week to stay with us for five days. Best time of life.

  • azlibertarian November 8, 2019, 6:33 AM

    @steve walsh…..

    Daughter#1 got me this book a couple of Christmas’s ago, and I highly recommend it. Your grandkids know you as their grandfather, and maybe that’s enough, but there is so much more to each of us that our grandkids (and kids, in my case) just don’t know about. For instance, what were you like in school? What do you think about politics? How did you meet your grandchild’s grandmother? The book kind of walks you through writing an autobiography, which I’ve found is a daunting, but interesting experience. It has taken me some time to move through the book, but now I’m faced with the dilemma that writers and other artists often find: When is what I’ve been working on finished?

  • azlibertarian November 8, 2019, 6:46 AM

    On Dwight Yoakam….

    I met Dwight on a plane in Mexico City a number of years ago. You wouldn’t know it from his music videos, because he always wears that big hat, but he’s pretty bald. And while he’s very musically talented, for a public figure, I’ve never thought of him as an attractive man. YMMV.

    Anyway, he was headed down to a <a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0416496/"movie set where he was going to spend about a week getting paid to kiss Salma Hayek and/or Penelope Cruz (I forget which).

    Some guys get all the luck.

  • Jack November 8, 2019, 7:02 AM

    I only knew my paternal grandfather and although he’s been gone 52 years this November 14, I’ve never had a day pass that his memory hasn’t appeared and usually more than once. I spent my first 17 years with him and he was the best man I’ve ever known, a constant friend and companion.

    I grew up on some pretty great country music from the likes of Don Williams and Vern Gosdin, Ed Bruce and others and I still thoroughly enjoy singing along with those guys and the self proclaimed “outlaws” Cash, Nelson, Jennings, Kristofferson and Hank, Jr. but the guys and gals who have followed in their footsteps are, for the most part, little more than media creations or hat acts who sing half assed tunes written by hired writers who sit around at tables and brainstorm each other for ideas, lyrics and melodies and then quibble about sharing co-write credits and hopefully royalties.

    Their lyrics are nearly always recreations of old ideas played the key of C or G in a 1,4,5 progression with an occasional minor or 7th chord squeezed in where it might fit and you can see the songs played, usually poorly, by every pimple faced adolescent crooner who dreams of being a “star” because their momma told them they have a beautiful voice when they mimic someone else. Add to that the simple fact that only a tiny and measly few have any musical education at all and you can stack the writers and singers on top of each other in a barrel labeled “music for the masses”, who likewise don’t know “c’mere from sick’em” and peddle the stuff all day long.

    I’m an old man from the Deep South and I remember the past but I only fall back on it when I look closely at contemporary society and realize what the masses tend to accept as great writing, great music or acceptable social behavior and I find myself struggling a bit to retain my balance. It’s all part of The Big Sell.

  • ghostsniper November 8, 2019, 11:34 AM

    I was 5 when my dad’s dad died in Sep 1960 and his was the first funeral I ever attended. My dad lifted me up to the casket and asked me if I wanted to shake his hand and I did. Then he told me “Pappy” was in heaven with all his friends, playing cards and joking and such.

    My dad was a building contractor and my mom was a stay at home, as was normal in those days, and guided the lives of her 5 children. Frequently my dad’s mother would pick up one or more of us kids and take us to her house for a day or 3 to give my mom a break. They only lived a mile or so from us.

    My grandparents house was a wonderful place and it was the home my dad was born in 28 years prior to that day in 1960. A home that my grandfather and some friends built with their own hands and according to google maps it stands still. On the dining room wall was an abacus made out of dark wood and my grandmother patiently taught each of us how to count to 100, and to add, subtract on it. There was a chalk board on the abacus and my grandmother taught each of us the alphabet and how to spell our complete names. My complete name has 24 letters in it. All 5 of us kids learned these things from our grandmother before we entered kindergarten. Because of where my birthday fell in the calendar year I started kindergarten in the fall of 1959 at age 4.

    My grandfather had some acreage behind the house and in the back corner he built a small barn with 2 horse stalls for his full grown horse named Ginger and her white son named Kooky. He would sometimes sit me up on Ginger and tell me to “Grab a handful of that mane.” and lead her and me around the yard. Once, feeling devilish I suppose, he slapped Gingers ass and let go of the reins and she took off full speed. I was holding on for dear life and bouncing all over the place and then flew off and landed in a blackberry patch along the fence. Tore up and crying like a girlbaby but no permanent damage and I got over it but about 60 years later I remember it clearly. Pappy smoked Chesterfield cigarettes and he “taught” Kooky to smoke them. He would light one up and Kooky came running and whineying and got all excited. Pappy would put the cig by Kooky’s mouth and he’d hold it between his lips. That’s all he did, hold it, but in my young mind he was smoking it.

