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Tammy Wynette saved me from being a sheep

Country Musings by Robert Loy, May 1998

By now you've heard many tributes to Tammy Wynette, with people praising her as everything from a saint of traditional values to a proto-feminist. This is understandable. Her career was long and influential, and she represented different things to different fans. I wonder though if I am the only person to whom she represented rebellion and being true to oneself.

Burgaw, N.C., the late 1960's. I was 10, and like most 10-year-olds, something of a sheep. I walked and talked and thought like my friends. I watched the same television shows - "Dark Shadows" and "Laugh-in" - and listened to the same music - The Monkees, The Archies, Paul Revere and the Raiders.

Strange thing, though. The radio station that every single one of us listened to us played pop music afternoon and evenings, but some time in the wee hours changed over to country. Since I left my radio on all night, I'd fall asleep listening to Gary Puckett and the Union Gap and wake up listening to Buck Owens and the Buckaroos.

My friends immediately turned their radios off in disgust in the mornings, and I told everybody I did too. I even sneered when I said "country music" the way my classmates did.

I had a deep dark secret, however. I not only listened to country music, I liked it. I remember once a friend came over and almost caught me singing along to "Tiger By The Tail." I covered by ridiculing the music I respected, telling my ovine oppressor that I had the radio just to laugh at the ridiculous hillbillies.

But when no one was around I made tapes of the morning music so I could also listen to country music at night. Tammy Wynette was on those tapes, of course. Even my classmates knew who she was, they had made up dirty alternate lyrics to "D-I-V-O-R-C-E."

I had been listening to country long enough now to have favorite singers - Waylon Jennings, Bill Anderson, Tom T. Hall, and - though I would have died before I admitted it - Tammy Wynette. What I found most intriguing about Wynette's music was the glimpse it afforded me of the mysterious, sexy, scary world of grown-ups.

And then she put out a song I absolutely fell in love with. It was an uncharacteristically religious number called the "The Wonders You Perform." I'm sure most of you are unfamiliar with this song, and I myself haven't heard it in 20 years or more. But I can still sing you every line. It seemed so heartfelt and so profound, that as I listened to it over and over on my homemade tape I realized that I could no longer deny this music.

I knew it probably meant I would become an outcast and have to eat my lunches with Stevie Skinner, the fifth grade pariah.

I would rather have been rejected for who I was than accepted for how well I could play a part.

So I came out of the closet. I told my friends I liked country music. Then, because when I come out I like to come all the way out, I immediately modified it to "No, I love country music."

Surprisingly enough, I was not ostracized, just branded a "weirdo" - which is sheep talk for free-thinker. That label has stuck to this very day and I wear it proudly. It wasn't until years later I realized that from this incident I had learned an important lesson about courage and self-honor.

So I want to say to the woman who was born Virginia Wynette Pugh andbecame Queen Tammy: Thank you for the music - and the metamorphosis.