Some thoughts on the Westboro plans to picket the ‘Possum’s’ funeral
I believe I’ve finally found something that everyone in America can agree upon, unless you happen to be one of George Jones’s spurned female companions or a member of the Westboro Baptist Church.
Regardless of your political persuasion, your religious background, your skin color or your sexual orientation, I’m sure you’ll join me in agreeing on two things: That the death of country legend George Jones is a national tragedy, and that the intention by members of Westboro to picket his funeral (scheduled for today) is outrageous.
You know those Westboro kooks. They’re the ones more fascinated by homosexuals and homosexual activity than state Sen. Stacey Campfield. They picket the funerals of famous people and soldiers, holding signs proclaiming “God hates fags” and declaring that the Almighty delights in the deaths of infants, infantrymen and celebrities because of America’s heathen ways. Acceptance and tolerance of gay people, they seem to believe, means that everyone outside of their vile little congregation has a reservation in Hell.
And you surely, unless you’re deaf or recently traveled into the present from a time prior to the year 1956, when he joined the Grand Ole Opry, have heard of George Jones. The man who recorded more than 60 studio albums during his lifetime and charted No. 1 country singles over a span of three decades was a titan of the genre, the spiritual son of Hank Williams Sr. who lived as hard as the characters in his songs.
The stories about George abound, from an appetite for alcohol so voracious that despite his various wives hiding car keys from him, he’d find a way to the liquor store or bar, often by riding his lawn mower. He’s been paid tribute to, immortalized, parodied and honored by countless other artists. He’s one of the last of a breed of men whose image and lifestyle were the real deal, stemming from a time before Nashville publicists learned to polish up and lock down their stars lest a slip of the lip hurt record sales. He was an archetypal man from a time when slugging booze and womanizing were almost expected, and while he was slow to change with the times, in his later years he cut a sterling figure as a genteel member of country music’s royalty.
Much has been written of the darker days and sordid details from his past, and in acknowledging them, I’m in now way defending them. But the man himself ... that voice still cuts across generations. I know grown men who shed tears at his passing because his music reminded them of simpler times spent at the knees of fathers and grandfathers, listening to “The Possum,” as he was fondly known, project his rich baritone across airwaves and through turntable speakers. He was a titan of the genre, a man the likes of which Nashville won’t ever see again.
(Seriously: As many records as he might sell, as many fans as he might have, as nice a guy as he might be, can you seriously imagine a country star like Kenny Chesney approaching the caliber of George Jones in the twilight of his own career? Me, either.)
And regardless of his struggles and character defects, he doesn’t deserve the treatment the members of Westboro have planned for him in his final hours above ground.
It should be noted that the church’s plans are not set in stone; Westboro member Margie Phelps told The Tennessean newspaper of Nashville on Wednesday that the church is mighty busy with plans to protest last night’s NBA playoff games in Oklahoma City and Chicago in response to the recent announcement by player Jason Collins that he’s gay. She put the church’s chances of making it to Nashville for today’s services — which will include Gov. Bill Haslam, former First Lady Laura Bush, Chesney, Alan Jackson, Kid Rock, Brad Paisley and more — at “80 percent.”
The reason, according to a Westboro press release, is that Jones was “drunkard” who “used his talent to glorify himself and engage in much adultery.” It goes on to give those who might take the time to read their drivel a cryptic warning: “You have no proper thoughts of the God that created you, but we’ll be there to make sure you don’t forget when you haul your rebellious carcasses into that necromancy festival of sin called a funeral.”
Freedom of speech maintains that the words of groups like Westboro, disgusting and nauseating though they may be, are protected. And perhaps the best thing I could have done would have been to write about something else altogether and ignore these hate-consumed bigots like the lower life forms they really are.
But I can’t. It’s George Jones, man. Contemporary country music was suffering before he died, and now that he’s gone, I’ll gladly call out and jeer anyone who might celebrate his death — Westboro Baptist Church, illegitimate offspring, ex-wives or a herd of zebras who hate classic country music.
I would urge those people to show a little respect, but they have none. I would ask that they display a little class, but they have none of that, either. Instead, I’ll cross my fingers that some good ol’ boys mourning the Possum’s loss in some Murfreesboro Road honky-tonk will find out about Westboro’s proposed picket and decide to round up a bunch of good ol’ boys to take down there for a little come-to-Jesus meeting.
That’s an ugly thought, and certainly not a very Christian one, but I don’t really consider the members of Westboro to be Christians. Besides, life is ugly sometimes. Ol’ George taught us that, through his songs and his deeds. Rest in peace, Possum.
Steve Wildsmith is the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at 981-1144.