Song Analysis

The Coward of the County


We are going to take a look at one of the greatest story telling songs of all time – Coward of the County by Kenny Rogers. First of all, if you haven’t ever heard it or it has been long time please stop reading this and listen to immediately. Get the lyrics and story line fresh in your heart and then continue reading.

Cannot imagine there is a person alive who does not relate to this song in some fashion. Let’s take a look at the song and what it has come to mean over the years:

Verse 1 –

Everyone considered him the coward of the county
He’d never stood one single time to prove the county wrong
His mama named him Tommy, but folks just called him yellow
Something always told me they were reading Tommy wrong

Everyone has been put down or told they cannot do something by others. Sometimes it is hard to say exactly why our lives have gone the way they have but we always know our Mother loves us and usually we all have something to hide. There is someone out there who knows the “real” us.

Verse 2 –

He was only ten years old when his daddy died in prison
I looked after Tommy, ’cause he was my brother’s son
I still recall the final words my brother said to Tommy
“Son, my life is over, but yours has just begun”

Everyone has a story. Our past. Our history. The events that have happen to us or around us that have made us who we are today. Most of us have a higher power we believe in and unfortunately most of us have suffered pain and loss in which we mourn over and eventually turn that hurt into the motivation that guides our lives moving forward.

Refrain –

“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”

Our parents want the best for us no matter what. They ask us not to make the same mistakes they have made and live as pain free as possible as we grow up. Many times we have to grow up way too soon and make decisions that can sometimes be seen as no win scenarios. Yet we are still forced to choose and live with the consequences of our decisions. The final line of the refrain has more depth than most entire songs ever written – “Son, you don’t have to fight to be a man.” More on this later.

Verse 3 –

There’s someone for everyone, and Tommy’s love was Becky
In her arms, he didn’t have to prove he was a man
One day while he was working, the Gatlin boys came calling
They took turns at Becky, n’there was three of them

Love. It is what we are all here for. This song like many others is driven by a love for another person which propels us to greater heights than we ever thought possible on our own. When the love of your life is hurt or wronged in some way it brings out a fire within us that can often times lead us down a dark path. Right or wrong we will seek to even the score on our Love’s behalf.

Verse 4 –

Tommy opened up the door, and saw his Becky crying
The torn dress, the shattered look was more than he could stand
He reached above the fireplace, and took down his daddy’s picture
As the tears fell on his daddy’s face, he heard these words again

When we are faced with that hurt look in our everything’s eyes, our own fears and limitations seem to disappear and we summon all the strength and courage we have and sometimes even more than we have. However, we remember the past and the promises made to do the right thing whenever possible. What happens when we are forced to break promises we have made in the past to do the “right” thing in this particular circumstance?

Verse 5 –

The Gatlin boys just laughed at him when he walked into the barroom
One of them got up and met him halfway ‘cross the floor
When Tommy turned around they said, “hey look, old yeller’s leaving”
But you could’ve heard a pin drop when Tommy stopped and locked the door

Many times when we decide to chase after our dreams we are laughed at and ridiculed. We are told we are not good enough and that we are going to just give up like always have in the past. Then comes that moment when we stop running. We turn and face the music. We search the truth and we know we could die upon the truth. We would rather die here today sticking up for what is right then live another day in fear.

Verse 6 –

Twenty years of crawling was bottled up inside him
He wasn’t holding nothin’ back, he let ’em have it all
When Tommy left the barroom, not a Gatlin boy was standing
He said, “this one’s for Becky, as he watched the last one fall

When we get to the point, very often we are more than the sum of our parts. It is that adrenaline rush when someone lifts up a car to save a child from dying. We certainly cannot lift up a car but in that moment we can! When we do what is necessary we often dedicate our journey to someone who has been there for us. Someone who believed in us even when we did not believe in ourselves.

Final Refrain –

“I promised you, Dad, not to do the things you’ve done
I walk away from trouble when I can
Now please don’t think I’m weak, I didn’t turn the other cheek
And papa, I sure hope you understand
Sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man”

The story of our lives changes from us being told what to do to us doing the telling. He did keep his promise to his Dad to do the right thing, it just so happens in this case, doing the right thing meant taking action. Not running from it. We do what we have to survive. We do what we have to find happiness and meaning. Sometimes you have to fight. It may be physical or it may be symbolic but you will have to take a stand and fight for what you believe in before our time on Earth is done.

There is a peace only to be found on the other side of war. If that war should come I will fight it!