Loretta Lynn Is a Legend, but She’s Also Just Plain Kind

Put simply, Loretta Lynn is the "Queen of Country Music." The just-turned-74 singer occupies rarefied air in the pantheon of country musicians, and deservedly so. She's enjoyed a slew of chart-topping hits since the early '60s, including "Don't Come Home A- Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind)," "One's on the Way," "Rated X," and, of course, "Coal Miner's Daughter." She's revered not only for her terrific music, her vivid and authentic storytelling, and her one-of-a-kind voice — a sepia-toned, clarion marvel, all at once feisty, resolute, world-weary, and optimistic — but for writing and singing about philandering, abusive men, and the women who weren't gonna take that crap no more, which turned her into a feminist icon, even for the nominally conservative set.

Along with her friend and fellow singer Conway Twitty, she formed one of the most successful duos in the history of country music, scoring numerous number-one hits throughout the '70s. Her life story was the basis for the excellent 1980 film Coal Miner's Daughter, starring Sissy Spacek (who won an Oscar for her riveting portrayal of Lynn's hardscrabble early years in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky). She had the vision to team up with the White Stripes' Jack White (who did for Lynn what Rick Rubin did for Johnny Cash) on the remarkable 2004 album Van Lear Rose, which perfectly captured her essence for a whole new generation of fans. She's won Grammys and American Music Awards galore, been inducted to multiple Halls of Fame, been feted as a Kennedy Center Honoree, and gotten a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

And, from all accounts, she's a nice, nice lady. In fact, the only negative thing I could unearth about Loretta Lynn —- and it's not even directly about her — comes from my friend Jeremy, who says that her restaurant, Loretta Lynn's Kitchen (in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee) — which serves up some of her family's old-time recipes — "was full of rednecks when I was there in 1995."

I've never been there, so I can't say, but I would love to go because just down the road is yet one more fabulous thing the singer's bestowed upon the world: Loretta Lynn's Ranch, one of America's greatest and most popular roadside attractions. It may not have the roller coasters and log flume rides of fellow country icon Dolly Parton's Dollywood — which is 300 miles to the east in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee — but it's got a Loretta Lynn museum, a replica of her old family shack, a coal mine, a flea market, an RV park, and concert venues where Loretta regularly performs.

Call it hokey, but I think it's charming, and how many of today's female country stars will be able to pull off something like that several decades from now? Taylor Swift Land, where you go into a room, press a button, and hear the entire 27-second phone call in which Jonas Brother Joe broke up with her? Carrie Underwood Park, with a museum featuring wax statues of American Idol's Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest, and the jerseys of all the athletes (the Dallas Cowboys' Tony Romo, the Ottawa Senators' Mike Fisher) that she's dated or will date? Nah. Let's face it: Loretta Lynn is the last of her kind — a supremely tough and talented gal who turned coal into diamonds. Every opportunity to see her live is one not to be missed. And despite all the rednecks, I hear the cornbread at Loretta Lynn's Kitchen is fantastic.

 
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