My George Jones Post
As I’ve gotten older, I do my best to not be overly sentimental. Crying over the death of someone famous, someone I’ve never met, well, I thought I’d left that kind of behavior far behind. I guess not. Let me back up a little. Maybe a lot.
My Mom has been a George Jones enthusiast for longer than I’ve been alive. He, and her other favorites, “They sang songs that *meant* something. They’re songs that tell a story.” She and my Dad have actually spoken the latter sentence simultaneously when talking about Good Music, and they don’t often acknowledge agreeing on much. Every Sunday morning, my Mom would turn the radio on – the local AM station had its Country show Sunday mornings, and she would kind of lose herself in the songs. Throughout way too many years, I didn’t get it. This music wasn’t ABBA, it wasn’t Duran Duran, it wasn’t “meaningful” like U2, or The Pogues, or this or that, and whatever else I was into. It was old-fashioned. Simple (so I thought at the time, mystifyingly enough). Rural. Corny. I was so above that. I was gonna move to Boston or New York City, and live in a cool apartment, run around with cool friends, see cool music whenever I wanted, and just always be cool every day, all the time. (God. Doesn’t that sound exhausting? And boring?)
To torment me and my eyerolling, my Mom especially enjoyed clapping and singing along with (in an exaggerated Southern drawl) the songs on the Sunday show, especially Willie Nelson. She was, and is, passionate about the music she loves. Whenever the George Jones topic came up, the crux of the conversation would always end up as “He’s just… Special.”
I’ve had a lot of Favorite Band(s) in the Whole Wide World(s) throughout the years, and, like my Mom and Dad, am always passionate about that which I love. I’m not sure when it happened, but I think it started in my late twenties; everyone across genres was realizing the genius of Johnny Cash. Swing music was in another big revival, and we were all trying to put our own spin on the past, when things were just made better. My then-fiancee/now husband & I saw “Swingers” I don’t know how many times. I bought the soundtrack. On that soundtrack was George Jones’s “She Thinks I Still Care,” which I vaguely recalled in the background of some scene or another, but it didn’t jump out at me. Somehow, though, it became the track I repeated multiple times on that cd. It was an amazing combination of comfort and undiscovered (to me) brilliance. It was just… Special.
Somewhere in between then and now, my Mom and Dad loaned me their George Jones memoir, “I Lived to Tell It All.” I read it in no time. Holy hell, what a page-turner! I started listening to more of his music, and slowly, gradually, falling in love. The warble in his voice, the deep, dulcet tones, the enunciation of every word so that you could hear the story, know its beginning, middle and end – all within such a short space of time. His voice breathed life into them – a very special kind of life. I still did and do listen to punk rock in its many, many guises, but man, no one can tell a story like George.
Last year, I got an email with concert listings for my favorite nearby venues. George Jones was going to play there in July! I was going to see him, come hell or high water, and my Mom said she’d love to see him too. George got the flu last year, though, and was really sick, and had to postpone several shows, including ours. So instead of July, we got to see him in August. He had been fighting off the long-lingering affects of the flu, or flu-like illness, and his voice was rough. He couldn’t sing endlessly anymore, and his back-up singers and band helped fill in the thin spots. They all seemed to know how lucky they were to be there, and to be able to help support such a unique legend who had hit rock bottom several times, and come back, and snatched his life back. I think everyone in the crowd that night felt that way too – just really lucky to be in the same room with No-Show Jones, let alone hear him sing parts of “The Grand Tour,” “A Picture of Me Without You,” “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” “Golden Ring” (oh, Tammy was there in spirit)… His voice and body had been through a lot, but man, were they ever still special. We all felt a kind of nourishment on a spiritual level that we didn’t talk about in those terms, but was there, nonetheless.
Since starting to play music several years ago, my tastes have morphed and refined, and ultimately, gone back in time. I’ve listened to a LOT of George Jones (much to my Mom’s amusement and delight), and singing along with him has undoubtedly made me a much stronger singer. I even wrote a song strongly informed by his songs, the first of many (I hope).
When George announced his plans for “The Grand Tour” this year, and that it would in fact be his final one, and announced a huge blowout for his Nashville show in November, my husband and I decided this would be the perfect catalyst to finally get us to Nashville. So we bought tickets, and were planning on gradually planning the trip around this momentous, literally awesome, event. Every time I’ve looked at the tickets, or thought about the trip, I did a seriously dorky happy dance.
On April 18, I heard that he was hospitalized for a fever and irregular blood pressure. I checked for news that he had been treated and released, and would continue his Grand Tour soon. I didn’t find anything.
On April 26, a friend sent me a message informing me of George’s passing. Before I knew it, I had to shut my office door because I couldn’t stop crying. I just… He was touring. He wasn’t ready to stop yet. He did his rocking on the stage. He’s inspired and influenced countless people, and even more countless songs. His life, his work, his very voice, were cooler than cool – they were quality. They told a story. They meant something. They and he were just… Special.
The arena will be holding a tribute show on the date that George was to have played, which will include many of the artists who had already signed on to sing and play with George before his death, but I just can’t bring myself to sit through many of them if George isn’t there. In order to get refunded, I have to send my tickets back, and I am putting it off. It just feels so final.
I’ll continue singing lots of Possum songs, in celebration of his magnificently flawed, but incredible life. Maybe shed some more tears for all the songs he had left in him. But always knowing that he sure as hell enjoyed the ride of life, even when it was on a lawnmower. Maybe even especially so.
Rest In Peace, George. My Mom is right. You were just special.