“Garth Brooks did for country music what pantyhose did for finger fucking.”
This is the quote that has been attributed to Waylon Jennings that you are likely to see in much greater frequency now that Garth Brooks has come out of retirement. For some, it is the totality of their argument against Garth. Forget all his music, past and future, whatever merits his music might have beyond the flashy stage show, however much the test of time has validated his music or not. To tens of thousands, or maybe hundreds of thousands of people, the totality of their Garth hatred, the alpha and omega of their anti-Garth argument, rests on this quote. And if you don’t believe me, just mention Garth’s name in the right (or wrong) company, it it will come flying out at you unsolicited.
The problem is there’s no verifiable records of Waylon ever saying it. And if he did ever say it, that he is the originator of the quote. But just like the urban myth that Kentucky Fried Chicken had to legally change their name to KFC because the birds they use are so genetically altered they can’t be classified as chickens, if you parrot something enough, people take it as fact.
If I had a hunch, not based on fact or research whatsoever, I would say that at some point Waylon Jennings probably did utter those words about Garth, and they probably made it out to the greater world through his son Shooter Jennings. But I’ve also heard from some who say that Poodie Locke—Willie Nelson’s long-time stage manager and one prone to such humor—was the first to say it. Maybe Waylon picked it up there. But I can’t verify that Poodie Locke said it either. There are records of the “_____ did for ____ what pantyhose did for finger fucking” phrase being used for other purposes way before Garth Brooks had even released his first album, so is it really fair to attribute the analogy to anyone?
When you start to try and find the origination point of the quote, and any factual information on if Waylon truly said it or coined it, you start finding a tremendous amount of fiction. The simple fact is the quote is so juicy, and many people just want it to be real so badly, they’re willing to look the other way and proffer it up for human consumption regardless of the truth.
The first record of the quote being used goes back to of all places, Willie Nelson’s 70th Birthday Party in 2003, and from of all people, actor Ethan Hawke. In April of 2009, Ethan Hawke penned a feature on Kris Kristofferson for Rolling Stone. In the feature, Ethan Hawke recounts a story from 2003 where Kris Kristofferson and Toby Keith get into a verbal argument, and Kristofferson says the Waylon quote in response to Toby Keith’s demand, “None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.”
Here’s the complete interchange from Rolling Stone, as dictated by Ethan Hawke:
“Up from the basement came one of country music’s brightest stars (who shall remain nameless). At that moment in time, the Star had a monster radio hit about bombing America’s enemies back into the Stone Age.
“Happy birthday,” the Star said to Willie, breezing by us. As he passed Kristofferson in one long, confident stride, out of the corner of his mouth came “None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.”
“What the fuck did you just say to me?” Kris growled, stepping forward.
“You heard me,” the Star said, walking away in the darkness.
“Don’t turn your back to me, boy,” Kristofferson shouted, not giving a shit that basically the entire music industry seemed to be flanking him.
“You ever worn your country’s uniform?” Kris asked rhetorically.
“Don’t ‘What?’ me, boy! You heard the question. You just don’t like the answer.” He paused just long enough to get a full chest of air. “I asked, ‘Have you ever served your country?’ The answer is, no, you have not. Have you ever killed another man? Huh? Have you ever taken another man’s life and then cashed the check your country gave you for doing it? No, you have not. So shut the fuck up!” I could feel his body pulsing with anger next to me. “You don’t know what the hell you are talking about!”
“Whatever,” the young Star muttered.
Kristofferson took a deep inhale and leaned against the wall, still vibrating with adrenaline. He looked over at Willie as if to say, “Don’t say a word.” Then his eyes found me. “You know what Waylon Jennings said about guys like him?” he whispered.
I shook my head.
“They’re doin’ to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckin’.”
– – – – – – – – – –
Yes, as a traditional country fan, maybe you’re pumping your fists. “Hell yeah, you tell ’em Kris!” The problem is, Ethna Hawke’s story is, and was, complete bullshit, including the Waylon Jennings quote. And this was verified later by both Kris Kristofferson, and Toby Keith.
In the aftermath of the Ethan Hawke story, Kris Kristofferson told The Tennessean: ”I have to say, I have no memory of talking so tough to anyone at Willie’s birthday party least of all to Toby Keith, (if that’s who the nameless star is), for whom I have nothing but admiration and respect.”
As for Toby Keith, he was a little more heated about the situation, as can be seen in this clip from the 2009 ACM Awards that happened right after the story was published.
But the damage had already been done. The Waylon quote was so juicy, and the clarifications about the story so buried compared to the reach of the original Rolling Stone article, the quote became a matter of public record. In fact some people want the Waylon Jennings quote about Garth Brooks to be true so bad, as well as the fictitious Toby Keith vs. Kris Kristofferson interchange, that they say the clarifications by Toby Keith and Kris Kristofferson are just saving face, and if fact both the quote, and Ethan Hawke’s story are still true.
