Tracy Lawrence Reveals What ‘A Birmingham’ Really Is
Life is about learning and today I learned something that I never thought I didn’t know. Let me clarify that bizarre opening line. Have you ever thought you knew something but found out later that what you assumed was a fact turned out to be really nowhere near the truth?
It happens a lot in music. We hear a line or a lyric and we run it through the filter that is our brains and we develop a thought about that song. Who knew the Macarena was a cheatin’ song? And, the viral YouTube hit Gangnam Style was a total dis to a large number of people? Or, Tupelo Honey wasn't about the town where Elvis was born?
It happens in country music too.
For the longest time I thought I totally and completely understood the meaning and sentiment behind the Tracy Lawrence hit Paint Me a Birmingham. The song itself had a rather unique climb up the charts in addition to the startling revelation that I am about to reveal to you that will change the way you hear it every time you hear it again.
The year was 2004. Tracy Lawrence’s career had taken a severe downturn because of some poor personal choices and events that unfolded in his life. Ken Mellons was quickly becoming an established star in Nashville; his light wasn’t nearly as bright as Tracy’s but Ken didn’t have the baggage that Tracy was carrying.
They both cut versions of the song Paint Me a Birmingham. And both got some airplay on Country Radio. However, most country radio stations opted for the Tracy Lawrence version of the song. So, that’s how Tracy got to be connected to the hit.
The song itself chronicles a conversation the main character in the song is having with a street artist. He asks the artist to “Paint him a Birmingham” as he sings of a love that was lost and a picture-perfect life that was supposed to be but never was.
The song’s writer said the tune was biographical in nature. He penned the lines as he was thinking of an old flame who passed away at a young age. That “flame” was supposed to be his one and only they were going to settle down in a small house with picket fences and all the trappings of a perfect life.
Here’s where the twist comes in. I always thought the song was about the city of Birmingham as in Alabama. The writer wanted the artist to paint him a scene from an idyllic life in one of the south’s great cities. It makes sense but when you know the real truth, it makes even more sense.
That’s because today I learned that “a Birmingham” is a style of home. Like a split-level or ranch or art-deco are home styles, a Birmingham is a style too. In this case the home would feature a brick façade in a welcoming style. You know the kind of home that is typical in love stories that end “happily ever after”.
So that’s what Tracy was signing about when he vocalized
“A little house on the edge of town Porch goin' all the way around
Put her there in the front yard swing Cotton dress, make it early spring”
And now you know that when Tracy Lawrence asks you to Paint him a Birmingham, you don’t even need a map of the city, you can just paint a quaint little house where a country love story might continue to grow, and now you know.
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