(HOT TALK is a weekly column by longtime CMT.com contributing writer and former Billboard country music editor Edward Morris.)
The Chicks Say Ho, Ho, Ho
When a Christmas card from my favorite Texas trio arrived last week, the first thing I did was read it and chuckle at their unrepentant cheekiness. Then I tried to imagine the fuss the card might stir if it fell into the “wrong” hands — such as George W. Bush’s national security advisor. Maybe something like this:
The Dixie Chicks are at it again.
No, they’re not singing “O little town of Washington/How we still see thee lie,” as some of your advisers predicted. It’s worse than that. They’re refusing to be chastened.
We’ve just secured a copy of their Christmas card, which, for all we know, has now been sent to millions. And frankly, sir, it’s outrageous. On the front is a cartoon of Santa Claus, standing on a roof and looking quite puzzled. He has a “Naughty” list in one hand and a “Nice” list in the other. Sir, the Dixie Chicks are at the top of both lists!
On the “Nice” listing, there are also the names of the Olson [sic] Twins, Big Bird and Springsteen. We believe that last reference is to the rock ’n’ roll vocalist, Bruce Springsteen, who, as you may recall, applauded the Chicks for the traitorous remarks they made about you earlier this year.
But it’s the “Naughty” list that we find especially disturbing. Below their own name are those of Rush Limbaugh, Saddam Hussein, Courtney Love, Martha Stewart and Paris Hilton (?). However, there are three other partial names: “. . .nld Rum. . .,” “John A . . .” and “G. W.” We suspect they’re using some kind of code here, and we’re copying Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft to see if they can make any sense of it. This may take some time.
The same general tone of disrespect is repeated inside the card, sir, and I shudder to think how it might affect the nation’s children. Wrapped around the drawing of a Christmas tree is a ribbon that says, “May Your Holidays Be The Right Combination of Naughty and Nice.”
Shall we declare them enemy combatants?
Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Others Sing for Kucinich
I guess Toby Keith just isn’t getting his message across to Willie Nelson. Two days after the angry American and the zen master usher in the New Year with a concert together in Nashville, Nelson will be back in Texas and singing for Democratic presidential aspirant Dennis Kucinich. Nelson will headline a fundraising concert for Kucinich Jan. 3 at the Austin Music Hall. Also on the bill are Bonnie Raitt, Tish Hinojosa, Michelle Shocked, Patrick Simmons and Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers and author and former Texas Agricultural Commissioner Jim Hightower. A reception will follow at La Zona Rosa.
Louvins Tribute Tops Nashville’s Tower Sales
So what albums did you get or give for Christmas? Hot Talk called Tower Records in Nashville the day before Christmas and got a few surprises. The most pleasant one was that Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers topped the store’s list of December’s bestsellers “by a long shot.” Although critically hailed and nominated for two Grammys, the album has been a slow starter in sales. Less surprising was the continuing popularity of Johnny Cash’s music. Four of his albums are in Tower’s Top 25.
Here’s the complete list: (1) Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’, various artists; (2) Shock’n Y’all, Toby Keith; (3) Greatest Hits Volume II and Some Other Stuff, Alan Jackson; (4) Live, Alison Krauss & Union Station; (5) The Essential Johnny Cash; (6) My Baby Don’t Tolerate, Lyle Lovett; (7) Unearthed, Johnny Cash; (8) American IV: The Man Comes Around, Johnny Cash; (9) Stumble Into Grace, Emmylou Harris; (10) Martina, Martina McBride; (11) Top of the World: Live, the Dixie Chicks; (12) Just Because I’m a Woman: Songs of Dolly Parton, various artists; (13) Fate’s Right Hand, Rodney Crowell; (14) The Essential Willie Nelson; (15) At Folsom Prison, Johnny Cash; (16) Greatest Hits, LeAnn Rimes; (17) Farm Fresh Onions, Robert Earl Keen; (18) Worship & Faith, Randy Travis; (19) Long Black Train, Josh Turner; (20) Wave on Wave, Pat Green; (21) Right Now, Rushlow; (22) Comin’ On Strong, Trace Adkins; (23) Room to Breathe, Reba McEntire; (24) Up!, Shania Twain; and (25) Man With a Memory, Joe Nichols.
Coming (Again) Soon: The Carter Family
I’m predicting that 2004 will be the Year of the Carter Family. As reported here months ago, an all-star tribute album to the Carters is already underway, with Mother Maybelle’s grandson, John Carter Cash, at the helm. Nearing completion is Ralph Stanley’s album of Carter Family classics. Now we hear that a documentary about the clan is in the works. I’ll tell you more about all these projects as soon as I can claw out the facts.
Music Videos: I Cried, I Laughed, I Made a List
OK, I’m a pushover. But a lot of country music videos still move me to tears. The ones that destroyed the most tissues this year were Johnny Cash’s “Hurt,” Diamond Rio’s “I Believe,” Craig Morgan’s “Every Friday Afternoon,” Phil Vassar’s “This Is God,” Jimmy Wayne’s “I Love You This Much,” Gary Allan’s “Tough Little Boys” and Alan Jackson’s “Remember When.” The counterpoising of Cash’s ancient, pain-gouged face with the films and photos of his beautiful and boundlessly hopeful youth were enough to make even the most frantic among us stop and take stock. The effect is much the same with Vassar’s clip, in which he strides down the center of a littered city street as harried faces and hollow eyes stream past him toward self-created oblivion. Morgan’s depiction of a divorced dad waiting at the airport for his son — as he watches whole and happy families pass by him — will break the flintiest heart. And it was a touch of genius for Allan to sing “Tough Little Boys” against a background of battle-hardened soldiers coming home to reunite with their children. Jackson’s “Remember When,” with its faded archival images, mines the same nostalgic ore he’s been drawing from since he first began looking backward in 1990 with “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow.” But no one else does it with such radiant sincerity and affection. Wayne’s tale of a boy longing for the love of his indifferent father — and finding it in the embracing figure of Jesus — reminds us of the many whose childhoods were less sunny than Jackson’s. With its one point of warmth glowing steadily amid the flickering police and ambulance lights, “I Believe” conveys the most moving evocation of hope ever committed to video.
Let me assure you, though, that I don’t spend all my time weeping in front of the screen. There were three videos that kept me laughing pretty much from their first scene onward. Their common denominator was the one-track mind men have developed since we crawled out of the primordial soup and into the nearest bar. Case in point: Tracy Byrd’s “The Truth About Men” in which he, Andy Griggs, Blake Shelton, Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry essentially act like five penises in search of a brain. The intellect needle also points to “empty” in Dierks Bentley’s spastic “What Was I Thinkin’.” Here neither cops nor barroom brawlers nor irate dads armed with shotguns can squelch the urges ignited by that “little white tank top.” Bentley’s facial gestures — which are priceless in the opening scene — appear to be wired directly to his groin. Finally, there’s Toby Keith’s “I Love This Bar.” When I look at that parade of mutant life forms from a safe distance, so do I.
If I have enriched your life immeasurably this past year, please don’t hesitate to say so. That’s me behind the curtain at HotTalk@CMT.com