NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Country Music Crisis in the White House

The recent journalistic flap over the release of a list of some 160 people who have spent the night thus far in the George W. Bush White House has a curious country music connection. It turns out that two of the 160 White House sleepovers are country singers.

But are they really?

On the Bush list are Larry Gatlin and Kinky Friedman. Larry Gatlin and Kinky Friedman? Is this Bush’s whacked-out idea of country music? Kinky is one of my best friends and has been a country singer and songwriter of note, but he pretty much gave it up long ago to settle into the life of being a successful mystery book author and overseer of his Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch down in Texas. And as for Larry Gatlin, he’s been a stranger to the charts and the airwaves and to country music for many a long year.

Maybe they actually are Bush’s ideas of current country singers — after all, both Kinky and Gatlin long ago publicly swore off any use of nose candy, or what Kinky calls “Peruvian marching powder.” Maybe Bush, the former hell raiser, feels a kinship with these two upright converts to the straight and narrow way.

But this whole thing is kind of embarrassing for country music. Most recent presidents have been staunch country music fans — hell, Willie Nelson smoked a joint on the roof of the Jimmy Carter White House. Clinton was a big country fan and even had multiple-artist concerts, such as one with Chet Atkins , Kathy Mattea , Alison Krauss and Suzy Bogguss . Atkins had first played the White House when John Kennedy was president. President George Bush the First came to the Grand Ole Opry several times. President Nixon played piano on the stage of the Opry, on the Opry segment sponsored by Mrs. Grissom’s Salads and Rudy’s Farm Country Sausage. President Reagan (while still governor of California) gave Merle Haggard a full pardon to erase the stigma of his years in San Quentin. President Johnson had Buck Owens and all the Buckaroos perform in the White House.

It’s essential for country music’s image for it to be seen as a friend of the current White House incumbent. And Larry Gatlin and Kinky Friedman just won’t cut it. We need to embark on a country music education or indoctrination campaign for President Bush. We need to draw him into the 21st century and get him to listen to some current country music. And we want to see Montgomery Gentry in the Lincoln Bedroom. Or at least Lee Ann Womack .

At any rate, here’s a suggested playlist of songs for Bush to burn and listen to, to get himself up to speed with what’s around today in country music:

Montgomery Gentry — “My Town”
Dixie Chicks — “Long Time Gone”
Lee Ann Womack — “Orphan Train”
Dolly Parton — “Halos & Horns”
Allison Moorer — “Hey Jezebel”
Kelly Willis — “Easy (As Falling Apart)”
Kevin Fowler — “High on the Hog”
Merle Haggard -– “Time Changes Everything”
Travis Tritt — “Strong Enough to Be Your Man”
Gene Watson — “No Trash in My Trailer”

Maybe we should send the White House a bunch of playlists, just to get the wonks there thinking properly on the subject. Drop me your idea of a suitable George W. Bush country playlist. I’ll send, to whomever submits the most innovative list, the new albums from Montgomery Gentry (My Town) and Lee Ann Womack (Something Worth Leaving Behind) and maybe some CMT swag. One winner only. Deadline is Sept. 1. Submit playlists to: Happy listings.

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo)