Let’s face it: With the presidential campaign on permanent spin cycle, with candidates who persist in dirtying each other while refusing to come clean on crucial economic issues, this election season has been a real washout for American democracy.
Fortunately, there are still some reliable sources of straight talk left in this land. Waylon Jennings is one of them.
On his new album, “Full Circle,” the veteran country singer offers a homespun little waltz called “Yoyos, Bozos, Bimbos and Heroes.” It’s full of sound advice about the critical thinking that we, the people, need to be doing at a time when politics has become the domain of image mongers.
Parading like fine politicians, dressed up in perfect disguise,
Pushing their science and fiction, mixing the truth with the lies.
So while we’re all busy looking for answers, there’s one thing we all need to know--
The difference between yoyos and bozos and bimbos and heroes.
Jennings and his steady songwriting partner, Roger Murrah, wrote the song in a fit of disgust over last year’s Iran-Contra hearings.
“Between those senators and that girl Fawn Hall and Oliver North in his uniform, it was a three-ring circus,” Jennings said from Nashville this week in his deep, friendly Texas drawl. And while he didn’t intend “Yoyos” as a commentary on the Bush-Dukakis fall classic, Jennings, who plays Monday and Tuesday at the Crazy Horse Steak House in Santa Ana, readily agrees that the season’s politicking fits the shoe.
“With Bush and Dukakis not talking about any issues, just cutting each other with personal attacks, the heroes are awfully hard to find,” he said.
But since a citizen still has to choose, it seemed germane to ask Jennings which of the two candidates looks more like a hero to him and less like a yoyo, bozo or bimbo.
“I really wouldn’t know what to say. I’m not a Republican, and I’m not a Democrat,” Jennings began, sounding as if he was going to duck the question as neatly as a pol in a televised debate. But Waylon is no waffler. “I kind of like Bush’s attitude better,” he continued. “I feel safer, more comfortable with him when he’s talking.”
Another tune from Jennings’ new album is apt to get a rise out of local fans during his swing through Southern California.
Titled “How Much Is It Worth to Live in L.A.,” the song trots out the usual litany of the Southland’s dubious achievements, with pokes at freeway traffic, smog and the folks in “Hollyweird.” Jennings said the song dawned on him when his touring bus, a 50-foot behemoth, was bogged down in freeway traffic.
“I figured people in L.A. would get the humor in it,” Jennings said. “I can see ‘em in the heavy traffic, 5 or 6 in the afternoon, all stalled up on the freeway, and it comes on the radio. If I tick ‘em off, they ain’t got no sense of humor.”
On his last album, the autobiographical “A Man Called Hoss,” Jennings, 51, had no qualms about lampooning the Nashville music Establishment in a song called “If Ole Hank Could Only See Us Now.” Though humorous, it underscored Jennings’ stance as an individualist who has tried to make country music his own way instead of conforming to others’ vision of what might make for chart success.
Jennings became a major country star in the mid-1970s, playing hard-edged music that showed his roots as an early rock ‘n’ roller (Jennings played bass in Buddy Holly’s band; he was supposed to travel on the plane that crashed and killed Holly and Ritchie Valens in 1959 but gave up his seat to the wreck’s other famous victim, J.P. (The Big Bopper) Richardson).
Jennings’ main asset has been a deep, full-bodied voice rich enough to support a dramatic singing style well suited to the stormy, epic-scale tales he tends to tell, but he also has a warm way with tender ballads. Jennings’ persona looms almost as large as the music: the tall, bearded “outlaw” dressed in black, with a reputation for hard living and on-the-edge behavior.
Jennings took a few steps away from the edge 4 years ago when he ended a longstanding drug habit that had reached alarming proportions. While most anti-drug crusaders, including rehabilitated celebrities and the “Just Say No” crowd, speak about drug abuse in black-and-white terms, Jennings, with characteristic honesty, takes a more complex view.
“I’m Living Proof (There’s Life After You)” is Jennings’ unusual musical comment on his drugging days. The song, from “A Man Called Hoss,” is virtually identical to a conventional country song about lost love, except that Jennings finds himself, or at least a part of himself, lamenting the loss of drugs.
“When you’re on drugs, it is like a relationship,” Jennings said. “It’s like a person, and you can blame everything you do on this other person. When you get off of drugs, the other person dies. It’s like you pine for that person and you mourn for their death. It’s part of the recovery. Because you know you can bring that person back alive any time you want, and you know they’ll be a lot of fun. But if you bring them back, you’ll both die.”
There’s a melancholy streak that runs through Jennings’ recent albums. “Turn It All Around,” from “A Man Called Hoss,” is about wishing he could change part of his past. And the new album’s “Hey Willie,” addressed to old friend Willie Nelson, daydreams about chucking the demands and the allure of a high-profile music career and going back to Phoenix, where they met 25 years ago as struggling country singers.
But Jennings said the two songs were meant to capture passing melancholy moods. Aside from his drug problem, he said, he has no deep regrets about the past.
After his run as one of the hottest performers in country in the mid- to late ‘70s, Jennings is happy to keep going at the more modest but steady pace he has sustained in his post-drug period.
“I would never want to get in that high-pressured, high-strung (existence) where Hank Jr. is at now, the wild crowds,” Jennings said, referring to an old friend, Hank Williams Jr. ". . . It’s fun for a while, but it’s not one of those things you want to do twice.”
Waylon Jennings plays Monday and Tuesday night at the Crazy Horse Steak House, 1580 Brookhollow Drive, Santa Ana, at 7 and 10 p.m. Tickets cost $28.50. Call (714) 549-1512 for information.