Just a simple country rhythm, bass note and strum, clean and crisply played with no frills. This is not the way a George Jones song is suppose to begin. Certainly not the way a Billy Sherill produced song sounds. Then the voice shows up and there’s no doubt about who’s in the room. Now, George, with all of his charms and talents and gifts, given straight from the Lord, remains a Class A Fuck-up. I never quite achieved his magna cum laude status here, but I know just enough to know what I’m talking about. If you want the sordid details you can find those easily enough, and well, I’m not particularly interested in them at the moment. What I am interested in is the part of the brain that makes a man a Class A Fuck-up. It seems to me it’s also the part of the brain that a song like this comes out of. This might be the funniest sad song in all of country music. It certainly is the funniest sad song most of us have never heard. We can thank Hanna Barbara and the state of country music in the late 1980’s for that. We’ll get to all that though, in a moment.
Jim Beam bourbon, originally made in 1795 from excess corn by Jacob Beam in Kaintuck and called Old Tub (doesn’t that still sound better?), is now legend. The white label alternative to its downriver brother Jack. Jim Beam, over the years, has had a side business selling various decanters in the shape of ducks and racing cars and fire hydrants. It should come as no surprise, that they made not one, but to my count at least 10 different Elvis Presley decanters. No doubt a stylish way to store your bourbon, and doubles as a great conversation igniter for all your friends when they’ve lost interest in your wall mounted singing fish. But, what if, you don’t have any friends? Not a problem if you have an Elvis Presley decanter. It’s pretty much the same thing.
If you’re looking for the definition of a “sad sack”, allow me to offer the following: a lonely guy with an Elvis shaped decanter, who drinks his bourbon, while sitting on the floor, out of an old Flintstone Jelly Bean Jar. Well, why not? The King is gone. And, so are you. This is the anthem song for every drunk who’s ever talked to a poster hanging on a wall, a lamp in the corner, a picture in a frame. An Elvis decanter and Fred Flintstone Jelly Bean Jar really aren’t bad choices when it all comes down to it. Better than talking to your Ikea framed pic of Starry, Starry Night.
Their conversation finally turns to women, as it must, and they both give George some friendly advice. Elvis tells him to find them young, and Fred mentions that he thinks the old fashioned girls are fun. But George isn’t an everyday fool. Yabba dabba do, the King is gone, and so are you.
Hanna Barbera didn’t like that last sentiment so much and raised a ruckus with threats of law suits and the like, so the song wasn’t released as a single and the whole album sank without much of a trace. It was ’89 and our attention was elsewhere. A young corkscrewed fella named Lyle was stirring things up (what’s wrong with that boy?) and Randy Travis would not only show up for his shows, but he would start them on time and better yet still, end them on time too. One of the reason’s we always liked George though, was simply that whatever we did wrong he would do worse. Yet, at the same time he could make something beautiful out of the trash scattered around his feet. Something that’s truly great in music. Something that still can take me away and give me solace and make me smile even when I’m feeling terribly sad, no, especially when I’m feeling terribly sad. Were he a role model and not a man, were he repentant and pure and even the slightest bit preachy, I don’t know if even that voice would have been enough.
Elvis is gone, and here now, on what would have been his 74th birthday, pull up a big ol’ piece of floor next to George and break the King’s nose pouring the last drops from his toes. Long live the king.