7: Back When We Were Beautiful

7: Back When We Were Beautiful

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

Back When We Were Beautiful

Story by Matraca Berg

Song written by Matraca Berg

Recorded by Matraca Berg

This song was a result of two separate conversations that I had fairly close together. My grandmother came to visit me and we had a girl’s day out and had lunch together. She was having such a good time. At one point, she stopped in the middle of eating and looked at me. I’ll never forget the look on her face. It’s hard to describe, but it was kind of like wonderment and surprise. She said, “I still feel like a girl on the inside. And when I look in the mirror, it’s a shock to me because I don’t feel this old.”

I had the exact same conversation with my husband Jeff’s mother a couple of months later. We were talking about Jeff’s parents. They were very much in love and his father looked like a movie star, too. They were a great-looking couple. His father died when he was still pretty young — he was in his fifties. She was showing me pictures of them when they were out dancing at clubs and going to dinner and things like that.

I actually had the line, “Back When We Were Beautiful” scribbled down as a possible title in my idea book, but I didn’t know what it was going to be about. I thought I was going to write a song about my brother and sister and I when we were young.

In the song, there are lines about this older woman feeling pain. I was thinking it was just general pains of aging, not necessarily a disease or anything. It’s funny, because I’m starting to feel some of these things in my forties already, and I’m thinking, “Why is my knee doing that?” or “Why does my hip feel like that?”

I cut the song and it was put out as a single but didn’t do much. I performed it on the CMA Awards, I think, just to get it out there in case somebody else wanted it. It means a lot to me, and it meant a lot that it meant a lot to other people, too. That seems to be the one I get comments on the most.

As far as the unconventional structure, that’s what happens when I sit down at the piano; I become a completely different writer. There’s no real chorus per se, and the melody is unusual for me. It came very quickly, though. I wasn’t really thinking about structure when I wrote it.

Trisha Yearwood cut it, but hasn’t put it on an album yet. Garth Fundis, her producer, said it might end up on another one later. I hope so. My own recording of it made it into the movie, Hope Floats, so that was pretty exciting!

Back When We Were Beautiful

“I guess you had to be there,” she said, “You had to be.”

She handed me a yellowed photograph

And then said, “See,

This was my greatest love, my one and only love

And this is me

Back when we were beautiful.”

“I don’t feel very different,” she said, “I know it’s strange

I guess I’ve gotten used to these little aches and pains

But I still love to dance, you know we used to dance

The night away

Back when we were beautiful, beautiful, yes.”

“I hate it when they say

I’m aging gracefully

I fight it every day

I guess they never see

I don’t like this at all

What’s happening to me

To me.”

“But I really love my grandkids,” she said, “They’re sweet to hold

They would have loved their grandpa

Those awful jokes he told

You know sometimes for a laugh, the two of us would act

Like we were old

Back when we were beautiful, beautiful, yes.”

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