Most pop music fans condone—almost expect—unseemly behavior on the part of their heroes, but modern country demands Proper Conduct on the part of its practitioners, particularly its wimmenfolk. TANYA TUCKER is having none of it. She's been a very bad girl and is thrilled with herself about it. Tucker once got 'faced and bared her breastices onstage during a concert—when TV's Dateline was filming her for a profile, no less. She's old enough to be my wife, but still hot 'n' loverly; I'd do her in a hummingbird's heartbeat (betcha she gives a sublime knobber, too—she's got that whole vibe about her). Tanya's had many nervous breakdowns and stays in rehab, has shacked up with country music stars like Glen Campbell and Merle Haggard, and has had much-publicized knockdown-dragouts with them when they didn't get along. She's popped out chilluns like a pro without the benefit of being matrimonied. The tabloids might as well have devoted a weekly column to covering her exploits, but they didn't need to because Tucker herself wrote a sensational, tell-all autobiography brilliantly titled Nickel Dreams: My Life a few years ago. She's more Haggard, Hank and Cash than Shania, Reba or Martina. Best of all, Tucker doesn't give a corn-studded shit what you think about her—no, sir—which is perfect because there ain't no kinda honky-tonk woman more glorious than a proud 'n' struttin' honky-tonk woman.
The fact that she's appearing Wednesday at the supposedly family-values-oriented OC Fair is an extra-wonderful cosmic clusterfuck. Didn't they read her book??
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Oh, yeah, the music: Tucker's nickel dreams are manifest in her voice, a husky instrument that reverberates with the clink of beer bottles, brawls in dive-bar parking lots and "yee-haws" into the humid Southern night. That voice has carried Tucker to country stardom, starting way back in 1972 when she first hit at age 14, singing suggestive Lolita anthems that induced crooked erections in goat-smelling old men wearing mildewed cowboy hats (although the relatively tame "Delta Dawn" was her biggest crossover hit). The hits continued until very recently, when country music drove from the airwaves all artists of substance or imperfect dentition. Her recent albums have been predictably overproduced, but there ain't no hiding the hillbilly heart behind every word she writes and sings. Go see Tanya. Yell out, "Show me your tits!" during the performance. She'll either gleefully comply or charge you from the stage to dish out an old-fashioned country ass-whuppin'. Either way, you'll be entertained.
Back in the 1980s when I was with the Beat Farmers, Dave Alvin used to drag this scrawny, funny-lookin' hillbilly guy out to all our LA shows. Every time, the scrawny hillbilly in question would approach me and ask, "Kin ah sang 'Swangin' Doors' wit yew baws tonaht?" in an eminently annoying hick twang. I mean, every time. It was so predictable it became a running joke: consume beer 'n' pizza, and you'll produce air buffets like a sick baboon; play in LA, and the scrawny hillbilly will show up with Alvin and ask to sing "Swinging Doors."
A couple of years later, that same scrawny hillbilly—whose name was DWIGHT YOAKAM—went on to become one of the biggest stars in country music, a status he's enjoyed ever since. Curiously, I don't hate his guts for it. Several factors explain my lack of petty jealousy: (1) it was another extra-wonderful cosmic clusterfuck; Dwight was the last guy I ever expected would achieve superstardom—not because he lacked talent (which never seemed to have much to do with commercial success anyway), but because he seemed a sad and even parasitic presence in those days. The only-in-Hollywood irony of it all is just too sweet to resent. Of all the spotlight-seeking, begging-to-sit-in fanboy types I've ever met, Dwight's the only one who ever became a bazillionaire. (2) I've interviewed Dwight a few times since then, and he never acted like a prima donna, never pretended he didn't remember those days or who I am, and was always friendly and ready to reminisce even though he's now a big shot and I'm a lowly media whore. (3) He's one of the few contemporary roots country guys whose music borders on greatness in a league with Lyle Lovett and Junior Brown. Rather than merely aping his heroes, Dwight developed a style of his own—soulful, honey-whipped vocals over arrangements and production that are modern without losing touch with the terra firma of history and sophisticated without being cheesy and pandering. He could easily have opted to suck but didn't. (4) For his turn as Doyle the Dirtbag in the flick Sling Blade, Dwight proved an even better actor than a singer/songwriter. Who among us hasn't met a Doyle or two in our lives and deeply longed to lop off their heads with a tree trimmer? Dwight captured it to perfection; bonus points for finally having the courage to remove his hat and show the world the ugly truth I've known for 15 years: Dwight's as bald as Jenna Jameson's kooze, and his head is shaped like a Brazil nut. Make Dwight a richer man than he already is: pay that whopping $62 ticket price, and go see him Sunday night at the House of Blues. Don't ask him to show his tits, though; that would be unseemly.
Tanya Tucker performs at the Orange County Fair, 88 Fair Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-FAIR. Wed., 8 p.m. Free with $7 general admission. All ages; Dwight Yoakam plays at the House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-BLUE. Sun., 7 p.m. $62.50. 21+.