Nine Lessons Chet Flippo Taught Me

When Chet Flippo passed away on June 19, the world lost a well-loved, highly regarded, legendary journalist. And when I reflect back on everything that happened in 2013, I try to think less about what we lost this year and more about what I gained by working with Chet for eight years.

Chet had an impressive career at Rolling Stone and as an author before he became CMT’s editorial director.

Technically, he was my boss’ boss at CMT. Or my editor’s editor. But Chet always treated me like we were colleagues. That was respect I didn’t deserve, but Chet treated everyone he knew that way.

These are just a few of the lessons Chet taught me over the years and the ones I will treasure for a lifetime.

Be available. When I called to ask if I could write for him, back in early 2005, Chet answered his phone. Not many people do that anymore. I was secretly hoping for his voicemail so I could leave a well-rehearsed message about how valuable I could be to the editorial staff. But Chet answered and completely threw me off. He was so kind, though, that we just ended up having a friendly conversation. I always answer my phone now because you just never know what good may come from one phone call.

Have passion. When it comes to loving music, love it. And when it comes to hating some particular piece of music, hate it. I always got the impression that Chet would never pretend to love a song he hated. I even had a list of words Chet despised — like “kerfuffle” — so I knew to never use them at work. So I maintain my passion, good and bad, for music and hope that comes through in my work.

Make chili. Chet had a great chili recipe he shared in his Nashville Skyline column. He recommended enjoying it with a playlist of his favorite songs. I make the chili a few times a year but with my own playlist. The lesson I take away from Chet’s recommendation is more big picture than specific ingredients or an exact stack of tunes. It’s just that when you combine cooking with music, everything tastes better.

Send a note. It takes about six seconds to write a note like “That was cool” or “Nice one, Al.” Instead of just thinking nice thoughts, Chet wrote nice notes when he felt like they were warranted. He shared his feelings, so I share mine. I figure if it made my day to get an email like that, I want to make someone else’s day every chance I get.

Have integrity. Chet would’ve made a terrible politician. He’d never play dirty, call people names, invent lies, stir up trouble or border on narcissism. We should all do less of that and be the good guys all the time.

Share the love. Chet knew from my first few months at CMT that I was a Garth Brooks fan. I loved a lot of artists, but Brooks was, shall we say, No. 1 on my charts. But still, when I got a text from Chet at about midnight on December 11, 2009 saying, “Have a plus-one for Garth tomorrow in Vegas. Want to come?” I was a little surprised he wanted to share that with me. But by 9 p.m. the next night, there we were. Chet and I were taking our seats in the Wynn Las Vegas to see Brooks’ one-man show. And sure, the experience blew me away. But I wouldn’t give Brooks all the credit. It had more to do with watching it with a man who had seen it all and still genuinely loved to see it all. I can’t always make such grand gestures, but when I can, I try to share the love of country with friends, family and co-workers.

Care. About five years ago, Chet helped me make arrangements to adopt a dog from a mutual friend in Nashville. It just so happened that the day I was to drive this little black Lab back to Chicago, there was a historic ice storm pretty much the whole way home. My phone wasn’t turned on, because I was busy clutching the steering wheel and praying like I’d never prayed before, but when I finally got home, I had about 10 messages from Chet saying everything from “We don’t think you should drive home today” to “Get off the roads and stay in a hotel, on us” to “We’re praying for you.” The world will be a better place when we all care that much.

Tell good stories. Or great stories. Chet always had one, ready to go. Full of details, sidebars, surprises, insights and humor. He made me want to be a better storyteller — in my work and in my personal life.

Have a cool memorial service. If you live a cool life, cool things are bound to happen when your friends and family get together to say their goodbyes. At Chet’s memorial service at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Rosanne Cash, Dierks Bentley and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band played classic songs that Chet loved. Having a sendoff like that is not a realistic goal for most of us, but it can’t hurt to try to make that kind of mark on the world.