Update, October 2004
Right again. Check this out from WSMV.com, Channel 4 in Nashville.
Again, we believe that the movers and shakers in (air quotes) country music are ashamed of Nashville and the hick image associated with the genre.
Well..we were right again. The Dixie Chicks have shown their true colors, and some of the things we said back last year about them have proven to be more correct than we would have ever thought. This time it wasn't Ms. Maines doing the talking; it was fiddler Martie Maguire. We found a translation of the German article on the internet, and we just had to share it with you.
Didn't we tell you we thought the Chicks were a little closer to the Lillith Fair than to the Grand Ole Opry? Well, here it is in print. Click here to read the translated article from a German news magazine. They just don't feel country anymore! Read for yourselves.
We'll say it again -- It is stupid to say artists should have freedom of speech and then whine when a radio station owner exercises his freedom not to play a particular artist's songs. I suppose it is the thing to do -- insist on freedom of speech, then denounce those who speak out against you. We believe it really does come down to being selfish and having a very skewed view of the world.
Keep checking back...this one is not over yet!
Being correct is a tough thing because you still have to maintain that sense of "humbleness" and that self-depreciating style that most Americans demand these days to keep from being labeled "judgmental." Anyway, The Dixie Chicks have shown their true colors, and like my original essay stated, "...they are a little closer to the Lillith Fair than the Grand Ole Opry."
While Ms. Natalie Maines (the little one) is young and pretty inexperienced with the media, you can see that she doesn't really have any respect for the Chicks' core audience, who are country fans. She proved herself with the remarks she made in London, England on Monday, March 10th, 2003. Ms. Maines stated, before a non-US audience, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." Ashamed? Big words with a war looming.
Where is The Fighting Side of Me when you need it? Hey Nashville -- get this stuff under control. I think the problem is that probably most of the enlightened Nashville crowd feel the same way, but they're not dumb enough to be quoted on CNN.
Get out and show your love for the Dixie Chicks when they kick off their US tour in Greenville, South Carolina on 1 May, 2003. I'm sure they'll have a bunch of US flags and there'll be plenty of crocodile tears to go around. Bah, humbug.
Good luck, Nashville.
I originally wrote this article in January 2001, but never got around to posting it -- for some reason I felt kind of treasonous. Well, I just got back from Nashville and two things made me dig this article out. First, I read that Gaylord Entertainment, parent company of The Grand Ole Opry, is planning on turning WSM-AM radio, home of the Grand Ole Opry since the 1920's into a 24-hour sports station. How's that for rebranding? Second, the soundtrack to "O Brother, Where Art Thou" has sold over 3.5 million copies and is the top country album for 2001. The article I read in the Nashville Tennessean newspaper said that none of the record execs expected that much success in a "traditional" country album.
I've been reading a book entitled Bias by Bernard Goldberg, CBS insider and whistleblower. He contends that media bias is not a vast left-wing conspiracy; rather, it is a reflection of how the people in charge of the news networks actually perceive the world. They posses an arrogance and thought-process far removed from the average Joe on the street. I believe it is the same for the music people -- they know the same people, attend the same cocktail parties, and feel peer pressure concerning their decisions to sign or drop artists. In short, I stand by this article.
Country Music, R.I.P.
Lenny Kravitz sang "Rock and Roll is Dead" on his Circus album. My next album will include "Country Music is Dead" because I believe that it is, or is at least in critical condition.
Country Music is truly an American phenomenon that has been gasping for air in these last few years. Hailing from near Nashville, Ive always followed the industry even though I never really cared for any of the cookie cutter artists that have appeared since the late 80s. What happened to country music can be summed up, I believe, pretty easily: The hick image associated with country music was embarrassing to the new generation of Nashvillians, so they set out to change it. As an unintended consequence, country music was subverted from the inside and nearly destroyed.
Look around Nashville. Tourism is dead. Fan Fair is dying. Opryland expired New Year's Eve 1997, being replaced by a really average mall. Very few places to see live music. No more Nashville Network on cable. A National Hockey League Team! Amy Grant in an extramarital affair and new marriage . Where will it end?
Never underestimate the power or the self esteem robbing capacity of a hick image. It is clear to me that Nashville always suffered the reputation as a hick-town throughout the United States based on country music. People Ive met through the years would always kind of chuckle when I said I was from near Nashville. They imagined life there was kind of like Hee-Haw, I suppose. Hee-Haw, if youll recall, was the country version of Laugh In which showcased country artists and corny country "humor." Hee-Haw is important to the Nashville story because it is the best embodiment of that same hick image. I remember the first time I saw Hee-Haw. I was with my parents at my aunt and uncles house in Muncie, Indiana back in the late-60s. We gathered around the RCA color TV my uncle had bought with a wired remote, no less and settled in for the big premiere. When it was over, my parents and my aunt and uncle were just horrified! How could something this bad make it on TV? I remember my dad, an Army officer, stating "well that wont last long" referring to the shows imminent cancellation. Well, he was pretty close. It only took about 20 years to get cancelled. It is my opinion that it went out of production not because there wasn't a market; rather, because the producers tried to change a successful format.
Against this very same backdrop a group of intelligentsia moved into Nashville in the 1970s and early 80s. Not Nashvillians; not Tennesseeans; not even Southerners. There were a big group of them during the Reagan Years that moved into positions of power in Nashville, and that is when things started to unhinge. These folks were known as "Carpet Baggers" during the 1870s. I believe there were several major mistakes made based on cultural insensitivity and greed.
