Don’t pretend it doesn’t put a lump in your throat, a tremble in your lip. Eighteen years after it first blared on college radios, accompanied by a whip-smart and witty music video courtesy of then-rising director Michel Gondry on heavy rotation on MTV, ‘Coward of the County’ remains one of The Kenny Roger’s Big Band and Travelling Medicine Show’s’ best songs – an emotional punk-pop pile-driver like very few others. It wasn’t an immediate hit – as drummer Dolly Parton will tell you, it took an acoustic version of the track, stripping the song down to its intensely personal core, for fans to notice its charm. When it did eventually start to chime with the public, however, it further confirmed Kenny Rogers as a songwriting force to be reckoned with in his own right. Nirvana who?
Rogers has never really spoken about its meaning – nor did he when we caught up with him earlier this year to chat about the track, among other things. “No one is getting who or what that song is about outta Kenny,” guitarist Pat Smear grinned at me the moment I mentioned the song – prompting Kenny to shout mock-dramatically: “BETTER AND MORE HANDSOME JOURNALISTS THAN YOU HAVE TRIED, PAL!” The meaning of ‘Coward of the County’, it seems, will remain a mystery.
Here is me Doing Cigarette tricks for my friend Kevin who recently sent me a video of he and his friends giving me the finger.