George Jones Museum
What makes the George Jones Museum so entertaining is that you don't need to be a fan of George Jones's music to enjoy it.
George Glenn Jones (1931-2013), nicknamed "Possum" because of his turned-up nose, was a Classic Country superstar who lived the honky tonk life: hardscrabble childhood, prison time, drunken hijinks, multiple marriages (including one to Tammy Wynette), a failed theme park, hit songs about depressing subjects, a near-fatal car crash, and a final conversion to Jesus. He was unburdened by the gravitas of contemporaries such as Johnny Cash, or the social lumber of Willie Nelson or Charlie Daniels. George Jones was free to be paranoid, drunk, and crazy -- and he did it with style.
Toward the end of his life George was honest about his reckless living, and his misadventures are cited in many of the museum's exhibits (In fact, everything mentioned in this field review is mentioned in the museum). One display, for example, notes that George performed sober for the first time in 1984. That was when he was 53 years old.
Quirky exhibits abound. There's a scrawled note from George "heavily under the influence of cocaine" that he left on his windshield when he parked his car on the sidewalk in front of Nashville's airport. George politely asks that the car not be disturbed because he'll be back in a couple of days. "Amazingly," the exhibit concludes, when George returned "the car was where he left it with the engine still running."
Perhaps the most iconic item in the museum is a John Deere riding lawnmower, recalling the time that George's brother-in-law locked George in a room and took away his car keys until he sobered up. Instead, George climbed out a window and rode his lawnmower eight miles to the nearest liquor store (It took him 90 minutes). A framed painting shows a triumphant George slowly motoring back home, with a fifth of Jack Daniels in a paper bag, closely followed by a sheriff's police car.
Then there's the "Did you know?" showcase. "George kept movie reels in the trunk of his car and no one knows why," is one exhibit. Another states, "In the 1970s George had several close calls with the Mafia and he was afraid they were plotting to kill him." This is displayed with a newspaper from the day Lee Harvey Oswald was shot.
Woven through all of this is George's music, and even if you're unfamiliar with George Jones hits, you'll know them by the time you leave the museum, which plays them continuously. His first #1, "White Lightning," took 83 attempts to record "because George was intoxicated." His signature song, "He Stopped Loving Her Today," which the museum presents as the "Greatest Country Record of All Time," was honored with multiple awards that George later sold at a garage sale "during one of [his] drug-induced hazes." According to the song's exhibit, George never wanted to record it because he thought the song was "too depressing" and "morbid." At the time he had just been released from a psycho ward.
If the purpose of a museum is to stimulate a thirst for knowledge, then the George Jones Museum is a rousing success. Who wouldn't want to learn more about a guy who once got so drunk that he flushed $1,200 down a toilet? Or who was so strung-out on drugs that he developed an alter-ego named "Deedoodle the Duck"?
Despite repeated pledges of reform and sobriety, George didn't stop drinking until he was nearly 70 years old, after he'd smashed his car into a bridge while drunk. It put him in a coma for a week. The museum obligingly displays a battered chunk of the bridge, and the tattered leather jacket that George had to be cut out of by paramedics (he wasn't wearing his seat belt), and a "get well" fax sent to him by Keith Richards.
After that, George Jones finally settled down, preferring to be the first act at concerts so that he could leave early and go back to his hotel and watch TV (He loved old episodes of Bonanza). He was given a medal by George W. Bush at the White House, and received a fan letter from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. His last song, unfinished when he died, was titled "Thank God for Jesus." The museum displays its hand-written lyrics, with its ominous references to natural disasters and Judgment Day.
The George Jones Museum opened in 2015, on the second anniversary of his death. Although George was nearly killed by booze, the museum sells 100-proof George Jones-brand "White Lighting" moonshine, and boasts of having Nashville's longest bar on its rooftop (This was positioned in news reports as George "owning" liquor rather than liquor owning him). The museum is overseen by his widow (his fourth and final wife), who, in another Classic Country touch, often stops by for friendly visits with fans.