On the surface. the song which spawned the TV movie is unproblematic. Kenny meets an addled old poker fiend on a train. who beleaguers him with platitudes and promptly dies. But in fact the lonesome hobo only falls off his perch after being plied with whisky and cigarettes. courtesy of our erstwhile hero. Care in the community indeed.
Another track later adapted for celluloid. ‘Coward Of The County‘. concerns a boy — his mama called him Tommy. the folks just called him yellow — from a dysfunctional household. His daddy died in prison. but not before telling him that you don’t have to fight to be a man. But when his true love. Becky. is gang-raped. Tommy reverts to type. and the twenty years of crawling that are bottled up inside him come spurting out in a Sam Peckinpah-style blaze of mindless violence. Discuss with reference to problem families. fixed sentencing and first offenders.
Throughout the 80s. Kenny’s career continued with a series of soppy ballads which sounded like themes from movies too awful to be made. In l983. ‘lslands In The Stream’. a duet with Dolly Parton written by the Bee Gees. became RCA’s biggest-selling single ever — this from a company which had Elvis on its books. This confusion of metaphors about islands who want to sail away to another world has Kenny setting out to get Dolly with a fine-tooth comb. although whether he wants to rearrange her bouffant or check her for headlice is left unresolved. She does something to him that he can’t explain. and frankly. neither can we.
Although he’s made so many crossover records that he’s in danger of getting splattered all over the middle of the road. he is
‘I don’t consider myself to be an artist,’ says Rogers. ‘l’m an entertainer, I can make people smile.’ This is overly modest: he can make people double up with laughter.
KENNY ROGERS FEATURE
unrepentant. ‘When i started on that. I did country songs that would sell pop. and the bigger I got. I started doing pop that would sell country. so I was really a consummate crossover artist by design. 1 was raised in country music as a kid. but right now I’m very uncomfortable in country music. because it’s (00 country for me.’
‘Success was never a big thing for me.’ he says. ‘As long as I could make a living and meet my car payment and my house payment l was happy.‘ Having once been the world’s highest paid entertainer. he can now afford to he blasé about the vagaries of stardom. ‘lt’s flattering.‘ he admits. ‘but one ofthe things that goes along with treating your work as a business is that you can’t also treat it as art. lfl considered myself an artist. then i could say these people love me for my artistic ability. but the truth is that they are attracted to what I represent for them. I don’t consider myself to be an artist —— l’m an entertainer. I can make people smile.’ This is overly modest: he can make people double up with laughter.
Although he will always be associated with story-songs. his continuing success has been founded on straightforward populist principles. and as times changed. his style changed with them. ‘I look for ballads that say what every man wants to say and every woman wants to hear.’ he says. ‘Those big career ballads last forever.‘
But what of the tragicomedy that’s become synonymous with his name? ‘lf 1 was still trying to do my old routine.’ .ie suggests. ‘l’d be a basket case.’ Now there’s a good idea for a song . . .
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