Alan Jackson on Earth

Alan Jackson will never go to hell, unless he's got a sick little locked room somewhere, which he does not—that moustache bespeaks only the clearest, purest, most honorable, predictable soul, a country singer at home in an era when the open range is just what you gotta drive through to get a good parking spot at the Wal-Mart. And hell is where everything that was ever good and human now resides, an endless theme park of misery where suffering—since it's eternal and all—turns from simple punishment into something deeply beautiful. Also, there are a lot of adulterers, alcoholics, blasphemers, cussers, animal husbanders and tax cheats. You can see why the country music scene there is so good. Here are last year's awards-ceremony results, in case you didn't catch 'em on the Ouija.

Hank Williams
Entertainer of the Year IN HELL
There wasn't even a country hell till Hank got there, shaking off the downer cocktail that laid him out in the back of that Cadillac and stepping back onstage. It's an obvious choice and an easy one—same way rock N roll hell is run by Brian Jones and his backup band, featuring Keith Moon—but that doesn't make it any less right. Poor Hank had enough to suffer topside that he's gotta get the hellish equivalent of a lifetime-achievement award: “No matter how I struggle and strive/I'll never get out of this world alive,” he sang. Technically, that's true for every single person ever, but still, you get what he meant.

Charlie Rich
Male Vocalist of the Year IN HELL
Because before he lapsed into the near banality of “The Most Beautiful Girl,” he lent dulcet tones—and boom-chicka-boom bass guitar—to tracks like the one noted here: a perfect bridge over '70s schlock, from vintage '60s honky-tonk to not-so-good '80s urban cowboy. For his rich vocals and easy, off-hand delivery, Rich could be country's answer to Dean Martin. He made it all look easy.

Charline Arthur
Female Vocalist of the Year IN HELL
Described by pals as a “wild child” and “her own worst enemy,” Arthur described herself as “shakin' that thing before Elvis ever thought of it!” She wrote her first single “(I've Got) The Boogie Blues” when she was just 12; she wore pants when the other girls were in dresses; she got ticked off at Chet Atkins when everyone else loved him; and she had a barbed-wire warble that made Kitty Wells (who's too nice to be anything now but a honky-tonk angel) sound like 10 feet of Pepto-pink wallpaper.

“Can't Hardly Stand It” by Charlie Feathers
Song of the Year IN HELL
The Cramps first and most famously resurrected Charlie Feathers' spooky shack-shakin' backwoods shtick, but it took Quentin Tarantino to really pretty up those old bones for the public—as the cops roll up on Kill Bill's first crime scene, Feathers' “Can't Hardly Stand It,” more a ghost of a song than a song at all (and even more hollow and grim than Johnny Horton's “Evil Hearted Me”), is playing on the radio.

“I Got Stripes” from Johnny Cash Live at Town Hall
Party Single of the Year IN HELL
Why? 'Cause when he played this gig in 1959, “I Got Stripes” was so new and so nice that he played it twice. 'Cause John Ritter's dad, Tex, was the emcee. 'Cause Cash pretends to hiccup his way through “Heartbreak Hotel.” 'Cause he stops to talk to a little kid down in front. 'Cause the folks at Reverie recorded this LP from the original kinescopes. And especially because Compton hasn't been associated with country music since sometime right after the Watts Riots. Bring back Town Hall Party, a righteous honky-tonk if ever there was, which is honky-tonkin' right now . . . in hell.

“Rock House” by Roy Orbison on Sun Records
Album of the Year IN HELL
It's a $200 record, if you find the original on eBay, and the reissues are spendy, too. But c'mon—it's got Orby ooby-doobying “Rock House,” one of about four different versions of a song with the same name—none of them the same, none synonymous with a place where you can buy crack cocaine. Orbison cut a “Rock House.” So did Conway Twitty back when he was Herbert Somebody (“Coast to coast/man, it's the most/Rock House”). He was talkin' 'bout a honky-tonk. So was Elvis—back when he was skinny. And so was Dexter Romweber on “Wild Blue Yonder,” off a live CD when he was still half of Flat Duo Jets: “Rock it in the morning, rock it till daylight/Roll on till the evening, I won't be home tonight/Rock house, well, I'm goin' to a rock house.” Sadly, as far as our survey's concerned, Dexter ain't dead yet. But he's lived a hard, underappreciated life, so he makes the grade as a cult hero, and we'll upgrade him from that when he dies.


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