NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Germs and Jesus and Country Music

Presidential Politics & Red-Blue States Debate Linger

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

The one intelligent thing Democrat turncoat Zell Miller has said lately is that the Democrats should have listened to country music. He argues that they will never win another election until they start listening to a lot of country music. And you can’t argue with him there. One of the lessons of the last several presidential elections is that he who has the most country music on his side has the electorate on his side.

Country music is populist music, plain and simple. And it’s not just white music or Southern music or rural music or hillbilly music. It’s everyday driving to work, drinking a beer after work with friends, dancing on the weekend kind of music. Forget red states vs. blue states kind of music: Good country music — as ever — is just about real life and how it applies to daily life. Forget this whole flap about “moral values” and think about what it really gets down to. In the movie Ray, Ray Charles easily answers a question about why he loves country music: “The stories!” Stories of real life and the values of everyday life.

Music should not be a political weapon, though, which is something that people like to make it be. One of the national cable news networks has been trying to get the “real” story about the politics of country artists. I don’t think there is a real story there. Like everyone else, country artists are on both sides of the political aisle. What’s striking — and what is most chilling this year — is that I have seen many country artists become afraid or reluctant to publicly choose sides politically because they know that — no matter what they say — they’re going to ultimately lose fans or image, in some manner or another. With the Internet, a career can be incinerated in 30 minutes. Or less. And there are a lot of intolerant people who seem to live in full attack mode these days.

Even so, country is still a genre with a wide embrace. It can appreciate a Steve Earle and a Darryl Worley, can accommodate a Toby Keith and a Gillian Welch, can celebrate a Kenny Chesney and a Bruce Robison. I think it is a lot more tolerant and understanding than any other music genre these days. And it can teach tolerance and understanding. But that’s not a news story for the 24-hour, mad dog news cycle of the cable networks.

Not to beat a dead horse, but there’s one aspect of the whole Dixie Chicks mess that went more or less overlooked. And it helps explain why the Chicks somehow slipped out of that wide embrace I just mentioned. The main reason the Dixie Chicks didn’t have any real support in Nashville — apart from their waffling explanations of their attack on Bush — is that they were viewed locally as being so overbearing and arrogant during their visits to Nashville that people were simply tired of them. Politics aside, treating the entire country music industry in Nashville like a bunch of serfs does not win friends. I heard from people on many levels saying that they simply didn’t want to deal with the Chicks ever again. Country artists, in my experience, are genuinely decent people who don’t order other people around or act like superior beings. And will not stab you (except perhaps metaphorically) at an awards show. Offenders are generally dealt with very quietly but efficiently. And there’s one episode involving a recent CMA Awards after-party that’s now being quietly addressed. Nashville is a very small town, in many ways.

Country performers become country stars by building a loyal audience. That’s been true since the beginnings of country music, and it’s something that will endure as long as country music endures. And you don’t build a loyal audience by acting like a jackass.

Lesson being: Be sure your sins will find you out. Treat others as you would be treated. Keep on the sunny side. As Naomi Judd always says, “Wash your hands and say your prayers/’Cause germs and Jesus are everywhere.”