Tommy Womack Talks Trump
I just pray we don’t come out of this as a democracy so damaged that we’ll never recover.
by James Mann
Tommy Womack has been an able – if somewhat cynical (god love him) – chronicler of our life and times for over 30 years. He started in the business with Government Cheese in 1985 – and wrote a most enjoyable account of it entitled Cheese Chronicles: The True Story of a Rock Band You’re Never Heard Of – and along the way, with bands such as Daddy and Bis-Quits (both with Will Kimbrough) and on his seven solo records, he has made us laugh, cry and flinch. His latest, Namaste is both a sobering look at the world today, as well as a somewhat jaundiced view of his home town of Nashville, country music, and nostalgia. In my review of Namaste I call Tommy a survivor, and it’s only gotten more so since. We sat down around the virtual water cooler of the internet to discuss Trump, healthcare and growing up in the Bible Belt.
Q: So what was your reaction on waking up on November 9th with Trump as president?
A: I never, ever felt like Hillary had it locked up. I was telling people I was terrified it could happen, Trump being president. Even with steeling myself for that, I couldn’t watch the returns late into Tuesday night. It was unbearable. I just went to bed. And then I woke up to this nightmare, and it continues. I’m afraid his lasting damage (aside from a war, or a terrorist attack on our soil that he doesn’t know how to deal with) will be how lower he sets the bar for future politicians and candidates. They could come to think that infantile tweets are somehow okay, that withholding tax information is okay, that flip-flopping like a gagging salmon is the way to go.
As for how he’s done (after 100-odd days), is that he is undoubtedly the worst president we’ve ever had. He’s the ONLY president we’ve ever had who was this bad. I never thought anyone could trump W in the idiot field, but Trump has indeed trumped him. Harding, Buchanan, Hoover? They were bad but they weren’t even in Trump’s league. At the end of the day, I just pray we don’t come out of this as a democracy so damaged that we’ll never recover. That may sound hyperbolic but it’s how I feel about it.
Q: You’ve been in Nashville for quite a while, but came from Bowling Green, Kentucky. Did you grow up with Trump voters?
A: Oh hell yes! Look no further than my older brother. He is your prototypical small-town, angry old white republican male. Holidays are dicey.
I’m actually from Madisonville, KY, a far more provincial coal mining town. (I moved to Bowling Green for college and stayed there 12 years.) Madisonville, oy. I grew up so deep in the redneck Bible Belt, I didn’t even know there was one. I thought when I was young that everybody looked at the world the way we all did.
These Trumpers and tea partiers are people who pine for a past, when cars ran well on regular leaded gas, hamburgers tasted like something, blacks knew their place, pensions could be counted on, everybody was Christian, half the neighborhood wasn’t Mexican or some sort of Islamic shit, television was good clean fare, music was good, homosexuals kept in their closets where they belonged. They want it to be back like it was, and the world will never again be like that.
There’s a scene in Blazing Saddles when Gene Wilder is soothing Cleavon Little. “You’ve to remember that you’re dealing with simple farmers,” he says, “these are people of the land, the common clay of the new west. You know… morons!”
Q: How does a songwriter deal with the current political climate in their art? Do you think we’ll see a return of the protest song?
A: If the protest song was going to make a resurgence, it would have done so by now. It takes no time to record a protest song and zip it up onto iTunes. Nobody’s doing it, or at least nobody big. It’s a dangerous time to sing protest music, probably more so than the sixties. Nobody wants to hear about it. Everybody’s either locked in their own closets and waiting out the storm, or they’re spitting out wads of tobacco and hollering “I don’t like that what yer singing’ about there, whippersnapper.” That said, I’ve put “I Miss Ronald Reagan” back in my setlist, a protest song from the Bush era, so I can brag that I’m doing my small part.
Q: Your last album Namaste contains a harrowing song “I Almost Died”. First off, how is your health? And tied to that, how would the repeal of the ACA affect you and your family?
A: I have bladder cancer. I’m doing chemo. And thank God my wife carries me on her Blue Cross from the Metro Nashville Schools system. I’m very lucky. But I know a lot of poor wretches and they tell me Obamacare has saved their lives. I’ve had some people tell me it really screwed them over too, so there’s that. It looks to not be an imperfect program, but that can be worked on. I don’t subscribe to Trump’s notions (such as he has them) of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We eventually had to become the last developed nation to have universal health care. It obviously works in other countries; why not here?
Q: Your early band Government Cheese came about during the Reagan years. Do you feel, as your song “It’s Been All Over Before” relates, a sense of deja vu about our current situation?
A: No, it’s much worse. I had a great time during the Reagan years. I mean, I was a young male, in college on a four-year grant, then playing in a popular band living my second adolescence, drinking beer and trying to get laid. The world wasn’t in complete danger of falling apart then like it is now. At least it didn’t feel like it. It wasn’t “all over” at the time. If we want to go back to when everything was truly all over, we might have to go back to Berlin, 1935.
Tommy Womack image copyright Stacie Huckeba.