95: Where’ve You Been?

95: Where’ve You Been?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

Where’ve You Been?

Story by Jon Vezner

Song written by Jon Vezner and Don Henry

Recorded by Kathy Mattea

My grandparents moved from Minneapolis to Tucson when they were in their mid-seventies. They lived there until their early nineties. Then my grandmother fell and broke her hip. She also had what I think was dementia instead of Alzheimer’s, even though the symptoms are similar. My aunt went down and brought her back to Minneapolis and put her in the hospital there because she refused to eat. She was this short, strong-willed German woman and I think she just didn’t want to live like that. My grandfather stayed with my aunt up in Minneapolis. When that happened, I think this was the first time — except for maybe one trip earlier in his life — that they had ever spent a night apart.

I had been thinking about moving to Nashville. So, I made a trip here, and I was here for about a week when, during that time, my grandfather had a seizure and they realized he had a massive brain tumor. It was benign, but it was too big to operate on. They put him in the hospital and he was in the same hospital as my grandmother, but on a different floor. When we’d go in to see my grandmother, she acted like she knew my dad but nobody else. And she hadn’t seen my grandfather since he had been put in the hospital. That went on for a week or two and one night, I said to the nurse, “Can I bring him up to see her?”

“I don’t see why not,” she said.

I wheeled him up to the elevator and there were these big glass windows. This was in the Metropolitan Medical Center in Minneapolis. My grandfather always had this boyish sense of wonder, as my dad did, and I think I do, too. He looked out over the city at night through those windows and he kept saying, “Look at that. Isn’t that something?” His eyesight wasn’t that great, but he could see the lights and the glare on the glass.

I took him to my grandmother’s room and, as I wheeled him in, their eyes just locked. I could see that. She didn’t even look at me. She just looked right at him and he looked at her. She had kind of a scowl on her face. He picked up her hand and he started stroking her hair and he said “Look at them hair,” not “her hair,” but “them hair.” And he kept saying, “Nobody has hair like grandma.”

She kept looking at him and finally she said, “Where’ve you been?” Almost like she was ticked off at him. That was about the only thing she said to him and, to our knowledge, it might have been one of the last things she said.

I went back to Nashville and I told Kathy about it. We were just dating then. And I thought about putting it into a song, but it seemed almost too personal. I hadn’t been in Nashville that long, maybe two years. One day, Don Henry and I were writing and I told him about it and he said, “We’ve gotta write that.”

I had some fears about it. I didn’t want to take advantage of it and I was a little afraid about what the family might say, but we went ahead and wrote it. We made up the part about being a salesman, and we changed their names. Their names were Bill and Bertha, so that probably wouldn’t work. Edwin was a cousin of my grandmother’s, and I’ve always loved that name. And Claire was just a name we loved.

We put our songwriter hats on and tried to figure out a couple of other ways to work in the “where’ve you been” lines earlier in the song and we finished it. We wrote it really fast.

I was writing for Wrensong at the time, and I played it for my publisher, Ree Guyer, and she basically just leaned against the door and slid down to the floor and sobbed when she heard it. I was a music major and I loved cello, so we decided to put a cello and a nylon string guitar on it when we did the demo.

Kathy hadn’t heard the song, and there was a party for Kathy and Allen Reynolds’ first #1 single, which was “Going, Gone.” Afterward, I said, “Hey, can I play you guys something?” Kathy leaned over and mouthed the words “you did it” to me while Allen was listening. Interestingly, Allen didn’t want to record it. He thought it was too sad. And I heard stories about other people who heard it. I think Willie Nelson heard it and he cried, but he passed on it because it was too sad. People were afraid of it.

Then I got invited to do an NEA (Nashville Entertainment Association) showcase at The Bluebird. Kathy came down, and it stopped the house. That same night, someone else cancelled and a new guy named Garth Brooks filled in for him and that’s the night he got his record deal. If you look at The Bluebird Café Scrapbook, that night is listed.

In 1988, Kathy won Single of The Year for “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses,” and in 1989 she won Female Vocalist and her new record had just come out. We heard “Where’ve You Been?” on the radio coming back from the CMA Awards in 1989 and, exactly one year later it won Song of the Year at the CMA.

Kathy played it at Austin City Limits and they had to stop taping because they couldn’t get the people to sit down. The show producer, Terry Locona, came up and he said, “I’ve never seen that happen.”

It actually only got up to #13 on the country charts, but it crossed over. It was the first country song in a long time to cross over and it hit #15 on the Adult Contemporary charts. Later, it won an ACM award and a Grammy. It then won the Nashville Songwriters Association International Song of the Year and then I won NSAI Songwriter of the Year that year.

Kathy gets a lot of “Claires” and “Edwins” who come up to her and tell her how much that song meant to them. I get a lot of people who come up to me and say, “I remember exactly where I was when I first heard that and I had to pull over,” and things like that. It’s kind of strange. It’s almost like 9/11 or the Kennedy thing. I’m not putting it up at that level of course, but we hear a lot about that song.

Where’ve You Been?

Claire had all but given up

when she and Edwin fell in love

She touched his face and shook her head

in disbelief she sighed and said

“In many dreams I’ve held you near, but now at last you’re really here

CHORUS:

Where’ve you been?

I’ve looked for you forever and a day

Where’ve you been?

I’m just not myself when you’re away”

He asked her for her hand for life

and she became a salesman’s wife

He was home each night by eight

but one stormy evening he was late

Her frightened tears fell to the floor

until his key turned in the door

CHORUS

They’d never spent a night apart

For sixty years she heard him snore

Now they’re in a hospital

in separate beds on different floors

Claire soon lost her memory

Forgot the names of family

She never spoke a word again

Then one day they wheeled him in

He held her hand and stroked her head

In a fragile voice she said…

CHORUS

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