Yesterday, when I was young, I did what a lot of people liked to do.
I sprawled out on the living room floor and watched TV with my family. One of the most popular shows of the era was a down-home variety show called Hee Haw.
Each week, the cast of crazy characters from Kornfield Kounty would square dance their way into our living rooms with cornball humor and sight gags. The variety show occupied the creative delta between variety shows like the Laugh-In and musical shows like The Lawrence Welk Show and rural-themed comedies like Green Acres. Critics hated it, network execs nixed it, but syndication saved it and audiences loved it.
Loyal fans lapped up regular bits like “Pfft! You Was Gone” and “Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me” and the original “Gossip Girls.” We couldn’t wait to visit Lulu’s diner or Saaaaluuute! small town America.
Presiding over it all was Buck Owens, the pioneer of the Bakersfield sound, and Roy Clark, a mainstay of Music Row. The only things that outshone Owens’ rhinestones and signature red, white and blue guitar were Clark’s lightning-fast fingers and twinkling eyes.
Clark passed away recently at the age of 85. He’ll be remembered today at a special memorial service in his long-time hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
While many will remember him as a musician and entertainer, I’ll remember him for his moxie. Here’s how:
Sometimes moxie wears a mask.
Clark was known nearly as much for his comedic acting skills as for his musicianship. The former was born out of necessity to support the latter.
As a boy, Clark was terribly shy. To top it off, he loved and played country music, a genre that wasn’t exactly popular in Washington DC in the era he grew up in.
Humor became his not-so-secret weapon. His humor masked his fear and help him take to the stage with some measure of confidence. It wasn’t until the 1960s that he felt comfortable enough on stage to drop the mask a bit and reveal other aspects of his personality and emotions.
Even people with moxie experience fear. Their moxie gives them the tools to overcome that fear and share their talents with the world.
Moxie doesn’t always know how far it reaches.
As news of Clark’s passing spread this week, country music stars took to social media to share their memories of the Grand Ole Opry legend.
Country music star Keith Urban, who was born in New Zealand and raised in Australia, said, “My first CMA memory is sitting on my living room floor watching Roy Clark tear it up. Sending my love and respect to him and his family for all he did.”
That young Kiwi/Aussie grew up to win the Entertainer of the Year at the CMAs last week, following in the footsteps of Clark, who earned the honor himself several times.
Comedian Larry the Cable Guy tweeted “R.I.P. Roy Clark. Oh man, so many memories growing up with him on Hee Haw. Another part of my childhood that made growing up the way I did awesome.”
Brad Paisley said much the same, recalling how he sat with his Papaw every Saturday night and watched Hee Haw. He later had the opportunity to play with Clark and even had the opportunity to tell him he loved him and thank him for the influence he had on his life and career.
Clark reached into millions of homes and lives around the world, mostly through a syndicated TV show that didn’t get a whole lot of respect. But would the country music scene today be as robust had it not been for that show, alongside all of Clark’s other artistic endeavors? Hee Haw might have been silly, but it was an access point.
Moxie is often underappreciated until it can be seen in greater perspective.
Kindness is the soul of moxie.
It is impossible to imagine Clark’s cherubic face without a twinkle in his eye and a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. Clark seemed to perpetually radiate joy.
It wasn’t an act. Kindness was at the soul of who he was.
When Paisley’s touring instruments were destroyed by floodwaters in 2010, Clark turned up at one of his shows with an autographed Fender Telecaster in hand. It was a kind gesture from a fellow musician who knew what a blow losing those instruments was to Paisley on a personal level.
In their tribute to Clark, the Grand Ol’ Opry tweeted a quote from him: “The next chance you get, do somethin’ nice for somebody — say ‘good day,’ hold a door open — and don’t wait around for a thank you… you don’t need it.”
That’s how I will be remembering Clark’s moxie, and taking a little of it for my own.