Monday, April 29, 2013

"...He Stopped Loving Her Today.....They Stopped Paying Attention Years Ago...."

George Jones is dead.

And the tributes, accolades and lauding and magnifying of his glorious country star name began to flow, from the first beat of the news mere moments after the last beat of his heart, like a river of the smooth whiskey that was so much a part of the man's legend.

Given his life accomplishments, both professional and personal, the outpouring of praise was both understandable and, even to the most hardened cynics in the crowd, deserved.

Truth told, though, I feel a little inclination to squirm when I read other's offering up assessments that passionately proclaim George was "the greatest country singer ever" or "the singer by which other singers will always be measured".

But that's not meant as a denigration of the either the gifts he possessed or the manner in which he shared those gifts with country music listeners throughout the years.

I simply instinctively discount the kind of hyperbole that puts any one performer at the head of the line.

There's an apples and oranges thing that comes to mind.

There is one exception to my personal hyperbole rule, though.

And it applies here.

I'll be happy to grant any and all that the passing of George Jones represents the proverbial "end of an era."

With a slight exception to my exception.

Not to split hairs or intentionally annoy and/or irritate.

George Jones died Friday.

The era he most dynamically represented preceded him in death by, at the least, a few years now.

A period in the country music timeline where writing and performing were ends in themselves.

And not just means to the end.

A period in the country music timeline where style mattered less than substance, where gifted writers and musicians and singers collaborated to create their own unique, hopefully tasty, recipes, offering them up to the country music fan with an outward approach that said "friends and neighbors, we'd like to do a little number for you now and we sure hope you enjoy it", but always, lurking just underneath, a gritty, true to the country bone attitude that said, "but like it or not, this is what we do, so if you're looking for something from the cookie cutter, turn off the radio and wander on down to your local bakery."

A period in country music when , as a rule, only the first few notes of a vocalist's tone and timbre were required to recognize and identify that vocalist.

When you heard Patsy Cline, you knew immediately it was Patsy Cline.

When you heard Tammy Wynette, you knew immediately it was Tammy Wynette.

And when you heard George Jones....

...well, the rest, as well as the work, is history.

In fairness, it's naive', at best, to think that any era has been free of its "bandwagon" riders. And it's a mistake to overly romanticize or coat our perspectives of the past with too much "good old days" gloss.

The heydays of Patsy and Tammy and George, et al surely experienced singers who were doing their best to be the "next" Patsy or Tammy or George, et al.

The key difference being that, in those "good old days", very few of those folks kept listeners interest, or their record deals, for very long.

And none of them became the "next".

Put another way, lots of folks putting brush to canvas get their stuff hung on the walls of Holiday Inn's from coast to coast.

Only one Mona Lisa.

Having spent thirty plus years as a writer, producer and studio musician/singer in Nashville, I've heard and seen a lot of country roads country has traveled. These days, in the course of assembling a weekly country music broadcast, I spend, by necessity if not interest, a fair amount of time researching and reviewing pretty much the complete "library" of what's going on in contemporary country music.

Here's what I hear from my seat in the concert hall.

The craftsman's shop has been replaced by the manufacturer's factory.

The goal of making music in hopes of selling product has been replaced by the goal of selling product by means of making music.

The once upon a time studio atmosphere of "what can we all do to make this next song unique" has given way to the atmosphere of "what can we do to make this sound like PLACE THE LATEST TOP TEN HIT TITLE HERE?"  ...

The sweet smell of country cooking has been pretty much overwhelmed by the sweet smell of cookies.

Ready to be cut from the baking sheet.

When the platitudes and tributes currently being offered up include "there'll never be another one like George Jones", those paying that tribute likely don't fully appreciate the irony of the observation.

First of all, obviously, there will never be another one like George Jones.

George was, in every way, shape and sound, one of a kind.

But even if George could be "replicated", it wouldn't happen.

Today's country hopefuls are too busy trying to sound like Blake Shelton.

Or Luke Bryan. Or Carrie Underwood.


One more irony worth noting.

The flood of George Jones music that filled the country radio station playlists from almost the moment the Possum passed.

Country radio stations that, one second prior to that passing, wouldn't have played a George Jones song if they had a gun to their heads.

I suspect that a man of his life experiences had to be blessed with a pretty solid sense of humor.

It couldn't possibly have gotten past him that a hard living, hard singing, hard drinking country music icon like George Jones could have bent so many rules and flirted with the long arm of the law so many times.

Only to come to a place in his career, at the end, where he couldn't get arrested.

"Who's gonna fill his shoes?"

No one.

Those shoes went out of style a while back.

But they'll always be classic.

For that, and for a lot of great music, thanks, George.

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