Noel Coppage

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 599

Lumping Jennings with, say, David Allen Coe or Asleep at the Wheel or Michael Murphey or any of the other ["redneck rock" or "progressive country"] "movement" entities is a mistake in the first place, as the whole idea with Jennings is going it alone. The way he, specifically, has elected to sound does not extend The Way Things Are Going (the old definition of "progress") but goes against it. (p. 104)

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[The] pose Jennings strikes is symbolic, a truth-in-fiction device. He doesn't ask you to take him literally and go up against the computers with six-guns blazing. The point he's making visually is literary and relates to the point he's making musically: remember the poor cowboy, the romantic misfit; have a kind thought for those who can't or won't constantly adapt to The Way Things Are Going….

Artistically, Jennings went on a winning streak with parts of "Good Hearted Woman," "Lonesome, On'ry and Mean" and "Ladies Love Outlaws" and then hit his stride, leather flapping, turquoise flashing, with what is still the heart of his work so far: "Honky Tonk Heroes" …, "This Time," "The Ramblin' Man," and "Dreaming My Dreams." The archetypal Waylon Jennings album, I think, is "This Time." It carries the life-style thematics that translate so readily into the visual, but it is essentially about feelings—which is what the experience, the aging in that big, textured voice is about—and it eloquently asserts that it's all right for cowboys to have them. (p. 105)

The latest album, "Are You Ready for the Country," is not a safe spot from which to launch guesses into Jennings' latest assessment of his role or how he's playing it. He seems to have cruised through it without concentrating as intently as he did during that string of really good ones….

Yet the album has its own integrity, and some characteristic Jennings quirks….

What seems crucial … is some sort of resonance with the experience you can hear in Jennings' voice and with the literary statement he is trying, with his whole life-style, to make…. But what really shapes his sound is the awareness he soaked up through experience and the memory he kept of how it felt. He makes it seem all right to be over thirty and have a few scars—and maybe that, too, helps explain his popularity just now; maybe there's a reaction against the youth-worshiping that sold like McDonald's hamburgers a few years back. He advocates, mostly in indirect ways, finding out for yourself, winning a few and losing a few in your own human and therefore fumbly way. Subtle things about a song convey whether it knows about this in its bones, the way he does.

His own writing, while he still isn't prolific, is increasingly a factor. It is simple, but when it works (as in Waymore's Blues, a two-chord song), it suggests something about a background of old Southern-poverty folkways careening around in the same head with modern doubts and stresses. And Jennings bridges those worlds, along with the generation gap and several other paradoxes. One thing I suspect he is wary of now is the idea of leading this "redneck rock" thing, for you can't go your own way leading a counter-establishment any more than you could by following the old one….

"Nothing is relevant any more," Gore Vidal said. "What the individual has to do now is order his own survival." Waylon Jennings, in his own style, seems to have said that first. (p. 106)

Noel Coppage, "Crossing Over with Waylon Jennings," in Stereo Review (copyright © 1976 by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 37, No. 4, October, 1976, pp. 104-06.

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