The House You Loved
“The House That Built Me,” performed by Miranda Lambert, was the No. 1 country song for four weeks last summer and was voted Song of the Year by the Country Music Association in November. What made it such a success?
Douglas: I think that its message resonates with people because, in our culture today, lives are increasingly fractured and shattered for all kinds of reasons. Even with technology that connects us, we’ve become very isolated. The song tells the story of wanting to go back to the house that you loved. Houses are a touchstone for our lives. The house we grew up in reminds us of simpler times. When we lose our way emotionally and spiritually, that house reminds us of a time of greater stability and continuity.
Where did the idea for the song come from?
Douglas: My cowriter, Allen Shamblin, came across an article about how houses shape us into the people we are—how they play an integral role in our personal development. The two of us got to talking about the houses we grew up in, and we thought up the idea for a protagonist who lost his way in the world and made a series of wrong choices. In those cases, people want to go back to the place they loved, even if just for a visit.
You conceived of the song during the housing boom times, but it wasn’t released until 2010. Did the dramatic changes in the market affect the song’s meaning in any way?
Douglas: A house is not simply four walls or a financial investment. It becomes your heart. It’s still the dream for most people, regardless of whether the real estate industry is booming. Having our own home is what we aspire to, whether it’s a trailer or a mansion on a hill.
What kind of audience reaction have you gotten?
Douglas: Hundreds of people have e-mailed me saying the song touched them. Many send pictures of their childhood homes. There is one woman I met who really stands out—she said she doesn’t love the song for the reason most people do. She grew up in a dysfunctional household and now that she’s married with her own children, the song reminds her of the kind of home she wants to create for her family today.
Where did you spend your childhood?
Douglas: I grew up in Atlanta. My father bought a lot and built a house that we moved into when I was 5. It was the only home I knew as a child. It meant everything to me.
You worked as a commercial real estate broker in the 1980s and ’90s. What was that experience like?
Douglas: I loved real estate. I specialized in leasing and sales at shopping centers, but I wasn’t that good at it. You have to be a lot smarter than I am. My most memorable client was Just for Feet—a chain of shoe stores. I found them four or five locations in Dallas after their IPO.
Some media reports lately have been pushing the notion that owning a home may not make sense for most people. What’s your response?
Douglas: People shouldn’t be thinking of houses simply as an investment. It’s a historic time to buy. You pull into your driveway and put your key in the door, and it’s all yours. You can’t beat that feeling. Even if it’s an expense you have to keep up, you gain something in knowing the place is yours and yours alone.