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Tucson Weekly Stand By Your Ma'am

Say hello to Mary and goodbye to Tammy.

By Jeff Smith

APRIL 20, 1998:  SO, HOW LONG do you figure it's going to take the First Willy to jump on the newly elected Congressperson from California?

Come on: you know it's already crossed his mind. She is a bit dishy, recently widowed--and the President has an established track-record in comforting grieving widows, like for instance Kathleen Willy--and now she's going to be back in D.C. and available for Oval Office functions. Like bill signings.

Mary Bono, R-California, beat a field of five, including Pappy Walton from the TV show, to fill out the remainder of dead Sonny Bono's congressional term. Family values are making a comeback in the land of fruits and nuts and out-of-work entertainers. Mrs. Bono told CNN that winning the election helped her work through the loss of Cher's ex-husband, but added that she will never be entirely over the pain. I'm sure Mr. Clinton would be glad to feel Mrs. Bono's pain.

And whatever.

The last Mrs. Salvatore Bono is not the only former wife of the '60s second-banana turned mayor, turned congressman, turned ski-stiff, to use his death to goose her own career. First wife Cher, who dumped Sonny like a bad habit as soon as her solo career took off and younger boys like Greg Allman and Richie Samborra came sniffing around, hasn't had much exposure lately, so she bit on the opportunity to host a televised eulogy to the man whose savviest career-move was running into a tree and killing himself. In that regard I can empathize with Sonny: I once ran into a tree myself. Except I was riding a motorcycle instead of skiing, and I wound up in a hospital in El Paso instead of a mortuary in Palm Springs.

Oh, and I haven't had sex with Cher. Yet. If she's got any pain or stuff that needs felt, I'm there for her.

D-E-A-D. Actually the pain I personally am feeling right now is on account of Tammy Wynette died last week. Odd, but somehow she seemed older than the 55 years the press gave her credit for. Must have had to do with her life and hard times. She was born poor in the rural south, and was proud of the fact that she picked cotton before she went to Nashville and became a big ol' country singing star.

I don't want to appear churlish, but I've picked a little cotton myself...much as Tammy did, which was to supplement her schoolkid allowance during the autumn picking season. Parenthetically, back in the potato country of Northern Maine whence my progenitors came, they let the kids out of school for two weeks in the fall to pick potatoes during the harvest. Same kind of thing with Tammy and me. Anyway, Tammy picked a little cotton, but couldn't honestly call herself a cotton-picker. She lacked the pigmentation.

She could, however, legitimately claim to be a beautician. The last grown-up, full-time job Tammy held before she packed up her dreams and duds and headed for Music City was doing hair and nails down in Georgia.

Once she hit town the hits hit the charts and kept right on coming. Within three years she had recorded "Stand By Your Man" and won the Country Music Association's chick singer award. That song, and the heart-wrenching D-I-V-O-R-C-E, made Tammy Wynette's career as well as her reputation.

Which was widely misunderstood by you city folks who aren't down with country music. Feminists of the period dissed "Stand By Your Man" and the woman who sang it, as anthem and poster child for submissive women and spousal abuse. Anybody who actually listened to the words and thought about the fragile nature of personal relationships understood that what Tammy was getting at was, "Don't just bail at the first sign of trouble and wreck both your own futures."

Ironically, yet fittingly apt, the most recent stink over "Stand By Your Man" came to us courtesy of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who sat by her man in front of the cameras for 60 Minutes during Bill Clinton's first presidential election campaign, explaining why she hung in with Bill despite his diddling Gennifer Flowers...and whomever.

"I'm not just 'Standing By My Man' like Tammy Wynette...," she said, her voice dripping with scorn. Oh really? Then what was she doing? I guess it must be feministically and politically correct to stand by a lying, cheating, First & Second Amendment-abrogating man, when he's your ticket to a bed in the White House and more political juice than Margaret Thatcher and Benazir Bhutto.

Karma can be a mean mother and Hillary is getting all of it she can stand. It don't pay for a would-be First Lady from Arkansas to be mouthing off about the First Lady of heart-broke country song.

Somewhere up there, Tammy is eating GooGoos and drinking Southern Comfort with Hank and Elvis and Patsy and Dottie, and laughing her ass off.


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