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.
Steacy Easton has written about country music for NPR, Slate, and the Atlantic. They are a PhD student in critical disability studies at York University.
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.
~Nadine Hubbs, author of Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music
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.
~Carl Wilson, author of Let's Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste
Some of the finest country music criticism ever written.
~David Cantwell, author of The Running Kind: Listening to Merle Haggard
[An] illuminating debut...Easton paints a riveting portrait of an oft-misunderstood star. Country music fans won’t be disappointed.
Easton’s book incorporates the author’s relationship to Wynette’s music and vocal performances in a critical biography that focuses on the artist’s musical talents...Fans of Wynette and country music will be drawn to this reappraisal.
Why Tammy Wynette Matters ventures beyond the usual narrative of Tammy Wynette as a tragic country star whose numerous marriages and early death have often defined her. In this slim yet rich book of criticism, Steacy Easton considers the singer’s 'ambitious, transparent, and haunted work' in a feminist context, drawing out Wynette’s artistry and paying respect to her impact on country music...What makes Why Tammy Wynette Matters exceptional is that it considers how [Wynette's life] experiences gave her work its power...Easton is 'deeply committed to Wynette as a performer and writer.' They approach their subject with curiosity, generosity, and love.
[An] exemplary deep-dive into the life of Tammy Wynette...Country fans will be delighted with this short but incisive and fond remembrance.
~Bay Area Reporter
Easton’s arguments are compelling…Reading Easton’s book you start to understand how Wynette may well have used the perceptions of her and her position as an icon of domestic femininity in a quite subversive way, and that she was far less of a victim than she herself often encouraged people to believe...Read this book; it’s unlike anything else you might have read about this artist and it will change your perception of who you think Tammy Wynette was.
[Why Tammy Wynette Matters] weaves the stress of maintaining stereotypical Southern womanhood into the country legend's complex legacy.
[A] brilliant new book...Why Tammy Wynette Matters is a tour-de-force work of critical genius, and Easton’s book prompts us to listen once again to Wynette and to hear her performances in fresh ways. Their book is revelatory, offering insightful and illuminating readings of the ways that Wynette’s life and work intersect.
The book is full of beautiful sentences. . . as Easton waxes poetic about why Wynette matters. . . As Easton explores all the layers to Wynette’s gendered, larger-than-life persona, they allow us to expand the way we interpret and understand the world, and to expand our understanding of queerness itself.
A slim but thoughtful new book...Easton effectively makes the case that Wynette is underappreciated and worthy of a serious critical reappraisal.
~New York Times
One thing is certain: wherever one falls on the Tammy Wynette continuum — fan, casual observer, or someone simply interested in how art gets made and how gender, for better or worse, influences both its creation and perception — is going to be knocked out by Why Tammy Wynette Matters . . . Their endlessly compelling book succeeds in proving its title beyond a doubt. No small feat.
~Parton & Pearl
High Femme Armor
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