George Jones’ Choices

It was almost midnight when I got the news that country-and-western legend George Jones “The Possum” died yesterday.  He was 81.

When I told my Dad this morning, his first response was “We’re going to the funeral.”  Then, he remarked sadly, “His drinking finally caught up to him.”

It brought to mind a lyric from the John Prine song, “Please Don’t Bury Me” (an anthem for organ donation) that goes –

Give my stomach to Milwaukee
If they run out of beer

If Jones drank up to even half his reputation, there is no doubt that his kidney and liver must have been pickled, but in his case it seems to have worked as a preservative.  “The Possum” performed his music over a span of almost 60 years, much of it heavily under the influence of alcohol.  According a New York Times article

“White Lightning,”a No. 1 country hit in 1959, required 83 takes because Mr. Jones was drinking through the session. On the road, playing one-night stands, he tore up hotel rooms and got into brawls. He also began missing shows because he was too drunk to perform.

I had the pleasure of seeing George Jones at the Little Opry House in Nashville, Indiana in 1984.  True to form, he was late appearing on stage as his crew frantically worked to sober him up.  When he did arrive on stage, it took two large men (on either side of him) to hold him up and keep him in the general vicinity of the microphone.  Yet, his voice remained strong as he belted out –

They call me No Show Jones.
(They call him No Show Jones)
I’m seldom never on
(He’s seldom never on)
The stage singin’ my songs
My whereabouts are unknown.
(They call him No Show Jones)
They call me No Show Jones.

The audience went wild – cheering on this man who could get away with so much yet sing so well.

One of the paradoxes of George Jones is that while he clearly broke nearly all the rules that lead to life (drinking, drugging, failure to support wives and children), his music still affirmed a moral universe.  His Grammy-award winning song “Choices” expresses this well –

I’ve had choices since the day that I was born

There were voices that told me right from wrong

If I had listened, no I wouldn’t be here today

Living and dying with the choices I’ve made

George Jones was perhaps the second greatest male country singer who ever lived.  And unlike the first (Hank Williams, Sr.), he was able to beat the odds, to live the hard life celebrated in song, to drown his sorrow and come up just in time for air time and time again.  He was able to temporarily put off his pain in pursuit of pleasure.

God only knows where this pursuit has ultimately led him.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live…  (Deuteronomy 30:19)

(photo above “George Jones – Rest in Peace” from  Laurie in Books & Movies & Music & TV & People)

3 thoughts on “George Jones’ Choices

  1. I used to hate that my parents listened to George Jones, Hank, Johnny, Loretta, Patsy, and all the other great country classics. I would roll my eyes when they’d have their parties with that kind of music playing. Now that I am older I am much more appreciative of the music. Once I got past the twangy sounds the lyrics are very dramatic and impressive. “Ive never seen a night so long
    When time goes crawling by
    The moon just went behind a cloud
    To hide it’s face and cry” I mean that is just brilliant. And of course, George Jones’ “I stopped loving her today”. It’s really beautiful and they certainly don’t make ’em like that anymore.

    • I couldn’t agree more. The poetic artistry of classic country is hard to beat. The artists today producing quality music get little air play. Check out – John Prine, Zoe Muth, and Iris Dement.

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