79: The Good Stuff

79: The Good Stuff

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

The Good Stuff

Story by Craig Wiseman

Song written by Craig Wiseman and Jim Collins

Recorded by Kenny Chesney

I was writing with Jim Collins, a buddy of mine — a great song-writer. I was writing for Sony at the time. I was running late and Jim was out in front smoking a cigar with the security guard, Rusty Martin, who I had just gotten to know. I knew Rusty was a retired Mississippi highway patrolman. He found out I was a Mississippi boy, too, and he was always a really nice guy. I also knew he wasn’t old enough to retire; he was maybe in his late forties.

I started asking around and found out that he had come up here because his wife had been battling cancer for a long time and was being treated at Vanderbilt in Nashville. They were coming up here so much, they were thinking of moving here, but his wife passed away before that happened.

I didn’t know all those details then, but Jim knew some things and I knew some things and we just started putting Rusty’s story together. At that point, I’d been married probably 10 or 12 years and Jim had been married about 15 or 16. We talked about what it would be like to have to sit and watch your wife pass away in front of you. We sat in silence for a few moments and then we said, “Well, let’s get back to writing.”

Jim said, “I got this idea for a song. It’s called ‘The Good Stuff.’” We both thought it was going to be a different song, but ended up going in another direction.

I picked up the guitar and wrote the first line, “Me and my lady had our first big fight. So I drove around until I saw the neon light.” I said, “Well, we can’t just have them have a fight and he goes to a bar. How clichéd is that?”

The other part of that story comes from an experience I had at a blackjack table. I was at a casino and was playing at a table with one of my songwriter friends. We were talking to the dealer and we said, “How would you play that hand?”

He said, “I wouldn’t play it. I don’t gamble.”

I said, “You’re a dealer and you don’t play cards?”

He said, “I’m in recovery. I was a gambling addict.” Then he said, “I can do one better than that. My other job is at a liquor store and I’m a recovering alcoholic.”

I said, “Are you kidding me? What’s up with that? That would be a little challenging.”

He said, “I figure I’m faced with the results of that temptation enough that it actually gives me some peace.” That stuck in my mind. So when we started writing the song again, I thought about that dealer and put him in the place of the bartender in the song. We decided that they weren’t going to drink in the song. Jim told me the idea he had about the customer asking for the good stuff and the bartender says, “That’s not the good stuff. This is,” and he explains what that means. Then we got the idea of them sharing a glass of milk because it seemed so different that it just might work. That was me pushing the envelope a little.

We always knew it would end with the bartender telling the young guy, “When you get home, she’ll start to cry / When she says ‘I’m sorry,’ say ‘So am I.’ / And look into those eyes so deep in love... and drink it up, ’cause that’s the good stuff.”

We knew Kenny Chesney was cutting and thought it might be right for him, so we put it down and sent it over to him.

The story took on a different angle altogether, but it was emotionally inspired by Rusty’s story of losing somebody so close to him. I told Jim, “Before we do anything, I want to play this for Rusty. I know it’s not exactly his story, but I still want to clear it with him.” Ironically, we were thinking of names for the bartender’s wife, and we actually wrote down “Bonnie” because I thought of somebody I knew from church. We found out later that Rusty’s wife’s name was Connie. So that was kind of strange.

I brought Rusty in to hear the demo and he just sat there silently and then he took a CD and left. I didn’t know if I had offended him or what. He took the song home and played it for his daughter and she liked it. So he brought it back to us on Monday and said, “Okay. That’s fine.”

I called the funeral home that did Connie’s burial and found out what kind of stone they used and we had a footstone made for her that read, “The Good Stuff.”

When we had a #1 party for the song, we invited Rusty and gave it to him there. I worried that it might be too much, but I really wanted to do that for him. It was at the ASCAP building. Sometimes those parties can get to be a little boring, you know, but this time it was different. When we gave it to him, I remember looking up and seeing people coming out of their offices and they were all crying. It was a pretty memorable party.

We always say that this song came from three happy marriages, and two of them are still going.

The Good Stuff

Well, me and my lady had our first big fight

So I drove around ’til I saw the neon light.

A corner bar, and it just seemed right.

So I pulled up.

Not a soul around but the old bar keep

Down at the end an’ looking half asleep

And he walked up, and said, “What’ll it be?”

I said, “The good stuff.”

He didn’t reach around for the whiskey;

He didn’t pour me a beer.

His blue eyes kinda went misty,

He said “You can’t find that here.

’Cause it’s the first long kiss on a second date.

Momma’s all worried when you get home late.

And droppin’ the ring in the spaghetti plate

’Cause your hands are shaking so much.

And it’s the way that she looks with the rice in her hair.

And eatin’ burned suppers, the whole first year

And askin’ for seconds to keep her from tearin’ up

Yeah, man, that’s the good stuff.”

He grabbed a carton of milk and he poured a glass.

An’ I smiled an’ said, “I’ll have some of that.”

We sat there an’ talked as an hour passed

Like old friends.

I saw a black an’ white picture and it caught my stare,

It was a pretty girl with bouffant hair.

He said “That’s my Bonnie,

Taken ’bout a year after we were wed.”

He said, “Spent five years in the bottle,

When the cancer took her from me.

But I’ve been sober three years now,

’Cause the one thing stronger than the whiskey

Was the sight of her holding my baby girl.

The way she adored that string of pearls,

I gave her the day that our youngest boy, Earl,

Married his high school love.

And it’s a new tee-shirt saying ‘I’m a Grandpa.’

Being right there as our time got small,

And holding her hand, when the Good Lord called her up,

Yeah, man, that’s the good stuff.”

He said, “When you get home, she’ll start to cry.

When she says ‘I’m sorry,’ say ‘So am I’

And look into those eyes, so deep in love,

And drink it up.

’Cause that’s the good stuff.

That’s the good stuff.”

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