Friday, April 26, 2013

GEORGE JONES, 1931-2013.

Just heard. I'll have something more to say later, maybe. His music was my good companion through some bad times; next to Sinatra in the When No One Cares era, maybe, nothing suits a sorrow binge like George Jones. (He's good when you're not sad, too, I later found out.) And while I normally don't give a damn what happens to famous people, his apparent ascent into happiness late in life was very cheering to me.

For now it's enough to say that along with everything else, George Jones was one hell of a singer.

UPDATE. He could be funny, too. Used to cover this one in a country band I was in:

UPDATE 2. In comments TomParmenter supplies "Rock  It," a number Jones did in his "Thumper Jones" secret rockabilly identity. But does anyone have tape of him singing as Donald Duck?

UPDATE 3. Just wanted to add:

  • In high school a friend of mine saw him at the Westbury Music Fair and told me Jones was using the name "Tammy" in place of female pronouns, which got some gasps from the crowd. I thought maybe Jones had just been having an episode, but then I saw him on TV singing "If drinkin' don't kill me, Tammy's memory will" on some awards show. I can understand trading in on one's legend -- he did have a funny number called "No-Show Jones," and joked about his drinking -- but think about what it would take to declare yourself like that, to keep telling people that you'd had that one big love and it didn't work out. Jones was in show biz, but I think the feelings the songs talk about weren't an act.
  • The "Ragged But Right" clip shows a younger, lighter Jones; his vocal instrument is pure and strong and he doesn't mess with it much. And that kind of material ("White Lightnin'," "Love Bug," etc.) doesn't call for messing with. The later Jones most people know, though, is the one singing those heartbreak songs, and by then he'd learned a few tricks. I think of "A Good Year for the Roses," where he moves between a low, confidential delivery ("After three full years of marriage it's the first time that you haven't made the bed") and those amazing, keening high notes ("As you turn and walk a-way..."). I say "tricks," but they don't sound tricky -- because, as difficult as most singers would find that kind of transition, Jones made it seem very natural, like that's just how it had to be sung. And that's part of what gives me goosebumps whenever I hear it. He goes from a wounded murmur to something like a howl of pain, and back again; the thing he's talking about isn't just sadness, it's torment; the inconsolable sorrow of lost love. The reason you can bear it, and maybe the reason he could, is that he made it into art.


  1. Sinatra also (allegedly) said that Jones was "the second-best singer in America." We can guess who Frank thought was #1, but I'll take George.

  2. Big_Bad_Bald_Bastard12:38 PM

    I'm going to guess William Shatner, even though he's Canadian.

  3. Big_Bad_Bald_Bastard12:40 PM

    The real question to me is, when did country music start to suck donkey (Hee Haw reference?) dongs? I mean, how could a genre go from the awesomeness of Hank Williams, Sr to the suckitude of Hank Williams, Jr in one generation?

  4. PulletSurprise1:23 PM

    See: Hank III. Apparently it skips a generation.

  5. PulletSurprise1:25 PM

    The happiest sad song ever:

  6. TomParmenter1:38 PM

    His rockabilly manifestation, Thumper Jones.

  7. TomParmenter1:41 PM

    Some guy on the internet said old-school country music was about "me and you" and the modern watery version was about "her and him".

  8. "I broke the head off Elvis, filled Fred up to his pelvis, yabba-dabba-doo, the King is gone, and so are you."

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  10. Bizarro Mike3:22 PM

    Makes sense. Have you heard Shatner's autotuned PSA about turkey frying?

    I have a dream where our era's culture is remembered solely by this performance. Well, nightmare really. The important part is that it is images in my head while I'm asleep.

  11. I grew up listening to him, too. He was one of my mom's favorite singers. Mine too, but I could never admit it to my friends. How is Merle Haggard doing?

  12. Halloween_Jack4:25 PM

    You just don't remember the shitty also-rans of the elder generation. For that matter, the elder generation doesn't remember the shitty also-rans, and likes to talk instead about how whoever's burning up the charts these days isn't "real country". I once saw Lorrie Morgan at a county fair in the South, and even though her own career (as measured from the release of her first album) was less than a decade old at the time, she was complaining about all these new people who weren't country. (To be fair, she has had an extraordinarily country-song-like life: her full name is Loretta Lynn Morgan, and she was married six times, once to Keith Whitley, who managed to do what George Jones never did and literally drank himself to death--his BAC at autopsy was .477.)

  13. edroso4:26 PM

    Merle's on Twitter, at @merlehaggard. Go there and see the picture he posted today of himself with the Possum.

  14. I had, as we say back home, "kin what was neighbors of Jones" and I often heard about how they'd see Possum riding down the road on his lawnmower, going to the store after his license had been permanently taken on account of his (hand to lips motion so's the kids won't know what we're talking about).

    And though I was never a fan, his passing is sad reminder that there used to be a music genre called country music, before it morphed into the bizarre pop-hybrid parody that it has become.

  15. Big_Bad_Bald_Bastard5:47 PM

    Wow, I will never be able to unsee that, but I won't fall victim to a turkey frying mishap.

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  18. Matt Thompson7:21 PM

    Well, the rest of white-people's pop and rocked (mainstream and indie) has been incredibly dull and uninspiring at least since the early '80s and continues to this day, so what do you expect? It's a strange and sad state of affairs when the best song on mainstream country radio these days was written by Dylan in the late '60s.

  19. Big_Bad_Bald_Bastard9:11 PM

    Yeah, the "alt country" stuff has been the way to go for the past three decades.

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  22. Haystack11:57 PM

    Gotta disagree about Hank, Jr. Family Tradition, Whiskey Bent And Hellbound & Habits Old And New are all fine albums from when country music was enjoying a post-outlaw renaissance in the late 70's and early 80's.

    While his later self-made persona as an obnoxious liberal-baiting uber-redneck is both mystifying and disturbing, ol' Bocephus was a bona fide talent back in the day.

    See also childhood years being pushed on stage by his mother as a Hank Sr. impersonator.

  23. Haystack1:05 AM

    John Anderson's Would You Catch A Falling Star is a nice take on the Jones legend. Only a watered-down live performance on YouTube, not the original studio version, unfortunately.

  24. Haystack1:10 AM

    And thanks for this, Roy. I'd heard the day was soon, but I'm genuinely sad. George's stuff was almost a soundtrack during my wayward youth.

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