NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Kiss My Country A**? Forget It

Where Is Country Music Going?

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

You know what’s going on with country music right now? Not much, that’s what, and that should concern you, if you have any interest in this music.

When some kind of a strange variety show on a network TV channel opens with a song titled “Kiss My Country Ass,” any possible respect for the country music tradition established by the likes of the Carter Family, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash is absolutely thrown under the bus. You want trashy music? You got it. You want some respect for the country audience? Forget it.

Don’t throw demographics at me. I know enough young country fans to know that they respect the realities of country music, and they don’t subscribe to the “I’m so country” brand of pablum being served up now by the record labels to try to cater to and to please mainstream country radio. The audience knows good music and respects good music.

When a very young woman (namely Taylor Swift) has kept this country music genre afloat for years with her phenomenal CD sales and tour figures, and when there are no more such saviors on the horizon to keep the bubble from bursting, there should be genuine concern in the industry. How long can Taylor’s frail shoulders support an entire industry?

I am not sensing any serious concern on the part of the music industry to fix things.

What I am seeing is more and more desperation, as the remaining major record labels seem to have lost their way. A friend and music executive who recently re-entered the Nashville music factory after an absence of a few years remarked that the most obvious difference she sees now is the rapidly rising levels of fear, ignorance and greed.

This music has a proud tradition. I do not like seeing it descend into a frenzy of desperate flailing.

And speaking of that, I was in the process tonight of drafting a letter resigning from my position as an advisor on the Belmont University Mike Curb College of Entertainment & Music Business advisory board. I have been a staunch supporter of Belmont and its music program for years because it gets results and it turns out such graduates as Trisha Yearwood, Lee Ann Womack, Josh Turner and Brad Paisley and many, many music industry employees across the country.

Why the letter? This week, Belmont dismissed soccer coach Lisa Howe due to her volunteering the information that she is a lesbian and that she and her partner are expecting a child and the fact that she was then summarily fired by Belmont for being un-Christian and being morally corrupt. I just really couldn’t tolerate that.

Marty Dickens, the chairman of the Belmont board of trustees, climbed up on his pulpit and announced to The Tennessean, “We expect people to commit themselves to high moral and ethical standards within a Christian context. That includes members of the board, faculty and administration.”

And I really didn’t care for that kind of paternalistic moralizing from on high. I’ve listened to sermons like that from such mossbacks for many years. No more. So I was writing that resignation letter and then I learned that Mike Curb, who finances the huge part of Belmont that I advise, his Curb Music College, has come out in support of basic civil rights at Belmont and said that the university is not a church and should stop trying to be one. You know, that sounds very simple. Basic civil rights. Human rights. But you won’t find that in many parts of this supposedly free country. Nashville is still feeling its way in that area, but it’s doing pretty good. Doing better, I should say. So I’m sure that Belmont will right this sinking ship, I hope and trust. The University has too much at risk to not set this situation right.

Belmont has driven a large part of music business education in recent years. It has programs in L.A., Hawaii and New York City. Its graduates are situated throughout the music industry, and not just in Nashville, as artists, producers, engineers and executives. So I wish it well. But, as Mike Curb said, Belmont is not a church and should not attempt to function as one. It needs to be a university.

Give peace a chance.