George Jones is reported to have died, at the age of 81, after being hospitalized in Nashville with a high fever and irregular blood pressure.
He had a life that was full—at times far too full, which makes it such a blessing that he lasted this long—yet there’s something unusually sad about the news of his loss for me today, and I’m sure for countless others. We’re commonly told of how so many people are irreplaceable, and no doubt everyone is irreplaceable, but George Jones must then count as being exceptionally irreplaceable. I wasn’t much of a fan of his as a young lad, but grew to deeply love his music in recent years. His ability to wring so many spoonfuls of nuance out of the singing of a single syllable … the peerless way in which he expressed vulnerability, pain, and hopeless love. And, then, the way at other times he could be a supreme hoot.
I was in a store today when I saw the news, scrolling by on a screen behind the checkout girl. She said to me, “Do you have a blah-blah club card or would you like to sign up for one today?” I could only reply, “Oh my … George Jones died!” She looked up at me and said, more distinctly, “Do you have a blah-blah club card or would you like to sign up for one today?” Her age and cultural background made her unlikely to be a George Jones fan, I guess, or to even know who he was. (I didn’t sign up for the club card.)
Someone who did know who he was was Frank Sinatra, and I don’t know when he is supposed to have said it, but there’s the famous quote attributed to him: “George Jones is the second best white singer in America.” I trust they’re both up there at the bar sorting all that out right now.
Everyone is forwarding around “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” and with good reason, as there’s just never been a better record made, but the one embedded via YouTube below is also on that level, I think—namely, “The Grand Tour.”
Both of those tunes mentioned are songs that just about no one else could sing without either seeming ridiculous or just coming up far short. George Jones takes every sentimental moment and twist in songs like those and lifts them to a level that makes you forget mere sentimentality and feel, instead, something more akin to utter devastation. And he could do it seemingly without straining (and certainly without screaming), giving voice to the complexities and tragedies within the human heart with unparalleled grace.