(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
I read the other day in a column by The New York Times’ David Brooks that a new study actually proves that Oscar winners, on average, live four years longer than do nominees who don’t win Oscars. That’s startling. But I guess it makes sense. An Oscar — like a Grammy or a CMA or ACM or CMT award — definitely adds years to a career, so why shouldn’t it also extend the mortal life of the winner? It’s a total validation of you and your work. It’s like a B-12 shot jazzed up with a little speed and a jolt of Botox. A true breakfast of champions.
Brooks was referring in particular to Sandra Bullock, who finally gained an Oscar at the same time her marriage horribly unraveled in public, but it could apply to anyone. Brooks’ column also goes on, of course, to note that personal well-being and happiness depend on much more than career success. A stable and happy personal and social life are even more important in the long run. Sure, if you want well-being and a happy life. But if you want total success, awards are a huge part of the picture. Forget the happy life part.
Major awards are the be-all and end-all of many show business careers. I know country artists who have feigned indifference to winning awards, but when the hardware was there for them, look out! They would knock you down on their way to the microphone for their — properly humble — acceptance speech. And they try to remember to not forget to thank God, manager, label head, fans and ever-loving spouse, in that order.
There have also been country singers who genuinely disdain awards. Not many, but they have existed. Waylon Jennings was probably the most vocal in saying he felt that artists should not be put in the situation of having to compete with each other. I have hanging on my office wall right now one of Waylon’s Billboard awards that he had not the least interest in and that he tossed to me. He capped his career of ignoring awards by famously skipping his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. Letting the music speak for you works only for those who create music that can truly speak for them. And there aren’t too many of them. Waylon was one of those.
Unfortunately for him, he died relatively young, at age 64. His compatriot Johnny Cash, by comparison, who gladly accepted a lot of awards hardware, made it to age 71.
This morning I read the upcoming tour itinerary of a country artist who is an old friend. Gary P. Nunn became semi-famous as a member of Jerry Jeff Walker’s Lost Gonzo Band and also achieved Texas-emeritus status for his song “London Homesick Blues.” It’s the ultimate Austin homesick song, which I love to hear when I yearn to be back by the shores of Lake Austin. I can hear it now: “I wanta go home with the armadillo/Good country music from Amarillo to Abilene.” Then, of course, after that I have to play Guy Clark’s great “Dublin Blues,” and I can hear that, too: “I wish I was in Austin/In the Chili Parlour Bar/Drinkin’ Mad Dog Margaritas.”
Gary has a new album, Taking Texas to the Country, and to publicize it, he’s mounting a concert tour. But the thing about Gary’s tour itinerary is that it consists entirely of cities and towns in Texas. He — like a whole lot of other Texas artists — doesn’t ever have to leave the Lone Star State to make a decent living. There is a healthy Texas circuit of clubs and dance halls and honky-tonks — great places like the Broken Spoke and Gruene Hall — and enough loyal country fans to support many country careers for many years. Lower expectations than playing football stadiums? Sure, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
To my way of thinking, that way of life may well trump an Oscar win as far as achieving a well-spent life and a meaningful career.