I had quite a few things lined up for the column this week, but their inherent coolness was overwhelmed by the news of the passing of a giant: George Jones. So this week's "Obsessions" is for, and about, one of the greatest singers country music will ever know.
George Jones was one of those rare artists who bridged the worlds of rock and country. Not in musical style, of course; even when he recorded a song with Keith Richards, it was a country song. No, Mr. Jones brought rock 'n' roll-style debauchery to the world of country music. Country artists to this day can still drink and drug on par with their rock counterparts; they just lie about it in the press and eventually record gospel albums. But George Jones was the real deal, living life at full speed and in broad daylight. This is a guy who got drunk and crashed a tractor -- yes, a tractor -- on his own property. Today's fake country pop stars are more likely to take a Xanax and sideswipe the pool guy's pickup in their Bentley.
The way I see it, if you live 80 years and really leave your mark on this world, that's a pretty good deal. And George Jones got 81, which, considering his lifestyle, seems like a lot. And during that lifespan, he was called "the greatest country singer in the world" by Hank Williams. He was respected by everyone from Johnny Cash to Willie Nelson, to Merle and Buck, and to a generation of George Jones wannabes. (By the way, if you're a country singer and you're not a George Jones wannabe, leave the business immediately.)
You needed serious talent back in George Jones' recording heyday, and he was loaded for bear. The sad thing is, my parents were big George Jones fans when I was a kid -- his records were always around -- but I didn't grasp the guy's genius until I was well into adulthood. Simple message there: Your parents really do know best.
The real tragedy of the Possum's passing is that he was one of a handful of artists who still had the recipe for country music. I have to wonder if Merle called up Willie Nelson this week and told him that they were all that's left: a kind of Pancho and Lefty, if you will. We've let Nashville destroy the legacies of George and Merle and Buck and Johnny. There are still some holdouts out there, guys like Dwight Yoakam and Jamey Johnson, and they're fighting the good fight. But they're losing ground to frauds like Blake Shelton and Gloriana. Shame on Nashville for killing country music. And shame on country radio for rolling over and letting them do it. But mostly shame on us for not demanding better.
As for me, I'm going over to my parents' house to steal a few George Jones records on vinyl, "Oceans 11"-style. I have them all on the iPod, but at times like this, those pops and clicks are downright soothing. Rookies looking to explore Jones' music should consider starting with "The Essential George Jones." It's got 20 songs, ranging from "I'm Ragged But I'm Right" through "He Stopped Loving Her Today." I hope you pick up one of his live albums too. That guy put on a hell of a show, when he showed up. And when Merle or Willie come back to town, I hope that the ovation at the end lasts just a little longer, in appreciation not only of their music but of the fact that the world is quickly running out of real country geniuses.
Geniuses like the late George Jones.