Many people like you ask me, "Associate Professor Emeritus Crispy, you're old as fuck. Do you remember the period of heterosexuality, when biologically male, cisgender men mated with biologically female, cisgender women, and vice versa? I hear that they'd get hitched up, have children, probably get divorced, and then possibly re-married. Men and women are really very different, professor. It doesn't seem like they could exist simultaneously in the same bed without there being some sort of explosion. Heterosexuality is so alien and unrelatable. What did these people think they were doing?"
I'm glad you asked! After years of scientific study, my research team and I can report that there’s exactly one source of information that gives us access to the bizarre terrain of heterosexuality: the country duet. Everything in the classic country duet is relevant to unearthing historical heterosexual identities, and nothing that’s not there is relevant in the slightest. If an alleged aspect of heterosexuality is not in George and Tammy, Conway and Loretta, Dolly and Porter, it's gay as shit.
The exemplars and avatars of heterosexuality are George Jones and Tammy Wynette. They got married in a fever and also married on a record, and they divorced every day at 2:00 sharp. He's out drinking and she's henpecking, or she's cheating and he's weeping. And we can hear every agonized gasp and sigh. They were heterosexuality in a nutshell, or at any rate a Chevy. Millions of people were living such lives, believe it or not. Me too. It seems impossible, I admit. But it led to some great art. And some great insults, such as You're the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly.
Our recent work was set in motion by two excellent recent explorations of the country duet by different pairs of researchers: Jenni Muldaur and Teddy Thompson, and the Mizes, Logan Mize and Jill Martin. That little list appears to be wrongly punctuated but, "the Mizes, Logan Mize and Jill Martin," is the name of the artist as given on their EP of new duets in the classic vein. They are, evidently, confused about their names, which was one of heterosexuality's drawbacks: people seemed to become each other randomly, and then unbecome.
The Mizes, Logan Mize and Jill Martin, explore the elements of heterosexual history. "I've tried buying you flowers, read the book on Venus and Mars," sings Logan, who's also an excellent solo artist. "I've been bringing home the bacon but can barely get you out of your drawers." “Mars” and “drawers” rhyme just like men and women do, you know? And that lyric tells you in 25 words what it was like. I should probably look it up and figure out who wrote what, but for now I'll just point out that "The Mizes" has five excellent new songs in the classic veins.
Maybe the Mizes, Logan Mize and Jill Martin, are from Kansas, that ancestral homeland of het. Our research indicates that there's a vestigial colony or "nest" of heterosexuals somewhere south Emporia, and perhaps that explains how the Mizes, Logan Mize and Jill Martin, could arise at this late date. They sing:
The Opry's down in Tennessee
And Cowtown's up in Abilene
The devil and the IRS
They both share the same address
God's in heaven, the Pope's in Rome
And the honeymoon's over at home.
And if you don't know, now you know, n-word. That's what it was like! Plus that's a nice Cajun-style accordion.
Muldaur and Thompson's LP Once More consists of covers of many classic country duets, such as Dolly and Porter's Just Someone I Used to Know or (for God's sake) George and Tammy's "Golden Ring." The original versions of these songs are definitive, certainly some of the best country records ever made, so there needs to be some justification for re-recording them (besides the fact that the original versions sound like they were recorded in the 1960s). Here, there certainly is.
Jenni Muldaur, Maria's daughter, is a wonderful singer, with perfect country timing. She has a supple soprano that strikingly resembles her mother's, but her mother (as far as I know) never performed in a country vein. Jenni's complete naturalness in the genre, then, comes as a surprise. Thompson, in a nice example of "serial monogamy," recorded a previous set of duets with Kelly Jones. Here, he underpins Muldaur with sumptuous harmonies throughout, as though they were a gender-reversed Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Listening to these voices coalesce might put you under the delusion that a man and a woman can become as one.
As if it were possible for a man and woman to coalesce like two raindrops! These are dangerous records, a kind of propaganda for reactionary sexualities. Or they would be, if it were possible to bring heterosexuality back. But that ship has sailed, as they say, and we’re left rummaging around in the remnants, or trying to revivify them. The version of "One" linked a paragraph ago was from Rhonda Vincent and Daryle Singletary's American Grandstand, which I thought was the best country album of 2017 by a long way. The country duet never stops, even if the sexual orientation it describes no longer really has any practitioners.
It’s all too easy to put together a 200-cut or more playlist of classic country duets, and to really understand what it was like to be a man-loving woman or a woman-loving man, you'll need to listen to them all, take a break to sob, and then listen to them all again. Here's a selection.
George Jones and Tammy Wynette, "Two Story House," "My Elusive Dreams."
Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, "Just Someone I Used to Know," "Put it Off Until Tomorrow."
Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, "After the Fire is Gone," As Soon as I Hang Up the Phone.
Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, "Love Hurts."
Johnny and June Carter Cash, "Jackson."
The Kendalls, "Here Today and Gone Tomorrow."
Keith Whitley and Lorrie Morgan, 'Til a Tear Becomes a Rose.
Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White, "If I Needed You."
Vince Gill and Patty Loveless, "My Kind of Woman/My Kind of Man."
David Frizzell and Shelly West, You're the Reason God Made Oklahoma.
John Prine and Iris DeMent, "(We're Not) The Jet Set."
Brad Paisley (feat. Alison Krauss), "Whiskey Lullaby."
Rhonda Vincent and Daryle Singletary, "One," "A Picture of Me Without You."
The Mizes, Logan Mize and Jill Martin, "Hitched Up," "Honeymoon."
Jenni Muldaur and Teddy Thompson, "Take Me."
—Follow Crispin Sartwell at X: @CrispinSartwell