Of course beyond Kris and Keith’s clarifications, Ethan Hawke and the story’s defenders also have to figure out how to resolve the fact that Toby Keith, flag waver or not, is and was a registered Democrat. So for Keith to say “None of that lefty shit,” seems very unrealistic. Also the quote from Kris from the story, “Have you ever killed another man?” seems to allude that he has. But this gives into the common misconception that Kris Kristofferson saw combat as a helicopter pilot in the Army when in fact he was stationed in Germany during The Vietnam War, and never exchanged live fire.
Though Ethan Hawke’s fictitious story had the Waylon Jennings quote about Garth Brooks going down in 2003, it wasn’t until 2005 when we find the first documented source of the quote in print—at least that can be found on the internet. It comes from an East Bay Express feature on Shooter Jennings, but interestingly, Shooter isn’t giving the quote, it is used to preface the Shooter interview and is recounted by the author of the story. This was 3 1/2 years before the quote would wind up in Rolling Stone and become a matter of public record. Again, it’s very likely that Shooter probably did hear his father use the quote, but was Waylon the originator?
This also opens up the second problem with this supposed Waylon Jennings quote, which is that it is no longer relevant in the forum of public discourse. For example, in the 2005 feature, Shooter says he thinks country music became more about show through Garth. But later in 2013 in an interview with the Charleston City Paper, Shooter says,
“Garth Brooks is as country as shit. Back then it was like, what the fuck is going on. This guy is terrible. This isn’t country music.” Jennings says. “I would take that any day now. That means the bar has been lowered so far that we’re like, please. I would listen to only Garth Brooks all day if that’s what I could get.”
As Saving Country Music once spelled out in detail, time has been kind to the music of Garth Brooks, and this change of heart by Waylon’s son has played out in the hearts of many country fans over time. In fact when Shooter first spoke on Garth in 2005, Garth had already been retired for half a decade. Garth hasn’t even been around for 13 years to hate on. But some, including many who have the Waylon quote top-of-mind and at-the-ready any time Garth’s name is uttered, use it as a crutch to continue their war on Garth Brooks.
Another die-hard Garth Brooks hater turned apologist has been singer-songwriter Todd Snider. Todd had a beef with one of Garth’s songwriters after a dispute over the song “Beer Run”. Todd also interfaced with Garth’s alt. rock character Chris Gaines at one point, and told defaming stories as part of his stage schtick for years. But in Todd’s new book released in 2014 called I Never Met A Story I Didn’t Like, Snider reconciles his Garth hatred, and says from his personal interactions with the entertainer, he was more kind to him than most in the music business.
I loved Garth Brooks. I was, and am, a very big fan. I think Garth Brooks fucked up country music for a while, through no fault of his own: he made music so good and so successful that tons of people came along after him trying to imitate what he did. Garth fucked up country music like Kurt Cobain fucked up rock.
Because of Garth’s massive success, there’s a bit of a push and pull in Nashville about him. When you sell more records than anyone has ever sold, you tend to make more people jealous than have ever been jealous of a singer.
It’s a crock that I think prevails in this country: we bully the people who entertain us. We get on the computer and bully them. We buy magazines with pictures of them where they look fat or drunk or imperfect. And we suppose that those people’s success excuses our meanness.
Another interesting thing about the Waylon quote about Garth, and something that leads to speculation if it’s true or not, is that the exact same quote has been attributed to different people. It has been attributed to Willie Nelson and David Allan Coe for example, and to Kris Kristofferson directly because of the Rolling Stone piece. In 2012, the alt-country band Deer Tick took to Facebook and attributed the quote to Merle Haggard, illustrating the urban myth nature of the Waylon/Garth quote.
Interestingly, in January of 2012, Merle Haggard was read the supposed Waylon Jennings quote by 11th Hour, and Merle’s response was,
Well. I think, Waylon got dumber with age. I don’t know. I love Waylon, but he was awful critical of different things. He just got grouchy. I love listening to Waylon and Willie and Johnny. They still set my ears to burning … I think what Waylon meant by that statement was that somebody ought to be able to walk out on a stage with a guitar and put on a good show that people can enjoy. We don’t really need explosions to enjoy a concert do we?
Whether the quote is completely true and coined by Waylon Jennings himself, was borrowed by him from someone else, or the entire thing is a total fabrication of urban myth, the simple fact is that the Waylon quote about Garth is no longer a statement that in any way does the complex perspective that one needs to understand Garth Brooks any bit of justice. Garth started his career a quarter century ago, and hasn’t released a new album in over 13 years. And Waylon Jennings has been dead for a decade.
Here’s some quotes that can be verified that they actually came from Waylon Jennings because they can be found in his autobiography. They’re nearly 20 years old, but relevant as ever to the conversation.
Of course, the next generation better not believe everything they hear. At this point, I’ve been accused of all manner of carousing. Mostly, it’s something that I might have done, or would have done, or couldn’t even imagine doing. Pretty soon it’s etched into stone. If I led the life that people think I did, I’d be a hundred and fifty years old and weigh about forty pounds …
The thing is, we’re in this together, the old, the new, the one-hit wonders and the lifetime achievers, the writers and the session pickers and the guy who sells the T-shirts. The folks that come to the shows, and the ones that stay at home and watch it on TNN. Those who remember Hank Williams, and those who came on board about the time of Mark Chestnut, who named his baby boy after me …
My friends. This town is big enough for the all of us.