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Wedding Day Blues: Finding the Perfect Mix CD

Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash's "As Long as the Grass Shall Grow" is an essential part of any great wedding mix.
Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash's "As Long as the Grass Shall Grow" is an essential part of any great wedding mix.
When Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash sing about their love, the result is beautiful — but it's never simple.
/ Archive Photos/Getty Images
Archive Photos/Getty Images
When Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash sing about their love, the result is beautiful — but it's never simple.

It's every music nerd's fantasy to be called upon to assemble that perfect mix CD — to be the go-to guy for giving special occasions their own soundtrack. So when my niece asked me to put together an hour of love-themed dinner music for her wedding reception, I took it as a sacred responsibility. I was used to being her weird uncle, but now? Now, I was her tireless music supervisor.

From the start, I set strict guidelines: No heartbreak or infidelity. Nothing unnerving, angry or lusty. Nothing that sucks.

It all seems easy enough, given the countless songs that pay tribute to love between two people. My own favorite musicians sing about love all the time, so they must have something to say about the kind that lasts forever. But so many of their songs were still searching for happiness, or dwelling on mistakes made along the way. Even the song "Question" (audio) by the Old 97's — a song about a marriage proposal — conjures bittersweet emotions. It hints at the towering importance of that moment when love starts to bear the weight of permanence.

I ended up scrapping dozens of tracks that conveyed moodiness or worry, but still my wedding mix, made to celebrate the happiest day of someone's life, sounded oddly miserable. With all the songs at my disposal, couldn't I find 16 that don't make people want to hang themselves?

Some choices were easy: Neil Young's "Harvest Moon" (audio). "Come Away with Me" by Norah Jones. Chet Baker doing "Embraceable You." But even in its finished form, my wedding mix contains more than a slight whiff of agony and hardship, decay and death. In the song "As Long As the Grass Shall Grow" (audio) by June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash, the couple reasserts their love after more than 40 years of complication and hard-won comfort; the song is beautiful, but it's not simple. Their love lasted a lifetime, but it took a lot out of them along the way.

On my niece's wedding night, my bittersweet mix-tape masterpiece played faintly over the din of forks hitting wine glasses. Eager to have it heard by the bride and groom's distant cousins and high-school classmates, I brought copies for anyone willing to take it. My hope is that it reached someone — that he or she drove home next to a sleeping passenger, put it on, listened intently, and sobbed audibly under the night sky.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)

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