Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen



Anyone torn into the new Tammy Wynette bio, Jimmy McDonough's Tragic Country Queen? "If you drained Dolly Parton of her swift wit and Loretta Lynn of her winning pluck, you'd get Tammy Wynette, a fairly plain, small-minded gal whose searing ambition and begrudging temperament kept her from any lasting contentment," writes New York Times reviewer Allison Glock in a review that ran yesterday.

It's one hell of a review, not to mention one hell of an indictment of a country legend, but Wynette's contradictions and fictions are the stuff of legend themselves.

Wynette married five different dudes and had four daughters but seemed to lack any maternal instinct. She told yarns a mile long, all depicting a troubled life that may or may not have been quite so troubled. She even pretended at one point to have been kidnapped, going so far as to write the kidnapper's notes herself. Discussing Wynette's personal failings, Glock calls her "Courtney Love with talent."

But, Glock contends, none of it mattered when you heard Wynette's voice. True that. I had to lip-sync to Wynette's "Stand By Your Man" -- penned with Nashville countrypolitan Svengali Billy Sherrill -- at a book fair in the fifth grade. At the time, it was just a country song I'd heard warbling through the radio dozens of times growing up, inextricably linked to rural Tennessee. But as an adult, I've changed my mind another dozen times about whether I think the song is a feminist triumph or a sad supporting number. Either way, because of the kind of brash intimacy Wynette could muster, it remains to be the sort of song whose inherent contradictions you can spend a lifetime wrestling with. How many numbers can you say that about?

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