George Jones and Melba Montgomery - Let's Invite Them Over
The most memorable encounter I had with the music of George Jones happened in high school. At fifteen, my first part time job was as a page at the local library which meant that I was a young person who put the books people had read back onto the shelves. The occasion was that the librarian, whom I will call Edna, and I were working on a day that the Library was closed to the public. A day like this, situated within the hum drum procession of other days working at a small town library, was practically a minor holiday as it meant that Edna and I were free from the Library's code of silence and could spend the day listening to music. Consequently, our discussion of what music to play became relatively heated for two people who rarely spoke. At fifteen, I felt patronized by a woman five times my age and eventually, I discovered that the tradition had been that Edna and the other page, whom I will call Matthew, would always listen to the Dave Matthews Band on such days. It was then that I discovered the reason that I had always disliked Matthew but couldn't put into words. Shortly after I returned to shelving books, I discovered the sound of George Jones' voice in a large room with high ceilings.
The sound was velvet sorrow, and to this day I still wonder if someone were to give those chanting Benedictine monks, who were so popular at the time, some alcohol and an unrequited love if they would sound like a chorus of George Joneses in that library. This mostly had to with Edna's choice of CD as it had what the disc jockeys might call "the grand weepers". Songs like "He Stopped Loving Her Today", "The Door", and "The Grand Tour" all of which are some of the greatest hymns to middle American sadness ever written. They are permeated by sadness, and you can be sure that any object or person mentioned anywhere in those songs is meant to evoke sadness ("There's her rings, all her things"). It isn't hard to see how a taste for art can spring from religious feeling when listening to them. After all, any of the events in Jones' Greatest Hits could lead a person away from religion and into the world of dark glasses and ornate desolation conjured by them. Replace divine wonder or ecstasy with heartbreak - you can be overtaken by both, but you just need different music.
"Let's Invite Them Over" does not elevate sadness to the level of religious feeling nor is sadness the omnipresent deity. If there is any sadness to be spoken of in this song it is a lump in the throat that won't go away rather than the ethereal melancholy of "The Grand Tour". As country music goes and especially when compared with the grand weepers, "Let's Invite Them Over" is this horny, misbehaving cousin, who got kicked out of high school and is too crazy for the Army. The song pits humanity emotionally and biologically against the institutions it has created with a flair for the dramatic and a wry grin - to the point where whether this couple is snickering or crying is debatable. No matter what they are doing, a real frustration is apparent when they sing about having "talked it over and over" or when they decide that despite all the discussion and hand wringing that they will just have to invite the other couple over again - whatever that means. This frustration and angst about having followed a set of rules codified by society and being just as miserable as everybody else anyway is loose talk best suited for a bar room, and yet "Let's Invite Them Over" could be glossed over as just another "sad country song" in the same way as "The Grand Tour" would be. What this broad stroke paints over is that there are these two elements in country music (and all of American folk music) that are constantly antagonizing each other - rebellious secularism and a staid religiosity.
In the Bible, The Book of James describes a person who hears the word of God and doesn't practice it as someone who always goes to a mirror to view his or her reflection, but then would immediately forget said reflection. I like to think of country music in its entirety as the complete oral and written history of this very same person. It is what they did on Saturday night and who they thought they were or what they thought about on Sunday morning. It is what happened in the bar room and what this person's family talked about on Sunday afternoons while eating chicken. It is the ties that bind and what rends them asunder. It is the institutions that form the bedrock of culture and how what ennobles humanity and brings it joy are sometimes against them. It is this endless mythology unfolding before us on the radio or in a stack of albums.