George Jones. The One and Only George Jones.Embed from Getty Images
Four years ago the Silent Boatman, who comes for us all, carried George away.
He was, without any scintilla of doubt, the greatest singer Country Music has ever, or will ever, know.
He was born in Texas in 1931. From his dad he inherited a taste for the bottle and from his mother the hope of salvation.
The world and his own nature offered up the simultaneous allure and spectre of sin, guilt and damnation.
From some higher power he was blessed with a singing voice that could express with enormous authority and impact the whole damn bone and blood gamut of emotions we’re all forever chained and in thrall to throughout our lives.
A voice that was never unrestrained even when plumbing unfathomable depths of pain and loss.
George’s voice had to be controlled even under the most crushing spiritual and emotional pressure because it was his, and our, final defence against defeat, depression and madness.
Sing one for me George!
George could sing gospel with a repentant sinner’s fervour and in his youth with the tempo cranked up to hot rod levels he could almost sound like a rockabilly singer.
But, he lived and died as the greatest country honkytonk balladeer who ever lived.
If you want your heart pummelled and wrenched (and sooner or later we all do) no-one can perform emotional/emergency cardiac surgery like good ol’ George.
I won’t list all the hits – there are several fine compilations, easily available, where you can soak yourself in his genius for mining and assuaging in song the travails, tragedies and travesties of life, love and death.
What more do you want?
Take a few minutes now to listen to ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’.
When George recorded this he was a wreck of a man almost destroyed through drink and dissolution.
The writers, Bobby Braddock and Curly Putnam, gifted him a morbid son of a bitch of a song that needed a singer who could emotionally outstare the tragic story of a life stalled for decades because of lost chances and lost love.
A life only released from the stasis of loneliness and pain by the release of death.
George was more than equal to the challenge. He was well acquainted with loss and he knew what it was to be half crazy.
Knowing this as a man helped the artist to sing the song with startling tenderness.
He sings with the tone of a man who has been so blasted by the storms that have assailed him that he has surrendered all his rage.
Now, he accepts with humility the consolations of bare humanity.
Hear the dignity he gives to the wonderful line ‘All dressed up to go away’ describing the funeral bound body of the song’s protagonist.
Hear how he allows the swelling instrumentation of the chorus to lift him as he reveals with power but without undue drama why, finally, the man at the centre of the song has stopped loving her today.
Only the truly great artists can stop time.
George stops it for us by largeness of heart, force of will and depth of talent.
Now let’s hear another demonstration of George’s genius as a singer and his capacity to capture and reveal the emotional depths and complexities which can be contained in a ‘simple’ country song.
‘A Good Year for the Roses’ showcases George mining sadness, despair, anger, bitterness and weary resignation.
When George sings he makes fellow flawed pilgrims of us all.
On our pilgrimage we stumble. We fall. We fall again.
We can’t go on. Can’t go on. Yet we do. We go on.
With George’s voice beckoning us on. Step by step.
Step by stumbling step.
Not many really deserve to have angels sing them to their rest.
For the rest of us we could do no better than settle for the immortal tones of the sinner’s friend – George Jones.
You know I think the boatman might just have broken his vow of silence when he ferried George.
I can hear him saying, ‘Sing one for me George. Sing one for us all.’
George Jones died on April 26 2013 in his 82nd year.
God bless you George!