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Tammy Wynette Exposed 

Someone get Jimmy McDonough a job at US Weekly


Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen
Jimmy McDonough
Viking Adult

When I was four years old, my favorite outfit was a hot pink sweat suit and my favorite song was “I Don’t Wanna Play House” by Tammy Wynette. In my head, it must have been a pretty seamless transition from songs about Bananaphones and Belugas to one about a little girl playing make believe, even if the lyrics are “I don’t wanna play house/ it makes my mommy cry/ ‘cause when she played house/ my daddy said goodbye.” I had every song on the album memorized and I am told that one day, after listening to Tammy Wynette’s famous song about a mistreated but loyal wife, I ran up to my dad, stood up straight as a board beside him and declared “I’m standing by my man!” I wonder if my parents ever worried about the messages I was absorbing, or at least realized the eeriness of a kid singing along to songs about divorce, infidelity, and codependence.

Jimmy McDonough’s extensive new biography, Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen, bombards the reader with each detail of Wynette’s life. She was born Virginia Wynette Pugh in 1942 on the border of Mississippi and Alabama. Interviews with childhood friends describe Wynette as a popular girl who spent most of her time chasing boys and some of her time singing in various gospel groups. She left her hometown at seventeen after marrying her first husband, Euple, and had three kids. The next few years were spent following her husband around as he tried to find steady work. Wynette earned her Beautician’s certification during this time and worked as a waitress. She eventually left her husband behind in Birmingham to pursue her music career. Her essential abandonment of her children at this time is heartbreaking. One friend describes how when Wynette dropped the children at her house one day, their clothes smelled noticeably of mold.

After eventually moving to Nashville, Wynette caught the eye of producer and songwriter Bill Sherrill. Her first hit was “Apartment #9,” and Tammy achieved fame pretty quickly with Sherrill’s help. Their partnership led to a string of hits, including “Stand By Your Man,” “Singing My Song,” and “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.” Wynette became known as a symbol of conservative values, as her songs about the role of a good, loyal wife clashed dramatically with the ideals of the Women’s Liberation movement. She sang for President Reagan on multiple occasions and performed at George Wallace’s fundraising events.

Wynette married and divorced her second husband, Don Chapel, before famously getting hitched to country star George Jones in 1968. Jones and Wynette had a tumultuous marriage from the start. Wynette and Chapel were touring as a duo when Jones joined them for a string of shows. Various crew members would periodically be told to distract Chapel so that the more famous performers could rendezvous. One day, the three were having dinner together when Chapel snapped at his wife. Jones proceeded to turn over the dining room table and declare his love for Wynette. After that night, the tour continued without Wynette and Jones.

The public adored the famous couple, but their seven year marriage was never calm. Both spent money on houses and cars without a second thought. Jones was an alcoholic and Wynette was addicted to pain medication, which led to many altercations. Wynette , however, downplayed the turmoil even after their divorce, often cleverly quipping “he nipped and I nagged.” As unhealthy as their marriage was, Jones and Wynette managed to produce a number of hit songs together including “Golden Ring” and “We’ve Got to Hold On” before they divorced in 1975.

Wynette continued to record hit songs until the end of the 1970s. Her life became strange in the 1980s after she married her forth and last husband, producer George Richey, who took charge of her career and finances. Under the care of Richey, Tammy continued to tour and perform constantly, but required more and more medication to satisfy her addiction. She landed herself in the hospital multiple times and towards the end of her career had to cancel numerous shows due to her drug problems. Wynette died mysteriously in 1998 at the age of 56. Richey delayed her autopsy and refused to provide more than vague details about the circumstances of that day, and so the true cause of death was never firmly established.

If the quality of a biography were determined by density of information, Tammy Wynette would get high marks. McDonough conducted an impressive amount of interviews—it seems like every other line is a direct quotation from Loretta Lynn, George Jones, one of Tammy’s hairdressers, backup singers, daughters, or other acquaintances. Unfortunately, McDonough’s peculiar narrative style distracts from the wealth of information that he presents. The book starts with an open letter to Tammy, of which the first line is “I figure I should drop you a line now and then, say hello, tell you how it’s going.” A few sentences later, it becomes clear that by “it” McDonough means his biography, not his own life, but the disturbing feeling that McDonough has given himself too big of a role in the life of his subject lingers. Personal letters separate each chapter and only get weirder; in one letter, McDonough writes, “We have this thing called eBay now. You’d love it,” and proceeds to “tell” Tammy Wynette that he receives a bundle of miscellaneous Tammy paraphernalia every few weeks in the mail. This is the kind of fan that one would expect to be given a restraining order, not a book contract.

By immersing himself so emphatically and obsessively in Wynette’s life, McDonough produces a frustratingly insular narrative. What makes Tammy Wynette interesting is the world by which she was surrounded. With songs like “Stand by Your Man,” she sang from the perspective of a woman with conservative values during the rise of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Despite being the first female country star, her life was run by the string of men she was involved with. Instead of broadening the scope of his subject’s life to encompass such contradictions and create an interesting portrait, McDonough chose to focus inwards on the juicy details; he spends pages and pages describing particularly bad drug episodes or bizarre shopping sprees. This tunnel vision is what results in the book reading more like a special edition of the National Enquirer than a polished biography.

Instead of painting an inspiring picture of a tragic country star, Tammy Wynette leaves one feeling depressed, unsatisfied, and a bit sleazy. For a purported fan of Wynette, McDonough seems less like an admiring advocate and more like a member of the paparazzi. The chapters that have the most flow are the ones about Tammy’s demise. It is as if McDonough delights more in writing about Tammy’s hardships than her triumphs. And so, even though Tammy Wynette provided me with a plethora of interesting anecdotes, McDonough’s choppy, invasive style left me feeling more voyeuristic than informed.

The strengths of good country music are the stories the songs tell and the bare emotion the artists’ project. Wynette was a country music star who had great songwriters (particularly Bill Sherrill) behind her. It’s unfortunate that when the time came to tell Wynette’s poignant story, a more sensitive, adept storyteller was not given the task.

Erica Wojcik is a first year PhD student in Cognitive Psychology at University of Wisconsin-Madison.


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厚手なカラーシャツはOriginal Stitchで使わなくなったみたいですけど、だぼついてきません。ファッション誌を読んでお金を持った少年が同じような買い方でシャツオーダーをするのではと気がかりです。提供も規模縮小になってしまうことを気にしているのは私だけでしょうか。

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