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The Coward of the Country Andre Burnett

The Coward of the County: In retrospect

One of my favourite Kenny Rogers ballads is of course “The coward of the county”. I say of course, because I’m Jamaican and most Jamaican men my age and older have probably had some very positive feelings about how that song unfolded.

Kenny’s impact on Jamaica’s culture is profound and probably greater than we realize. Considering our own propensity for violence and a honour system which still curiously mirrors our grandfathers’ and fathers’ westerns; I’ve started thinking about the effect that certain ideas presented through content has had on our culture.

I wondered about “Coward” because I realized that stories like that usually have multiple layers of introspection. At face-value, it’s pretty straight forward. A regretful father asks his son to be a “better man” than he was.

“Promise me, son, not to do the things I’ve done
Walk away from trouble if you can
It won’t mean you’re weak if you turn the other cheek
I hope you’re old enough to understand
Son, you don’t have to fight to be a man”

Which eventually leads to him being a bit of a pushover. In fact, he’s so much of a pushover that 3 brothers decided that their lives would be in little danger if they decided to rape his wife and go to the bar to have a drink afterwards.

Which they did.

I deliberately made that a little jarring because the story is set in the kind of place where that kind of thing must be at least somewhat normal. In that world, telling a child that “he didn’t have to fight to be a man” is pretty much saddling the kid with a mindset which would guarantee him a lifetime of pain and probably a pretty short life.

The redemptive aspect of Tommy presumably killing the 3 Gatlin Brothers to avenge his wife hits home on the surface level but it’s scant comfort to Becky who has had to live through a horrific experience so her husband could self-actualize.

In a larger sense, it speaks to me of how our parents and forefathers’ beliefs and perspectives are still with us today, affecting our present unconsciously. The “unconsciously” is the important part because it’s always good to ask, as Alan Watts would urge, “Which lie am I believing right now?”. Having control of our own circumstances would mean that we are able to pick what from the past we want to influence our present.

Being thoughtful and flexible about decisions in the present, using past experience and knowledge to adjust your philosophy and of course being willing to take a proactive step to protect your future “present”. That’s a pretty roundabout way of saying, be more present. There are many Gatlin incidents which can be staved off with a preemptive show of strength or maybe you do need to turn the other cheek.

I just think Tommy’s dad could have saved that prison speech and saved some people a lot of pain.