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The Thug Life of ‘George & Tammy’

George & Tammy, Showtime’s eight-episode limited series chronicling the tumultuous relationship between country music superstars George Jones and Tammy Wynette, is an actor’s powerhouse for its two incredible leads.

Both Oscar winner Jessica Chastain as Wynette, and Oscar nominee Michael Shannon as Jones, provide a masterclass in biopic brilliance. Chastain and Shannon, who originally starred together as husband and wife in the 2011 vastly underrated indie,Take Shelter, here convincingly pull off the country legends in every respect including miraculously doing their own singing. In addition to the series leads, George & Tammy boasts some incredible supporting performances with Steve Zahn, Walton Goggins, and a heartbreaking turn from Kelly McCormack as the jilted Sheila Richey.

Even if you know nothing about the famous country duo you will still like this limited series. It serves as a beautifully painful gut punch showing the pitfalls and peaks that come with the many trappings of fame.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed this series, something really struck me in watching it: the blatant double standard in the legacy these two country legends have compared to Jay-Z.

Beyoncé and Jay-Z performing on The O2 in London.(photo by hollaa01)

Or better put, George Jones and Tammy Wynette led an equally dark path to stardom as Jay-Z but somehow never get labeled the same way.

Why?

Yes, there’s an obvious difference, but let’s skip past that for a moment.

For those of you who don’t know, Jay-Z is a successful entrepreneur and rap mogul. He’s considered the first hip-hop billionaire (yes, there are more than one), was heavily involved in both Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns for President, and is also married to Beyonce. Like George and Tammy he also has a notably dark past. Jay-Z sold crack, cocaine, is said to have shot his own brother, and in 1999 was given three years’ probation for stabbing record producer Lance Rivera.

Due to his dubious beginnings, he is a favorite target for right wing pundits like Sean Hannity, Tomi Lahren, and Bill O’ Reilly, to name a few. While Jay-Z doesn’t exactly hide his past, no matter how successful he gets, he also never seems to be allowed to live it down either.

I know what you’re thinking – they may have had a rocky past but George Jones and Tammy Wynette never slung rock in Marcy Projects, and that’s true. But what did they do?

Here is a partial list of insane yet incredibly true facts about George Jones and Tammy Wynette:

George was a raging alcoholic, attempted to murder his best friend, terrorized his own house with a shotgun shooting at Tammy (this scene is actually softened in the series), stole Tammy away from her second husband, was often too drunk to appear beside her at contracted gigs, and jonesed so badly for a bottle he drove his lawn mower to the bar when his family wisely took away his car keys. All of these dark facts by and large delight the country music community who in turn labeled George simply a “bad boy.”

Tammy, for her part, faked her own kidnapping (re-read that again), was married to five different men, and became so hopelessly addicted to drugs she eventually had a catheter permanently installed to make taking intravenous painkillers easier. The drugs caused bile duct infections and led to a drop in blood pressure so severe she was comatose for several days before recovering. Despite oxygen and IV treatments to alleviate her pain, Wynette continued to abuse drugs right up until the end of her short life at only 55.

The real Tammy and George.

Defenders of George and Tammy, of which there are millions, would be quick to point out excuses for their bad behavior including: Tammy faked her own kidnapping to cover up the bruises left on her from the beating she took at the fists of her fifth husband, the bottle was really to blame with George’s alcoholism fueling his antics like riding mowers to the bar and attempted murder, and Tammy’s addictions were a direct result of decades of pain from a botched hysterectomy after the birth of her last child. In other words, tough circumstances led to tough times.

Funny how Jay-Z doesn’t seem to get to use that excuse.

I knew nothing of the dark side of George and Tammy until watching this Showtime series. I was never a huge country music fan and really only knew Wynette through her signature hit “Stand by Your Man.” Interestingly enough, Wynette, who was known as the “First Lady of Country Music,” had a run-in of sorts with actual First Lady Hillary Clinton.

Clinton famously said in defense of her husband Bill in a 1992 60 Minutes interview, “I’m not sittin’ here some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette. I’m sittin’ here because I love him and I respect him and I honor what he’s been through and what we’ve been through together. And you know, if that’s not enough for people then heck, don’t vote for him.”

The quote was in response to the recent controversy behind Bill Clinton’s alleged extra marital affair with Gennifer Flowers and it positively enraged Wynette.

Wynette fired off an angry letter to Clinton that said in part, “With all that is in me I resent your caustic remark. I, with no apologies, am as angry as I can be with your statement. Mrs. Clinton, you have offended every woman and man who love that song – several million in number…I will not stand by and allow you or any other person to embarrass, humiliate and degrade me on national television and print without hearing from me.” Clinton quickly apologized saying she was a country-western fan and had no intention of hurting Wynette’s feelings.

While the Clinton issue is not addressed in the Showtime series it does illustrate another example of the hypocrisy of how Wynette and Jones get a pass over Jay-Z.

As recently as December 2022 Foxnews.com ran an opinion piece titled “Hilary Clinton Still Owes Tammy Wynette an Apology.” The opinion piece fails to point out Wynette did actually receive an apology from Clinton and even agreed to play a benefit for Bill Clinton at Hillary’s request, or the fact Wynette has been dead for over twenty-four years, and when she died the Clintons called her a “legend.”

But then again you can’t let facts get in the way of a catchy byline.

Jay-Z appeared at the White House on four occasions so far. Each time was met with consternation by the Fox crowd, including Sean Hannity who said of a fundraiser Jay-Z attended, “For only 40,000 bucks… you could have rubbed shoulders with a president and a rapper who has admitted to selling crack and shooting his own brother.”

The general concern being Jay-Z is a bad role model. To their credit, Fox does seem to have fully embraced Kanye West, though.

I’m not saying what Jay-Z did in his youth is good, or what George and Tammy did in their past is bad. I’m just saying it would be good to judge them, for better or worse, the same way. The tongues of many right-leaning pundits jut out like a lizard when they over pronounce the word “thug” when discussing Jay-Z.

Shouldn’t George and Tammy get the same treatment? Lord knows they’ve earned it.

To George and Tammy, two artists who lived and died by that thug life, may I quote DRS when I say, “I tip my 40 to your memory.”

 George & Tammy is currently playing on Showtime and it’s really good. Check it out.

Fred Shahadi is an award-winning filmmaker, playwright, and TV writer living in Los Angeles.
He is the author of the cult science fiction conspiracy novel Shoot the Moon.

 

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