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Songwriter Neil Thrasher thought he knew everything about his best friend, fellow writer Wendell Mobley. But as he pitched a song idea to Wendell, Neil would tap into a tender, secret corner of his friend's life - where an anguished memory had been bottled up for 19 years.
"We were writing together," Neil begins, "and I came out on the front porch and said, 'Why don't we write about a teenage boy who got his girlfriend pregnant, but they hung in there.' I'd even had the words - There goes my life - in my notebook for over a year."
At that point, Wendell softly spoke up. He tearfully told Neil about a daughter that he fathered while he was still in high school. "My daughter's name was Lexi," explains Wendell. "We lost her when she was about a year old. Her birthday is March 17."
Though he had been Neil's friend for years, Wendell had never shared this part of his life. "I'd been getting kind of funky around her birthday, wondering what she'd be like right now," Wendell confesses with a crack in his voice. "Neil brought this song idea up right about that time."
The revelation rocked Neil to the core. "I had no idea about Wendell's past when we started writing that first verse on the front porch," says Neil, who's the father of two young daughters. "I've gotta tell you, being friends with Wendell as long as I had, and finding out something like that ..."
Neil's voice trails off, overcome by the emotional impact. He pauses for a moment to collect his thoughts. "That just got all over me," Neil recalls. "I broke down in front of my wife."
As the two began to dive into the song, the emotions poured out like water. "We cried and wrote and sang - and ate," says Neil with a tension-releasing laugh. "There wasn't any stopping. It was almost like therapy, writing it with someone so close to me."
Kenny Chesney recorded the powerful tune, about an initially reluctant father watching his daughter grow up from infant to adulthood - with a decided change of emotions along the way. The single took off with rocket speed, hitting No. 1 after just a few weeks. But beyond its chart success, "There Goes My Life" has wielded a farreaching impact. Neil and Wendell have heard countless stories of estranged fathers and daughters actually reuniting - all because of their song.
"Right after we were done writing it," Wendell remembers, "Neil and I talked about how this was a perfect marriage between personal and universal. It's these kinds of stories, when you know it's happening all over, that really is so rewarding to hear."
-- Marianne Horner