Mistake 1. No Live Music=No Tourism. How did Branson, Missouri become the Country Music capital of the US? Easy Nashville was asleep at the switch. There is virtually nowhere in Nashville to enjoy consistent, high-quality country music without paying a big entrance fee. There are probably more metal bands in Nashville than decent country bands.
Mistake 2. Too Expensive for Vacations. Why is Dollywood so successful and Opryland died? Gaylord Entertainment, the Oprys parent company forgot who they were serving, and the Nashville government stood by (and maybe encouraged) its demise. I remember seeing the charts stating that "amusement park attendance is down while mall visits are up" in the Nashville newspaper. Based on this research, Opryland was razed and a big mall named Opry Mills sprung, phoenix-like from the massive Opryland parking lot. The Opry Mills mall is a generic monument to cheap outlet stores and not-so-good deals. If youve visited Arizona Mills in Phoenix or Grapevine Mills near Dallas, youve had a virtual trip to Nashville. Dont bother making the drive. Go to Pigeon Forge and enjoy the scenery and low prices. It is my opinion that the Gaylord executives would never stoop to vacationing in Branson, Missouri or Panama City, Florida, even though their customers would and do.
Mistake 3. Pro Sports teams. In an effort to make Nashville more like Charlotte, North Carolina, the smart-guys in Nashville attracted some big time sports to make the city .ahem, more cosmopolitan. The NHL in Nashville? I read that First American bank wound up buying a large number of the arena seat licenses for the team to meet the minimum for the franchise. Lots of ice skating in Tennessee, eh? The NFL Titans? How long will it be before Bud Adams decides to move the team? Did you know that the voters in Nashville voted against building Adelphia Stadium in a referendum, but the city government went for it anyway. Lets wait until the Titans start losing after their season-ending performance against the Ravens last year (Ed -- 2000, and actually 2001), I would say the honeymoon is about over.
To sum it up, the sports teams are impressive to the guys from New York and Chicago, but when the new car smell wears off, Nashville is going to be holding a lot of debt. When I was in Nashville last summer, I saw an article that claimed a real Nashvillian has a guitar worth $3000, a car worth $1000, and the only event he can afford at Adelphia Stadium is the Billy Graham Crusade.
In retrospect, Nashville had a reputation that could have been built upon rather than destroyed. The leaders could have updated the image without alienating their core country supporters. However, it is probably too late now because I predict the next victim will probably be the Grand Ole Opry itself.
Country music fans were never politically correct, nor were never that sophisticated in an high-brow, opera kind of way -- that is not a criticism. They knew what they liked -- country music. (I am convinced a lot of opera fans like opera because it is fun to go to the opera, have drinks, laugh at dumb jokes, and just be seen.) In addition, I don't think that the current wave of political correctness is a true reflection of American society, but it is really having an impact on the media. Maybe a great country guy like Buck Owens couldnt make it today. Maybe a Johnny Cash would be "too rough", or Merle Haggard would bring "too much negative baggage" to the show. George Jones? Hey his use of alcohol and DUI on the John Deere garden tractor virtually guaranteed a spot in the Hall of Fame of yesteryear, but probably sent a "chilling message" to the seemingly endless groups of advocates that protect us from ourselves. I truly believe that Billy Ray Cyrus had a great country appeal, but he was embarrassing to the music execs in Nashville -- he had just a little too much "Jerry Springer" in him. I am sure the Big Whigs just cringed every time Billy had an interview on TV or showed-up on a TV awards show. The new acts have to have just enough steel guitar not to be played on MTV, but not enough "countryness" to embarrass the big guys in Nashville. Why? Again, the folks that run Nashville and the industry are not country!
Any bright spots? The Dixie Chicks are good, but they are a little closer to the Lillith Fair than the Grand Ole Opry. Alan Jackson? Hes country, but he is also non-politically correct, so he won't be a darling of the Insiders in Nashville. He still sings about drinking and cheating. Because we've gotten real generic, real homogenized, and real glitzy, a true country guy cannot make it in Nashville. I saw Three Doors Down on the American Music Awards they are more country and genuine than most of the supermodels you see on CMT, and they arent a country act.
By the way Shania Twain is pretty awesome, but I believe Mutt Lange deserves the big "atta-boy" for putting his production skills to work in the "country" vain. Note: Doesn't "Honey I'm Home" sound shockingly similar to "Pour Some Sugar on Me" by Def Leppard? Same producer. The same goes for Dann Huff. How can he go from producing Megadeth to Faith Hill? Easy there isnt that much difference in the sounds or the production techniques. Just add a steel guitar and shake. That is the deal Nashville has taken the country out of the country music! Gotta love ProTools.
Well Nashville be careful what you wish for because you are real close to becoming just another generic American city with three Hooters restaurants, plenty of Outback Steakhouses, a bunch of generic malls, and pro sports teams threatening to move if you dont give them more money. As far as real country music goes R.I.P.
For all of you other Americans out there, the main lesson here is that you need to pay attention to who is running your town or city, and visit a city council meeting once in a while. As for me...give me Little Jimmy Dickens, Marty Stuart, and Brenda Lee any day.