Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Some vintage ranty goodness.

My wife reminded me of this rant, after I made her aware of the Keith Urban quote below. I have voiced these sentiments before, and they were all originally from this piece. So, the following is a commentary I wrote back in the bad old days of AOL and 28.8k modems, in all its unedited ranty goodness...

March 13, 2002

Commentary: It's all about appreciating other genres

Recently Don Henley, the frontman for the legendary rock band the Eagles and a native of northeast Texas, had this to say in the Los Angeles Times regarding the current state of country music and country radio:

"It's a constant source of irritation to me that great country artists like Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and George Jones don't get airplay on a great many country stations today…What they call 'young country,' unfortunately, is an offshoot of what we used to do. It's our fault. I'm so sorry. I apologize to
the entire universe."

Some country fans reacted with a sort of self-righteous indignation to Henley’s statement, saying things such as "he should stay in his own backyard," "he should mind his own business," or something to that effect. But I never understood this line of thinking. It’s as if they think that Mr. Henley’s status as a country fan is null and void just because he’s associated with another genre of music. But where is it written that people who make one kind of music have no right to be fans of, or comment on, other genres of music? It’s not as if Don Henley is a lone example of someone who made it big in one genre of music and is a fan of other genres as well as his own. In fact, there are numerous examples of people who have made it big in the rock world who are fans of country music, and I am not talking about Shania Twain’s and Rascal Flatts‘ pseudo-country either:

The Beatles were big fans of Buck Owens.

Steven Tyler of Aerosmith is an avid Alan Jackson fan.

It may not be readily apparent from the style of music that he and his band pioneered and perfected in their early days, but James Hetfield, the lead singer of Metallica, is one of the biggest fans of Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings that you’ll ever find.

Kid Rock has made it known that he’s a Hank Williams, Jr. devotee.

Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones practically worships George Jones.

What exactly disqualifies these folks from being country fans and/or offering commentary on the music’s current state? The fact that they made it big singing everything but country? Give me a break. I love country. If I could make it big singing any kind of music I wanted to, it’d be in the style
pioneered by the likes of Hank, Lefty, Merle and George. But guess what? I’ve been known to listen to a lot of music that doesn’t sound even remotely similar to what those legends did. AC/DC, Guns ‘n’ Roses, even Metallica--old and new. It’s all about appreciating more than one style of music. Which Messrs. Henley, Tyler, and Hetfield (as well as many others in the rock world) apparently do. I commend them for it, and I think they’re just as entitled to speak their minds as the rest of us are. In fact, I think their tastes and opinions might just carry slightly more weight than those of people like Merle Haggard and George Jones. This might sound like blasphemy or disrespect, but I mean no such thing. The reasoning behind it is this: All these rock stars, as has been said before, made it big in other genres of music. They don’t really have a vested interest (financial or otherwise) in maintaining the popularity of traditional country. If someone like Merle Haggard or George Jones says modern country music’s gone to hell, it’s likely to be dismissed as "sour grapes from a grumpy old man who can’t stand
that his time has passed." But if people like Don Henley or James Hetfield voiced the same sentiments, they would be less susceptible to those charges, because country music isn’t the music in which they specialize; they’re merely fans, outside observers, if you will. (I’ve never seen or heard anything about Mr. Hetfield denigrating Hot New Country, but given his affinity for Jennings and Cash, I think it’d be interesting to see what he thinks.)

As for Mr. Henley, he’s not alone in his disdain for modern country. Ringo Starr of the Beatles was quoted back in 1996 as saying that there wasn’t much new country that he liked, except for George Strait. (I’m guessing he probably likes Alan Jackson, too, but that’s merely an assumption on my
part.) In addition to that, at a concert in Nashville, Tennessee, Tom Petty said something to the effect that all this new country was a load of tripe. And Petty isn’t exactly a complete stranger to our music; back in 1984 he (along with Reba McEntire, Willie Nelson and the Reverend Ike) helped out Hank
Williams, Jr.  on--how ironic is this?--a remake of Hank Sr.’s "Mind Your Own Business."

"Stay in his own backyard"? What a superficial and bigoted thing to say!

Oddly enough, however, I have yet to see any big rock stars coming out and saying that they actually like "hot new country." In fact, the only artists I have seen actually coming out and defending the state of country as a whole--Lonestar, Toby Keith and LeAnn Rimes, among others--are the source of
mainstream country’s problems, the very people who make the kind of music Larry Cordle and Larry Shell slammed in "Murder On Music Row,"  their acerbic commentary on the state of modern country. Many people were offended when George Strait and Alan Jackson’s recording of that song got so much attention; they all derided it as nothing more than a publicity stunt to revive what they described as the dying commercial viability of traditional country. (Never mind the fact that traditional country was never meant to appeal to the masses anyway.) But you take comments such as the ones made by Messrs. Starr, Petty and Henley, which basically validate the sentiments expressed in "Murder On Music Row," and couple that with the exponential rise in popularity of Texas music over the last couple of years and the surprise popularity of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, and you have a crystal-clear sign that things are not well on Music Row. But maybe that’s a good thing. I’d love to see the end of the Nashville establishment and its virtual monopoly. And I’d love to see their partners-in-crime, the entities who ensure the perpetuation of the monopoly--the large conglomerate station owners such as Clear Channel and Infinity--go down with them. Maybe then we’d be able to
hear more real radio and more real music again. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?