Thursday, December 02, 2004

Coward of the County

Around 1979, a song came out, sung by Kenny Rogers (for the fetuses in the audience, 20 or 30 years ago KR was a big noise in country music -- mostly because the competition was so weak, I think.) Anyway, the lyrics (approximately) are below. My insightful commentary follows…


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”
But somethin’ always told me they were readin’ Tommy wrong.

He was only 10 yrs old when his daddy died in prison
I looked after Tommy cause he was my brother’s son
I still recall the final words my brother said to Tommy
He said, Son my life is over, but yours is just begun.

Promise me son, not to do the things I’ve done
Walk away from trouble if you can
It don’t mean you’re weak if you turn the other cheek
I hope you’re old enough to understand
Son, you don’t have to fight to be a man.

There’s someone for everyone, and Tommy’s love was Becky
In her arms he didn’t have to prove he was a man
But one day while he was workin’, the Gatlin boys came callin’
They took turns at Becky (and there was three o’ them).

Tommy opened up the door and saw his Becky cryin’
The 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 on his daddy’s face, he heard these words again:

Promise me son, not to do the things I’ve done
Walk away from trouble if you can
It don’t mean you’re weak if you turn the other cheek
I hope you’re old enough to understand
Son, you don’t have to fight to be a man.

The Gatlin boys just laughed at him when he walked into the barroom
One of them got up and met him halfway across the floor.
When Tommy turned around they said, “Hey look, Old Yeller’s leavin.”
But you coulda heard a pin drop when Tommy stopped and locked the door.

Twenty years of crawlin’ was bottled up inside him
He wasn’t holdin’ nothin’ back, he let ‘em have it all.
When Tommy left the barroom not a Gatlin boy was standin’
He said, “This one’s for Becky” as he watched the last one fall.

(And I heard him say:)
I promised you, Dad, not to do the things you done
I walk away from trouble when I can
Please don’t think I’m weak, I didn’t turn the other cheek
And Papa, I sure hope you understand:
Sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man.

And everyone considered him the coward of the county...


This song honked on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to begin. I will forgo the temptation to mock phrases like “not a Gatlin boy was standing”. I will assume this took place long ago, presumably in the wild west, so he had to take matters into his own hands (I will refrain from asking how one locks batwing doors.)

I will content myself with enumerating the various messages sent by the lyrics. As far as I can see they are:
  1. Everyone can find a girl, even peacenik losers.
  2. If your wife is gang-raped, rather than comfort her, get her medical attention, or call the sheriff, you should have a little introspective moment with your dad’s picture. Then you should go beat the crap out of the people who did it.
  3. Because when someone brutalizes your wife, it’s mostly about you. The people who did this need to be shown that you won’t stand to be dissed like that.
  4. But rather than deterring them, or punishing them, it’s mainly about humiliating them as you were humiliated, so rather than actually hurting them a simple beating should be adequate to show them who’s top dog.
  5. You may choose to concede that your wife – as the actual victim – has some small stake in this issue, by saying “This one’s for Becky” as the last one falls.
  6. Taking a pacifist stance requires “crawling”.
  7. Pacifism necessarily creates bottled-up rage.
  8. If you have bottled-up rage, you should unload it all in the one situation that pushes you over the edge.
  9. When you’re a man, you may need to fight. But not to protect someone, or to avoid worse trouble, but as payback – basically for revenge and to soothe your wounded pride.
  10. When you’ve taken care of your reputation and had a little chat with your dead father, then you may want to head on back to the ranch and see how the little lady’s making out. She’s had a rough morning, and probably needs some male attention. Maybe you can tell her of your manly exploits at the bar – no doubt that will heal the physical and psychological damage. Heck, sore coochie or not, she’ll probably want to make love right now to a big tough non-cowardly guy like you.

All in all, a total loser of a song. But the melody was nice. And naturally, it was a big hit.

Moral: People are really stupid, except for me.


At Thu Dec 02, 03:10:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

:-) That's a great moral, I think I'll always hold it close to my heart. -K

At Sat Dec 04, 09:01:00 AM PST, Blogger No_Newz said...

Nice way to sum up that song! Your sister gave me your link. Thanks for all the good reads.
Lois Lane


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