I don’t really listen to country music. I do listen to Kenny Rogers. Not often, but in times of sorrow or frustration or loneliness, some of his songs are definitely on my comfort playlist. The songs themselves are not particularly comforting, a lot of them, and we’ll get to that in a minute, but my memories of them from childhood are. Kenny Rogers is about the most current music my mom listens to, and there was a tape of him that we’d play in the car sometimes when I was a kid. That I went out and bought on tape myself as an adult.
He grew up poor. The fourth of eight children. The first person in his family to graduate from high school. And while still in high school, he was already a successful musician, to a greater or lesser extent. He would go on to full-blown stardom as he got older, plus a stretch of faded success in the ’80s, and was such a cultural icon that even I know there’s a Seinfeld plot about his chain of chicken restaurants. His most successful time was before I really remember, but he was just there in my life.
I’m a little surprised that he isn’t more of a musical presence in film and TV than he is. He’s one of the artists whose work was presumably too expensive for the DVD release of WKRP in Cincinnati, and “Islands in the Stream” appears on a lot of shows, but despite having successful songs going back to when he was nineteen, he isn’t as much of a presence on soundtracks as a lot of one-hit wonders from those same years.
I suppose it connects to the fact that he was long seen as a fusion of country and rock in an inoffensive sort of way. The “inoffensive” part is the problem. Still, he managed to bring his most famous song to life in TV movies, which is fairly unusual. I’ve never seen any of them, I admit, but it means I’m surprised that he wasn’t one of the many country music figures playing gamblers in the poker tournament that’s the climax of the movie Maverick—you’d think he’d be perfect for it.
The family has declared that, for now, his funeral will be small, and they’ll be having a larger memorial service when it’s safe to do so. Which is extremely sensible, all things considered. Still, even if you don’t have any personal affection for him or his music, he was friends with Dolly Parton, too, and she must be sad for this moment. He made music with a lot of people, and that’s something to celebrate even if you didn’t like the music itself.