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George Jones and the difference between love and lunacy

Country Musings by Robert Loy, October 2002

Stop a hundred people on the street, and ask them what is the greatest country song of all time, and odds are 99 of them will say "He Stopped Loving Her Today." (The one-hundredth one will be me, and I'll tell you that the greatest country song of all time is Eddy Raven's "I've Got Mexico," but that's another story for another time.)

We all know the legend behind this song: how George Jones bet producer Billy Sherrill a hundred bucks the song would never be a hit because it was too morbid. Well, the Possum's instincts were right. It is a morbid song about a sick pathetic individual, and even though you might get all choked up over a love that only death could end, the truth is if you actually knew a guy like the nameless protagonist of this song, you would be thinking he was full of something that shares only one similarity with love - the fact that both have four letters.

Don't get me wrong, I'm as romantic as the next 99. In fact, I'm more romantic because I know the difference between love and mental illness. That's exactly why I think "He Stopped Loving Her Today" is not a great song.

I mean think about it, all this guy does is moon over a picture, reread old letters and go "half crazy now and then. (Half? Now and then?) The man has not smiled once in years. This guy is not in love. He's in a depression. He needs Paxil, not paeans. And if any of his friends were worth a damn, they would have recognized the warning signals and got the guy some help before he had to get dressed up and go away. (And No-Show Jones never tells us how the guy dies. My guess is he took himself out, and there ain't nothing romantic about suicide, kids.)

And this is not the only song in the sub-genre of glorifying pathetic dweebs who can't get over the fact that a female dumped them. That guy in Blake Shelton's "Austin" is a triple idiot. First he's leaving P.S.'s on an answering machine. (P.S. stands for Post Script and only makes sense at the end of a letter. You remember letters, right?) Second, he's leaving these messages to a girl who dumped him a year ago, a girl he can't even remember the name of (her name wasn't Austin, you know; if she'd gone to New York instead of Texas, the love messages might have gone "P.S. if this is Flushing...") And third, the damn fool is telling everybody including the burglars exactly when and for how long his house will be unoccupied.

Oh well, at least he's getting on with his life, bowling, fishing, et cetera. So it's at least healthier than "He Stopped Breathing Air Today." Maybe he'll meet a nice girl at the lake or at the lanes and start a relationship. That might even make for a nice song. A romantic song for a change.