My appreciation for country music was well-summarized in David Allen Coe's 1975 song, "You Never Even Called Me by My Name.'' Coe received this work from the great Steve Goodman, along with Goodman's self-congratulatory comment that he felt as if he had written the perfect country song.
Coe responded famously that he couldn't agree, since Goodman "hadn't said anything at all about mama, or trains, or trucks, or prison, or getting drunk.''
Goodman then added a final verse:
"Well, I was drunk the day mom got out of prison,
"And I went to pick her up in the rain,
"But before I could get to the station in my pickup truck,
"She got run-ned over by a damn old train.''
That's country music, in full twang ... not the pop claptrap that passes for it today.
And the finest singer of real country was George Jones, who died on Friday at age 81. The fact George lasted that long is a tribute to both the strength of the human spirit and the strength of his liver.
My appreciation for George started some time in the '60s, but it was 1979 to 1981 that my George fandom reached its zenith. I can assure you there is no better song to drink to for a recently divorced, practicing alcoholic than George's greatest hit, "He Stopped Loving Her Today.''
Admittedly, that comes by a small margin over Kris Kristofferson's "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down,'' particularly when performed by Johnny Cash.
Those long ago drinking days, listening to George and Johnny and Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard, were in my thoughts as I watched some late-night retrospectives on "The Possum.'' That was George's nickname, and I always figured it was given to him because Jones, like the animal, was mostly nocturnal.
That wasn't it. Jones gave this explanation in a 2009 interview with an outlet called The Boot:
"When you're called 'The Possum' ... There's no way I can ever live it down.T. Tommy Cutrer was a disc jockey. Everybody loved him. He was one of the old-timers on the all-night shows along with Ralph Emery, and those two got started calling me 'The Possum.'
"I had an album out with a side view of me with a crew cut. I was very young, and my nose looked more turned up, and I've got little beady eyes, so I guess I did look like a possum. So they both laid into me and called me 'Possum,' and it got everywhere. There was no way I could stop that ...''
When my George research was completed on Friday night, the wife was watching an important show on "Housewives'' of somewhere, and I chose the downstairs bedroom -- affectionately known as "The Dungeon.'' The lack of light and sound make this a wonderful sleeping room.
Except early on this Saturday morning.
I was awaken three or four times by a rattling sound. I suspected the furnace, although that didn't make much sense since the furnace was not running. Finally, around 4:30 a.m., I started tracking the sound and it took me to the bedroom window that guards a 5-foot deep window well.
I opened the curtain and there was a fur-bearing creature. It had plastered itself to the window, in a futile attempt to escape the well. It looked large. I went to the front door, turned on the outside lights, peeked in the window well and saw the beast looking forlorn at the bottom.
It had the snout of a badger, which we aren't supposed to have around here anymore. "Has to be a raccoon,'' I figured, and I'm not a guy to mess with a raccoon.
I was able to track down an animal removal specialist around 7:30 a.m. He got there a half-hour later and knocked on the front door to announce his presence.
"What is it?'' I asked.
"A possum,'' he said.
"It looked way too large to be a possum,'' I said.
"It's a possum, and I don't think he's going to make it,'' he said.
It took me an hour or so to make the connection. And then, suddenly it was clear.
"Holy Moley ... the spirit of George Jones came to me this morning in the form of a possum,'' I muttered.
There it was, my best ever evidence of the hereafter, and what did I do? I had The Possum removed from the window well and taken away by an animal control specialist.
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