Lessons from Muscle Shoals

coon dog cemetery

Muscle Shoals.

I’d venture to say most Americans of a certain age, that is to say those of us old enough to remember Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers, have heard of Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

Muscle Shoals is one of those iconic southern towns that beckons writers and artists and musicians and devotees alike. I went there in my mind many a time. I went there for real a few years back. Ate me a fine barbecue sandwich in one of them local restaurants designed to attract tourists coming to pay their respects to the home of funky music. Even made a detour so I could visit the coon dog cemetery not too far over yonder.

They say Muscle Shoals is one of those mystical places where magic happens.

I’ve traveled enough back-roads across this great nation of ours to know that some places are more holy than others. Some towns more gritty than others. Some communities more hospitable than others. Some places more uptight than others. Some more loosey-goosey. Some more magical and I don’t mean in that Disney way but in that way of Jubilees.

Towns, like people, have their own personalities and character traits.  Cities, after all, are simply composites of the people who inhabit them. There are artistic people in every town. There are drunks in every town, too. But some cities have more drunks than artists. And some have more artists than drunks. I prefer the latter, but for the bulk of my adult life, I’ve lived in communities that have more cowboys and ranchers than drunks or artists.

The Wild West.

What can I say that Larry McMurtry hasn’t already?

When I was a girl growing up over yonder, Muscle Shoals was the place where Aretha Franklin, Wilson Puckett, Percy Sledge, Etta James and the Rolling Stones, among countless others, were gathering to make music. A certain kind of soulful music.

Hometown of the groove.

Rick Hall.

He’s what they call The Man around Muscle Shoals.

The fellow who, in the pursuit of becoming somebody better, made history happen for a whole lot of somebodies, and is still making history happen for a whole lot of somebodies.

You can learn all about Hall and his recording studio FAME by watching the documentary Muscle Shoals. 

I’m a devotee of a well-made documentary and this is one of them. I love a good story and Rick Hall has lived a good story.

But it was something he said at the crack-end of the documentary that has me up pondering when I ought to be sleeping.

Hall said that he didn’t care if the drummer fell out of his seat when recording as long as he didn’t miss a beat.

Imperfections gives us our humanity, Hall said.

Hall isn’t suggesting that we shouldn’t strive for perfection.  Lord. A. Mercy. No way would Hall ever say that. The man is renowned for his pursuit of perfection. Even his most ardent fans attest that Hall ain’t an easy man to love. His drive toward perfection is relentless.

Still, it isn’t a contrary thing to say that as one strives toward perfection one also ought to embrace the imperfections in others and in ourselves. Our imperfections, they put us in touch with our humanity.

When we are unwilling, or unable to tolerate another person’s imperfections, we deny them their humanity. 

There are bitter things we all wrestle with in this life. Disappointments. Betrayals. Brokenness.

Hall has his share of all of it.

At some point we have to move beyond all that and forgive, he says.


And everybody else.

Maybe even the God who created us










Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

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