Many people don't like country music. I get that. Not the new country music which is just pop music now, but pure country music with the steel guitars and gospel harmonies.
Yes, and the old stereotype about a country song being about a guy who lost his woman, his dog and his job is just pure bullshit. There are campy bullshit songs in all genres. Country has no more or no less of those than any other genre.
There, if you are still reading on, then you have an open
enough mind to consider this blog about a great song by great writers and a fantastic performer who could always deliver this type of story based song.
I have always loved Kenny Rogers. From pure country songs, to duets with legendary female singers that ranged from country to pop, any number of fantastic love songs and then the story songs that he became famous for.
His most popular song, The Gambler, was a pure story song that also got made into a movie.
But, one that always seemed to get overlooked as time went on was Coward Of The Country. It is a song with many messages woven within a story of maturity and triumph. I will explore many of those in today's blog.
If you listen to the song, you immediately realize from the first few notes that it is a pure country song, with the guitar strumming that it begins with and that runs throughout the whole song. That would probably send many running before they heard a word. But even if that bothers you, if you get past that and stick around for the first few words you will be hooked on the story.
One of the most notable things about the song was the writers choice to both start and end the song with exactly the same phrase, which was also the title. It marks the start of the story and how it finishes. It tells you that you are a journey with both a start and ending, much like life.
"Everyone considered him the Coward of the County. He'd never stood one single time to prove the county wrong. His momma named him Tommy, but folks just called him yellow."
Do we really know anybody? Truly. Can we really understand why someone acts the way they do? Responds to situations as they do? What is going through their minds based on the sum of the things they have experienced throughout life? Of course, we cannot. We can make judgements, educated guesses, but we cannot ever truly know the reasoning behind their actions..or in this case, inaction. It is much easier to label someone than try to work with them and accept them for who they are and what they need to be for reasons we never fully can comprehend.
The writer of the song, which is told from the perspective of a Tommy's uncle in a storyteller recounting of the events, goes on to explain why they were incorrect in their assessment of him as 'yellow', which he actually was not.
"Something always told me, they were reading Tommy wrong"
It turns out that Tommy had a father who didn't live a good life. He was in jail and died when Tommy was 10 years old. His last wish was to get Tommy not to follow the path he had.
"I still recall the final words my brother said to Tommy, 'son my life is over, but yours has just begun. Promise me son not to do the things I've done, walk away from trouble if you can. It won't mean you're weak if you turn the other cheek. Tommy I sure hope you're old enough understand, you don't have to fight to be a man'."
When you are young you are very impressionable. I had a father just like Tommy's. Maybe not to the extent that his was, but my father did time in jail, lots, and he also did some very bad things to justify that time. My father never spoke words to me like that, nor did he die in prison, he lived until he was 75 and I didn't really need to hear those words, but a big part of the reason I am who I am is some of the great lessons I learned from the good sides of my father. Many might have mistook that for something else because of how I act and the things I say, but unless they know the whole story, they really cannot ever understand why you become who you become and how you act and respond to situations. For me, loyalty and being extremely honest and direct is how I was raised by my father. You always stand up to any challenge but you don't go looking for fights. You fight the battles you have to fight and you win those. You don't fight for no good reason.
"There's someone for everyone, and Tommy's love was Becky."
I believe that to be true. No matter who you are, what you are, how you are and what your life philosphy is, there is someone for you and you are the right person for them. When you are alone and think it is just never going to work out for you it is something you can hold on to. It is this one line in this song, which I first heard while I was a teen in high school which has always stuck with me. I am not really a romantic, nor do I think that means a white picket fence, but there is a match for everyone. We don't always choose that match, but I believe it to be out there.
"One day when he was working, the Gatlin boys came calling. They took turns at Becky, and there was three of them. Tommy opened up the door and saw his Becky crying. Torn dress, the shattered look was more than he could stand. He reached above the fireplace and took down his daddy's picture. As his tears fell down on his daddies face, he heard those words again."
Making promises and making choices in life. Standing up for what you have to stand up for. You make promises, but sometimes you have to break those promises. You make choices when you do that. The greater good, standing up for what is right, standing up for yourself and your loved ones, giving someone something they deserve. Life is full of promises and choices. Sometimes you make promises when you are in a much different place in your life and then you have to make a choice when you are in a different place that goes against that promise. It may not even go against that promise, once you reassess what it all means. Again, others can misread your actions as weakness when in fact it is strength, shown in different ways they probably do not understand.
"The Gatlin boys just laughed at him when he walked into the bar room. One of them got up and met him halfway cross the floor. When Tommy turned around they said 'hey look Ole Yellow's leaving' but you could have heard a pin drop, when Tommy stopped and locked the door."
In life, those that appear strong are many times the weak. That is because they underestimate and misread the strong for the weak and try and take advantage of them. Until one day when that comes back to bite them. The strong know, again, that you only fight when you have to, but when you have to, you don't want to mess with them, because they fight with conviction and tenacity and it is for real. They are fighting because they have to fight, and there is no mercy when you do that. The weak fight to show how tough they are even though on the inside they know they are weak.
"Twenty years of crawling was bottled up inside him, he wasn't holding nothing back, he let em have it all. When Tommy left the bar room not a Gatlin boy was standing. He said 'this one's for Becky' as he watched the last one fall."
When it comes time to stand up and fight, you fight. That doesn't mean you are weak for not taking the non-violent route. You try not to, but if you are pushed to fight, then you must fight. It means you are strong, because you did what was needed. When your loved ones are threatened, you do whatever you have to to protect them. I have done this a few times and I would do it again. I consider it a strength not a weakness.
"And I heard him say, 'I promised you dad to not do the things you've done. I walk away from trouble when I can. Now please don't think I'm weak, I didn't turn the other cheek. Papa I sure hope you understand. Sometimes you gotta fight when you're a man'. Everyone considered him, The Coward of The Country."
Tommy was never a coward. Cowards are the ones who pick fights with those who never harm them and are weaker than them physically so they can look good winning, to boost their own egos. Tommy was brave, and when the time came to show that, he did. The Gatlin boys were the cowards. More to the point, arrogant bullies.
Coward of The County is just a great song. It touches on so many issues and ideas and even if you don't like country music, it is worth the listen. At least to me it always was, but then I like country music, so it wasn't tough for me in the first place. I hope you got this far and you did as well.