George Jones died today. Through my son Matt’s growing up years, George Jones’ mountain voice and sad songs kept us company. His music tied us to a part of our American folk culture, and to rural life, living as we do in the philistine suburbs of Boston. Alan Jackson said that George Jones wasn’t like a singing star at all; he was like a guy you might know who works at the filling station. He seemed self-conscious to me and awkward. You could tell from the early television tapes that he had demons in his head. At the end of his life he had exorcised most of them. He wore his hair like a helmet to cover up over-sized ears. Alcohol and drugs nearly killed him, but he let people help him, and he found a way back to touring and singing. Matt and I saw his show just two summers ago. I’m so glad we did that together.
You could hear echoes of local, home-grown American music in George Jones, and through them back to European folk music. Local music, learned and performed in rural places and small towns, used to be what was meant by country music. Now that George Jones is dead, I guess that part of our American musical heritage is almost gone.
Here’s a recording of George Jones, Ralph Stanley and Vince Gill