As far as I know, only one song has ever been written about a girl named Becky: "Coward of the County," recorded by Kenny Rogers in 1981. Becky gets gang-raped by the Gatlin boys.
It was the only song I had, so I had to love it. And even though he'd sullied my good name, I had to love Kenny Rogers, too. After all, the Gatlins got their due. (Or got beaten up in public, which amounted to the same thing back then. I guess.)
Then and now, I was not alone. Kenny Rogers has sold more than 100 million albums in his career, and though he's not the pop-culture force he once was, he's enjoying a robust classic-country afterlife, now touring in support of his 59th album.
When "Coward of the County" came out, though, Rogers was part of country's hirsute ruling class. Along with Kris Kristofferson and a few others, Rogers crossed over into mainstream celebrity, starring on TV, guesting on The Muppet Show, charming housewives and grandmas.
But here's the paradox. The Rogers Paradox, if you will. At the same time ol' Kenny established himself as the most anodyne of cultural figures, he based almost his entire song catalog on total sociopathy. Beneath his bland exterior, and somehow beyond the notice of most of his fans, Kenny Rogers was consumed by an obsession with evil.
To be fair, the man has done some "good" things. It was Kenny who took the only known photo of Dolly Parton that does not focus on cleavage. (It's very tasteful.) He has donated much time and energy to fighting hunger and homelessness; he created the World Hunger Media Awards; and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development named him Hero of Public Housing in '95. In 1990, he won the Horatio Alger Award, bestowed upon those who distinguish themselves despite humble origins.
But more than any of the other male country singers who dominated the '70s and '80s--except maybe Conway Twitty--Rogers embodied the cuddly sicko. His perversity was both surreptitious and surreal. You looked at him and thought, "Santa." And then he would belt out the heart-wrenching tale of a creep gone mad with lust for a teenage stripper ("Scarlet Fever"). Or a brooding tale about a pathetic farmer who catches his wife hitting on some rube in a bar, after she's abandoned him with their passel of brats (that would be "Lucille," and admittedly your sympathy decreases when you figure out the lyric is "four hungry children," not "400 children"). And my personal favorite, "Ruby," the story of a crippled war vet who has to sit in his wheelchair and watch his cheatin'-hearted wife get dolled up to prowl for some fresh, unparalyzed nookie ("If I could move, I'd get my gun and put her in the ground/ Oh Ruby, don't take yer love to town...").
As an added bonus, the whole time this pillar of Western family values is porking the sweet hominy out of Hee Haw swingset decoration Marianne Gordon. Marianne, wifey No. 4 and a decade younger than Sir Kenneth, made a career out of looking cute in pigtails.
True, ol' Kenny did enough schmaltzy stuff to keep the parents and grandparents ponying up. "You Decorated My Life." "She Believes in Me." And of course, the Lionel Ritchie-scripted travesty "Lady." But even those songs had their seedy side, perfectly designed as they were for adult-supervised pelvis-grinding during junior-high dances.
And let's not forget those unspeakably black days of Kenny's early career, starting in 1967 with the First Edition. You may have seen the video for their biggest hit, the totally tripped-out "I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)." There's a reason the whole band's wearing gigantic sunglasses.
All of which is scandalous enough for a country singer who looks like everybody's most huggable uncle (or maybe grandfather, these days), but it hardly demonstrates the extent of the Kenny Rogers threat. For that, we must turn to Rogers' television career.
His 1980 TV movie The Gambler, based on the hit song featuring one of the all-time greatest death knells ("...and somewhere in the darkness, the Gambler, he broke even..."), became a huge hit and spawned the longest-running miniseries in U.S. television history. Kenny starred as gambler Brady Hawkes, and he was actually pretty good.
However, I refer the cosmic jury to the year 2000, when the hit single "Buy Me a Rose"--which KR's website describes, no kidding, as "a touching ballad about the little things in life that mean so much"--inspired no less than its very own episode of Touched by an Angel. Presented with the opportunity to guest-star on the most satanic show in television history, Kenny naturally couldn't wait. In his role as a potentially home-wrecking lounge singer, Rogers practically struts with malevolent hirsute normalcy.
The episode is ominously set in Portland and that known epicenter of darkness, Oregon City. Rogers' performance warranted an Emmy nomination. Clearly, there are depths untold beneath that ever-tanned and sparkling veneer.
Spirit Mountain Casino, Grand Ronde. 8 pm Wednesday, Feb. 5. Sorry: Sold out.
For more Kenny-inspired terror, check out www.men who look like kenny rogers.com , a self-explanatory website that offers tips on how to achieve the Kenny Rogers look and where to spot men who look like him (state fairs, Waffle House, Boot World, sporting-goods section at
K Mart, feed stores, taxidermy shops).