Rooting for wayward music stars is a great American tradition, whether you live in the America That Loves Country Music or in the America That Doesn't. Those who live in the latter, though, seem to have been caught off-guard by how big Randy Travis is in the former.
Now, Randy Travis isn't just some old country version of Lindsay Lohan, despite being arrested this week and leaving jail in borrowed clothes, after a muscular night of disorderly conduct. Randy Travis not just another funny mugshot. He is, still, Randy Travis.
So since Randy, who obviously needs help, has not yet hurt anybody, and because my Facebook page lit up with a boisterous round of "hook ‘em" cries from Longhorn fans (his borrowed outfit included a Texas cap), here's four good reasons you should be rooting for Randy Travis:
1. The Numbers: Travis has had 22 No. 1 hits. Let's hear that again: twenty-two. That's four more than Elvis. This is no Travis Tritt we're all laughing at here. And it's not even a Kenny Chesney. Randy Travis is on the Country Music Mount Rushmore, and that's for life.
2. Serious Style Points: Keep in mind that one of country music's great heroes, George Jones, was famously arrested for DUI on a lawnmower on his way to the liquor store, after his wife took his car keys. Such behavior is, well, part of the deal with country music. So credit where due: When you go down, you go down swinging, naked and drunk, hollering nonsense at the police, in a highway construction zone, where you just crashed your–wait for it!–1998 Trans Am, a few months after getting busted for drinking wine from the bottle in a church parking lot. I say: hold your head up, son. Ain't nothin' half-assed in that.
3. Good Deeds in History: This is why country fans can, and should, support Travis. They owe him. Travis was one of two singers–the other was George Strait–who, all by themselves and against every headwind, pulled the entire universe of country music out of its early ‘80s Urban Cowboy death spiral. Everybody loves Willie and Waylon and the boys, but by 1984, country music basically had three paying gigs: as Burt Reynolds' house band (East Bound and Down, Stroker Ace), made-for-TV schlock (The Gambler) and rednecksploitation ("Just Some Good Ole Boys").
But starting in 1984, Travis won at least one of every major country award through 1990, and dragged an entire bloated, crossover-drunk industry ("Are You Ready For Some Football?") back home again, with little songs built on little guitar chords about little people with little rhymes. Travis had no desire to cross over, rock like a hurricane or ride in the danger zone. In his prairie-flat baritone, Travis shipped song after song (arguably, he just reshipped the same song, but whatever) with simple, long-forgotten ingredients: the "I" gets the twang, you hit the "Love" with lazy, melted L's, and you politely hold the "Yoouuuu" until the band catches up.
Spotify or download these: "Is It still Over?," "On The Other Hand," "Deeper than the Holler," "I Told You So," "Too Gone For Too Long" and "Forever and Ever Amen."
4. The Comeback—or Have You Forgotten?: By the late ‘90s, Travis retreated to the world of Christian radio, where he straight dominated the Dove awards for a decade. Then came May 2003, and why you don't slap "former" on a legend just because he got bored with your kind of music.
For seven weeks in early 2003, the No. 1 "country" song was Darryl Worley's "Have You Forgotten," a tuneless, crass, proudly cynical anthem pimping the coming Iraq War. In retrospect, it's probably the worst song to ever top a singles chart.
The song that knocked it off the top spot was Travis' first No. 1 in a decade, "Three Wooden Crosses."
If "Forgotten" sought to exploit the gap between Country America and Not Country America, "Crosses," as sad and soulful as any ballad in history, invited us to be better together. In a small way, Travis had saved country music again. If you've never heard "Crosses," find a spot where your coworkers won't see you openly weeping then let This Week's Funny Mugshot Guy show you how you save the world, one song at a time.
Hook 'em, Randy. And get well.