    My grandfather had a Stevens single shot .22 rifle and it was the first real gun I ever shot. I was 4 and the target was an old truck seat against the fence that had been taken over many years before by a horde of honey bees. Honey flowed freely out of that old seat and sometimes I’d sneak up and get a handful and stand there in the yard lapping it up. Devine, considering back in those days things like candy and other sweets were a rarity. Pappy would load the gun and put it in my hands, but never taking his own big ol’ hands off of it, then kneel behind me and help me aim it, then told me to pull the trigger. BANG! I never got over the thrill. It turned into an addiction.

    When Pappy was 16 he lied and entered the army and served in Germany during the great war. My dad said Pappy did a lot of guard duty and regularly carried a Winchester Model 12 shotgun in 12 ga. When Pappy got out of the army he kept that shotgun and in 1960 my dad inherited it. Throughout my single digits and tween years my dad and I spent countless hours wandering the cold winter fields of rural Pennsylvania hunting ring neck pheasants that he would shoot and I would run down and bring back. I never cracked a molar eating those pheasants but sometimes it felt like it.

    In 1980 my dad died and our son was only 1 so he didn’t shake the 2nd generation Pappy’s hand but I did put his hand on his. I told him the same sort of thing my dad told me. A few days later I inherited that Winchester and my next younger brother inherited the Stevens. When my son was about 10 we went out and I learned him how to take a shotgun blow to the shoulder like a man. He wanted to cry but didn’t. This past June he and his family came to visit for a couple weeks and we took a bunch of guns out to Atterbury and let loose. The one he wanted to shoot the most was that WWI guard gun. Fortunately I brought a 500rd box of Federal #4’s so we were in good shape and had a good time.

    That Winchester Model 12 sits in the rack on the wall of my office cleaned, loaded, and always ready. A few years ago I tore it completely apart and cleaned it like it never had been cleaned before. In some of the deepest nooks and crannies I scraped out stuff that spanned a century from 2 continents. I put it back together and kept everything like it was except I got a new hammer from Brownells and put the old one, along with the plug, in the gun toolbox, but it is clean and shiny and smells like Hoppe’s 9. One day it will hang on my son’s wall as is it’s destiny. My grandparents were my foundation and I can’t imagine a life without their memory.

  • Montefrío November 8, 2019, 12:00 PM

    I’m a grandpa called grandpa by my two grandsons (5 1/2 and 4), one of the few English words they use regularly. Today is my granddaughter’s first birthday, and she calls me “Ebb-baa” when she calls me anything at all. The grandchildren live sixty yards away and I see them every day. We have lots of fun together. I work at trying to teach them more English when they come to my house. We live in Argentina, you see, and their mom has limited English but my son and I are bilingual, so…

    Being a grandpa is the best thing that ever happened to me and I’m in no hurry to die. This song’s a keeper! Thanks!

  • GreenEyedJinn November 8, 2019, 9:11 PM

    This is the music of the America we grew up in.
    I’ve shared it with my 3 (2 are Active Duty).
    Fight for OUR America.
    THIS is the America we grew up with. THIS is the America we must hold to.
    Sure, the outcome isn’t guaranteed. But our Nation has been the recipient of Providence like no other, ever.
    Be strong in your Faith, be strong in your Patriotism, be strong in what is Good, be strong in what is Free, and be strong as an American.

  • RigelDog November 12, 2019, 7:27 PM

    Dan Patterson said: “Aching for the times before – before we became corrupt and dishonest, before we knew so much, and before our paths were so clearly marked by our mistakes – is alloyed with a spiritual craving for unreachable truth and beauty; unreachable in this life but maybe waiting to be discovered in another. ”
    Beautifully put, Dan. I’ll go further and say that the ache for an unreachable truth and beauty–a beauty that we sometimes see in flashes–is an indication that there IS another life of almost-unimaginable joy waiting for us. In this earthly life, that kind of rare joy pierces our hearts, and then breaks them because it passes. Heaven is the wedding feast that never ends.

Leave a Comment