I had a flashback this morning to being in my granny’s house in Co. Kilkenny. My Aunt Nano was still alive. She had this great record player that closed up nicely into a box, like a suitcase. And she had several records, mainly country music. Mainly Kenny Rogers. I was fascinated with Lucille and the man she left with 400 children and a crop in the field. When I woke this morning to the news that Kenny Rogers had passed away, it all came flooding back. He was a legend. A bear of a man who had a presence. He was up there with Grizzly Adams and Kris Kristoffersen. All bearded men of great stature. It would be years and years later before I embarrassed myself and asked someone about the 400 children… only to be told that he was singing about 4 hungry children.
Rogers himself heard that line on a radio one day in 1958. He was near Tulsa, Oklahoma cutting hay with his uncle. On the local TV station, a man was telling of how his wife, Lucille, had left him with four hungry children and a crop in the field. But it would be almost twenty years later, in 1977, when the words would be put to music.
Every time I hear that song on the radio, I’m 12 again, in my granny’s house, sitting on the floor of the sitting room with my aunt’s Kenny Rogers LP. Me, Ruby (a hit when he was with First Edition), and Lucille, we’re having a party. I couldn’t have been farther from the life he was singing about but there was something in his voice that made him home.
Thanks to a suggestion by one of the BeeGees (who wrote the song), he paired with Dolly Parton for Islands in the Stream. Some 15 years later, the song was voted No. 1 C&M duet and the pair got together to sing it again, live. I was fascinated to see how they’d aged. As for Lady… I was in two minds when that came out. Written and produced by Lionel Ritchie, it didn’t sound country enough for Kenny. That said, I’d have listened to him singing my shopping list. I love the storytelling in Coward of the County and only now realise that it was the soundtrack for a movie… I know what I’ll be watching tonight.
But it is in The Gambler (also a movie that I have to watch) that I found the line I was looking for:
The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.
RIP, Kenny Rogers, You de man. And you’re so right – you can’t make old friends.