May 02, 2013 7:03 PM
Back in the 1980s, when I was young and indestructible, I would get together with co-workers and play tennis every Thursday night. This was social tennis as I had given up the competitive game because it was too much like working a second job. After a 30-second field shower (putting on a hat and a dry T-shirt), some of us would go get some beer at a nearby pool hall. Not a “game room” or “recreation center.” A pool hall.
Somehow, that always put me in a mood for the music of my native people; Texans like both kinds of music, country AND western. If I went to the jukebox first and plunked in my quarters, I would probably get to hear my songs before the bottom of the second pitcher. No matter what assortment I picked, I always put in two songs, the first being “Seven Spanish Angels” by Ray Charles, a story of love that lasts a lifetime and little bit longer.
The other, cut from the same cloth, was “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” by George Jones, a Texas legend who was laid to rest today.
In that song, Jones’ mournful and unique voice told the tale a friend who loved his woman until “when they placed a wreath upon his door.” While Ray Charles’ song tugged at my heart, it was George Jones that made me wipe my eyes.
As a man and a performer, Jones was a mass of contradictions, from his epic partnership and marriage to Tammy Wynette, to his reputation for loving the fruit of vine, to his penchant for missing his own shows. One of the happiest moments in my life was getting tickets for my late Mom and Dad to go see George Jones live and Mom came home with a shirt that proclaimed “I Saw No-Show Jones!”
There’s something to be said for a man that can get pulled over for drunk driving on his lawn mower, a picture I consider when cutting the grass and listening to the iPod. There’s also something to be said for a man whose voice can be recognized from the first syllable.
When I was a child of about six or seven, I had a bad case of the measles and, as was the practice then, I was on bed rest in a back bedroom with the drapes pulled. Lying there in the dark, I couldn’t read but I could listen to the radio and Jones’ hit “The Race is On” was in heavy rotation. I would lie there in the dark, imagining this horse race with metaphors like “My tears are holding back. They’re tryin’ not to fall.” I didn’t understand the brokenhearted subtext then but somehow trying to picture all those horses helped me fall off to sleep. I guess us Texans don’t count sheep.
One of my favorite Jones songs is “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” in which he pays tributes to all of the legends of country music like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Conway Twitty. For the country music fan, the Grand Ole Opry is the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Jones wondered who would take the place of these titans in the future.
Who, indeed, Mr. Jones? Who, indeed?