Once upon a time, a songwriter in Nashville broke up with his girlfriend. When she moved to Austin, he realized he’d made a terrible mistake. So he put a new outgoing message on his answering machine: “By the way – if this is Austin, I still love you.”
When fellow Music City songwriter Kirsti Manna heard the message, she was inspired. She told the story to co-writer David Kent, and together the two came up with a song that would tug at heartstrings nationwide and give 25-year-old newcomer Blake Shelton a multiweek No. 1 smash.
The hardest part of writing “Austin” turned out to be coming up with its happy ending. “He kept missing her, and she kept missing him,” says David. “How’s it gonna end? The thing that finally worked was the twist ending, where he calls back and thinks for a minute he’s got her answering machine – but he’s really got her! So that put a bit of a smile at the end of it.”
Blake identified with the song right away. “I’ve had girlfriends I’ve gotten back together with after we’d broken up, and it never worked out,” he recalls. “But ‘Austin’ relates to all of those situations, whether it works out or not. It’s really about second chances.”
After Blake sang it, there was still one more bit of work to be done on the song—producer Bobby Braddock felt the original title, “If This Is Austin,” was too long. “Bobby said he could just see it as one word, ‘Austin,’ sitting up there at the top of the charts,” remembers David. “We said, ‘Hey, Blake’s singing the daylights out of it—you can call it ‘Boston’ if you like!'”
And sit at the top of the chart it did, inspiring couples across the country to give their own broken romances a second chance, although the real couple who inspired the song never did get back together.
Nonetheless, notes David, “We’ve gotten so much e-mail from people whose lives have been changed. One lady said she’d left her husband after 15 years, thinking she wasn’t happy, and didn’t tell him where she was going. She’d been away a year, not knowing what to do—then she heard ‘Austin.’
“She called her husband and left her number on his machine, he called her back that night, and now they’re working on their relationship. Now there’s the real reason you write a song.”
story by Marianne Horner