How Tammy Wynette channeled the conflicts of her life into her music and performance.
With hits such as “Stand By Your Man” and “Golden Ring,” Tammy Wynette was an icon of American domesticity and femininity. But there were other sides to the first lady of country. Steacy Easton places the complications of Wynette’s music and her biography in sharp-edged relief, exploring how she made her sometimes-tumultuous life into her work, a transformation that was itself art.
Wynette created a persona of high femininity to match the themes she sang about—fawning devotion, redemption in heterosexual romance, the heartbreak of loneliness. Behind the scenes, her life was marked by persistent class anxieties; despite wealth and fame, she kept her beautician’s license. Easton argues that the struggle to meet expectations of southernness, womanhood, and southern womanhood, finds subtle expression in Wynette’s performance of “Apartment #9”—and it’s because of these vocal subtleties that it came to be called the saddest song ever written. Wynette similarly took on elements of camp and political critique in her artistry, demonstrating an underappreciated genius. Why Tammy Wynette Matters reveals a musician who doubled back on herself, her façade of earnestness cracked by a melodrama that weaponized femininity and upended feminist expectations, while scoring twenty number-one hits.
Tammy Wynette matters, Steacy Easton argues, because (among other things)she was a great artist, capable of wringing from her songs emotions and resonances unfathomed even by their authors. Deeply informed and brimming with original insights, this book brilliantly illuminates the artist and the womanwithout shrinking from her complexities or contradictions.
Dolly Parton is acclaimed as a universal culture hero; meanwhile, her country music friend and peer Tammy Wynette is reduced to a kitschy conservative punchline. Steacy Easton redresses that injustice in this intricately thoughtful work of criticism, showing why Wynette’s creative performance of all the paradoxes of womanhood in her time still ought to captivate and trouble us today.
Some of the finest country music criticism ever written.
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- Soft Politics