From his 2012 album, Cheers, It's Christmas, Blake Shelton co-wrote the song "Time for Me to Come Home," a moving rumination on fame and the holidays, with his mother, Dorothy Shackleford. Now, Shackleford expands the story into a novel in time for Christmas. Here's an excerpt.
For a minute I forget what city I’m in.
I stare down at the Christmas tree in the plaza below my hotel window and realize I’m fried. It’s one thing to forget where you’re at if you’re in the middle of the country, but you don’t forget you’re in New York City unless you’ve been on the road a long, long time.
It’s late in Manhattan, and I don’t have to leave anytime soon. I’m seriously thinking about spending Christmas in some tropical place. Like the Cayman Islands or maybe just some tiny little unnamed island where I can sip drinks with umbrellas swimming in them and I don’t have to worry about anything, or talk to anyone.
Yeah, that’d be nice.
My head is still buzzing. It always does after shows, and not just from the noise onstage, but also from the energy of the crowd. It doesn’t leave me for a while. Standing in front of twenty thousand people at Madison Square Garden can do that for you. Even if you’re not the headliner. Seeing them singing the songs you wrote yourself, every single line, all in unison. It’s impossible to simply turn off the switch and try to go to sleep. Or try to do anything, really.
I swallow a couple of aspirin and place the bottled water on the window ledge. The headache is coming and I’m needing something to just help stabilize this crazy ride. A ride that’s finally going to stop and take a break.
The Gunslingers Tour hit the road with forty-two dates, all sold out with crowds ready to party. It was billed as a double-barrel shotgun with Heath Sawyer and Sean Torrent. It was a gamble to begin with, pairing a country artist with a rock star, not to mention a rising star like me partnered with a superstar making his comeback. I was the middle act performing before Torrent, which was a great opportunity for me. Somehow, managers and agents and labels managed to make it work, all because they smelled money. Once we started making good money with a dozen shows, they added thirty more including Madison Square Garden.
I think about what they were going to initially call the tour. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Tour. I would’ve been the good guy with my latest album called Two Guns. Sean, the notorious rock star who finally got clean and released his album Comeback Kid, would’ve been the bad guy (and the true headliner). But nobody wanted to be labeled ugly (especially since the opening act was a set of beautiful twin ladies in a band called the Nixx). So we went with the Gunslingers Tour, a nice thing since it was an obvious nod to my record.
I should be celebrating with the band and the label and the hangers-on I just left partying downstairs, but I’m too tired. Not just a need-a-vacation sort of tired but an epic end-of-the-world sort of tired. The kind that produces a lot of zombies. The kind of tired a soul might never come back from.
The best way I can sum up my mood is it’s like someone threw me out of a plane, yet in the middle of plummeting toward the ground below I feel like drifting off to sleep. I’m a Jekyll and Hyde of energy and emotion.
I spend some time looking at the online buzz about the concert on my laptop. Then I close it and wipe my tired eyes.
Wonder what they’d think if I shared what I’m really thinking about this holiday?
But there’s no place for honesty, for being awash in melancholy. That’s a different genre. My world won’t allow for that. My songs and my persona don’t go there. A musician like Sean Torrent can, but not me. Normally I don’t go there, but it’s the end of the tour, and those little demons of doubt are starting to remind me that eventually my time’s gonna be up. I’ll finally reach the ground again. The spotlight will shine on someone else. It always does.
Ho ho ho boo freaking hoo.
The party is still raging, and maybe I’ll go back downstairs to the bar to join them. But something in me wants to be alone. It’s time to tell the gang good-bye. Winter has come and I gotta go hibernate. The music still gets played, but music makers retreat, at least for a while. To write new songs. To devise new strategies and tours. Or maybe just to sleep.
Or maybe to go back home, especially when you’ve been gone far too long.
I finish off my water and think I need something a little stronger. Then I hear my phone go off. It plays a familiar song. It’s my manager. I just saw him but didn’t say good night. He probably is wondering if his cash cow got run over outside by a reindeer.
I let it go to voice mail. It’s one o’clock here in the Big Apple. Most people are asleep, dreaming of the next few days, when they’ll see their families and open gifts and eat lots of home-cooked meals and celebrate the Christmas season. But not the music business. The heart of that business keeps beating, morning, noon, and night.
And all they want is more, especially when the public is clamoring for it.
For a moment I don’t want to think about the business. I don’t want to think about my label and the next album they’re already wanting me to get to work on (not to mention the Christmas album I’m supposed to nail down details on). I don’t want to listen to the demos they’ve sent me or attempt to think of song titles myself.
All I want for Christmas is silence. And maybe the comfort of a pretty stranger.
A minute passes, and the phone goes off again. I go to pick it up, a bit annoyed and ready to ask Sam what’s going on. But the ringtone is different.
“It’s Gotta Be Someone” begins to play. I should know, since it’s one of my songs. It’s actually my momma’s favorite song of mine.
There’s gotta be something wrong.
Reprinted by arrangement with New American Library, published by The Penguin Group. Copyright © Dorothy Shackleford, 2013.