'Strait talk' about life's teardrops, laughterBooks abound about learning lessons in life from the Simpsons, Winnie the Pooh — even the Beverly Hillbillies. So I suppose it's no stretch that I've learned a good deal about living from listening to the songs of George Strait.Strait won his 22nd Country Music Association Award the other night. That's more than anyone else. And he got there the old fashioned way — by being dedicated, consistent and true to himself.Those are good lessons in life right there.Back at the beginning, when Strait was just getting his sea legs in the industry, my brother Dave and I caught one of his early shows and he invited us back onto his bus. His band was there, popping open Lone Star beers. Cowboy boots and shirts were strung about. I asked what he planned to do next.He winked at one of his band members."I don't know," he said. "Maybe we'll try some Motown."He didn't, of course. What he did do was produce a string of hard-shell country ballads and novelty songs that serve as a tour of the heart.Like other greats — George Jones, Tom T. Hall — Strait tends to pingpong between sentimental country "weepers" and knee-slapping comedy songs. He's all "teardrops and laughter," to borrow a line from Waylon Jennings. The tears are there to keep life from getting too superficial and the laughter cuts the heartache and pain.I've always admired people who can smile through pain. I remember Ronald Reagan saying with a wink, "I forgot to duck" right after he was shot. That humorous aside in a time of anguish showed him to be a man of character.Strait's songs, when taken as a whole, are a handbook for developing character.Your wife leaves you and you tell her you don't miss her. Then, with a sly smile, you say, "And if you buy that, I've got some ocean-front property in Arizona."Your life has been a mess of failed relationships. But instead of sobbing into your oatmeal you say, "I've got so many 'exes' and 'owe' so much, I oughta be on 'Hollywood Squares.' "Your husband leaves a party with another woman and doesn't get home until morning. Through the tears you say, "If you planned on hurting me, you're an overnight success."Joy is red and sorrow is blue. Stir a little sorrow into the joy and it grows richer and deeper. Stir a little joy into the sorrow and it becomes bearable. That's what I've learned from Strait.Country music is one of the few types of popular music that has retained a sly sense of humor in the face of life's woes. It's also one of the few types of music that's not afraid of sentiment or domestic life.Strait — with a voice like saddle soap and a band that can lift old Texas shuffle tunes to a new level — has mastered that music. And paying attention to his songs can help you down the path toward mastering life.