Take this show and shove it!…in the “good show” bin.
We all have our own passions that we don’t know how to fully communicate to people. A topic or interest that we end up just going insane about once we get started talking about it, as a certain Charlie Day meme going around will attest to. I know that I personally end up looking like an unstable mental patient if you give me even two minutes to talk about my particular views on the current state of DC Comics. Though not many of us have the same level of resources or reputation as Mike Judge in getting people to know more about what he thinks and likes.
With “Tales from the Tour Bus”, Judge gets the chance to highlight and distill the stories of just a few of the many icons in country music. Unfortunately, me being not much into music, in general, may probably hamper my ability to fully appreciate the intent of the show, but might heighten it in a different way. As a newbie to this genre, I am basically watching six stories about several eccentric and artistic people through the lenses of their contemporaries and loved ones to paint a loving but flawed (and tragic in some cases) picture of that artist. I’ve mentioned a few times how there are several similarities between the subjects, mainly in their rising from a remote area (mostly in the south) which was exposed to musical acts which inspired them to start a music career that gained them instant success but was soon tainted by their inability to properly handle that success leading to an abuse and addiction to drugs and alcohol but eventually leading to an equilibrium and a relatively happy life up until their death (excepting the two who are still alive). However, I think there are also certain lessons to gain from each individual tale. I’m only taking these from what’s presented in their respective episodes, so I could be way off, but hear me out.
Johnny Paycheck started as a delinquent who stole cars and changed his name constantly to become famous, but was always hounded by his need to be secure in his masculinity. It helped him make his name and become an icon, but it also led to a lot of hurt and stupidity. It was only after that need landed him in jail that he was able to truly break free from it and accept himself. Also oddly the only episode to show every interviewee in live action at the end, which I was surprised they didn’t do more.
Similarly, Jerry Lee Lewis made his way through his currently ongoing life almost entirely on impulse. He married three women without divorcing any, one of whom was his 13-year-old cousin, and had intense rivalries and friendships while also burning many a bridge. But he lived his life his way and came out of it the other end after everyone else had passed. And ultimately, he meant well.
George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s story is naturally two-fold. Jones found a talent he didn’t particularly like doing at first became easier to take after a few drinks and ended up in a lifestyle he didn’t particularly appreciate. Wynette ran after Jones in many ways over the course of her life but couldn’t separate her admiration from his flaws. Two grizzled and damaged but imaginative people who were consumed by their demons but came together to make sweet music.
Billy Joe Shaver is a testament to the resilience of a human soul that has gone through so much hardship, including the kind that’s self-inflicted. Married and divorced the same woman three times, lost his fingers in a wood mill, had a roommate who read poetry to him at night with a rusty knife against his neck, shot a guy through the cheek, etc. He’s seen it all and endured, hence why he’s the other one of these that’s also still kicking.
Waylon Jennings is, fittingly, an outlaw. He helped ignite a fervor of unappreciated talent with a voice that was held back by stifling the established sound of Nashville of that time but also did by being on his toes and keeping up horrible addictions which he later gave up. He made sure to surround himself with people who would challenge him and love him, but not contrarians and kiss-ups. He did it his way, “hanks” be damned.
And lastly, Blaze Foley. A man who never found out how to truly settle down or fit in, but did his damndest to make his voice heard. His life was shorter than the rest and ended in the worst way, but he never compromised himself and found a way to make his impact.
Again, I’m not super knowledgeable on country music figures, so given the talks going around about Judge wanting to do this again, I can’t really make many good or not-obvious suggestions for the next season. Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash have certainly come up quite a bit in these things, so there’s certainly a chance, but who knows what other unknowns could be unearthed by a half-hour animated documentary. I’ve certainly learned a lot more than I would have if I hadn’t seen this show, which I imagine was the intended effect, so I’d definitely be up for another ride once the tour bus rolls back in for another season.