Well Mannered Music
It is often a puzzle why a particular act succeeds in country music, but it is seldom a mystery why one fails. Once you get beyond the routine and predictable disasters of bad management, inept or indifferent label promotion and personal instability, it is possible to see that most failures occur because the artists have been unable to understand or unwilling to accept the most basic elements of the music. Potential ticket and album buyers will spot an impostor every time.
To begin with, country music is essentially a polite and civil medium. It may roar and rock out at times, but it does not scorn, taunt or intimidate the listener. It says, “Let me tell you a story,” or “Let me tell you how I feel.” It does not get in your face and shout. In short, it does not have an attitudeand it is bad medicine for those who do. People drawn to country’s civility have no patience for the know-it-all, the smart-ass, the bored or the world-weary. It took the prodigiously gifted Dwight Yoakam years to recover from his early off-the-cuff arrogance.
Although this outlook may change as the age of the audience moves downward, country has so far existed on the premise that the song is more important than its singer. Artists who insist on acting otherwise will perhaps find consolation in seeing their names eternally prefaced by “adventurous,” “cutting edge” and “cult favorite.”
Country also prizes the sentimental. It will risk ridicule, if it comes to that, to find something sad, dwell on it at great length and then invite one and all to have a good cry about it. This is one element that has not changed in the music’s history. The impulse is as evident in such relatively recent hits as “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye” and “Where’ve You Been” as it was in ancient parlor weepers like “Little Rosewood Casket” and “The Baggage Coach Ahead.” Country singers and songwriters must dare to be maudlineven if they have to assure their hip friends in private that they’re just pandering to the yokels.
And speaking of pandering, country fans don’t mind it at all, especially if it results in a song that moves them. They abhor the my-art-over-your-heart attitude, assuming correctly that anyone who wants to sell them his or her music should be willing to take their tastes into account. It isn’t that they’re intrinsically hostile to artthey’re just suspicious of anyone who makes a big deal about it.
For the most part, country fans prefer the reflective to the rowdy. They want songs, like “This Is Me Missing You” and “The Dance,” that delineate the core of a relationship or the essence of a life well-lived. They want songs that reveal, reassure, and help them relieve their emotional isolation“She Ain’t Your Ordinary Girl,” “Not on Your Love” and “I’m a Stranger Here Myself.” They want songs that say precisely what they would say if they had the courage and the gift of words“I Want My Goodbye Back” and “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares).”
Country stars are no less ego-driven than stars of any other genre, but the survivors are not ego-dominated. This is a distinction worth observing.
♦ On Oct. 2, from 4 to 11 p.m., TNN will broadcast segments of this year’s Farm Aid and highlights of earlier Farm Aid concerts. Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, John Conlee, Hootie and the Blowfish, the Dave Matthews Band and BlackHawk are scheduled to headline the 1995 Farm Aid event, which will be held Oct. 1 at Cardinal Stadium in Louisville.
♦ All right-thinking folk will cheer the return of the Oak Ridge Boys. The Formidable Four have a new holiday album out on Capitol Nashville Records called Country Christmas Eve. They promise the release of a new frontline album next year. The Oaks, by the way, are celebrating the group’s 50th year. Also new from Capitol Nashville: John Berry’s O Holy Night.
♦ RCA has released three Christmas packages: Clint Black’s Looking for Christmas, Peter McCann’s What Christmas Really Means, and A Country Christmas Vol. 5, with cuts by Black, McCann, Lari White, Ray Vega, Lonestar, Aaron Tippin, John Anderson, Lorrie Morgan, Alabama and the Singing Dogs.
♦ Trish Townsend has formed the Imago Agency at 4815 Trousdale Dr. The agency represents wardrobe, hair and makeup stylists who prepare talent for photo shoots, videos and commercials.
♦ CMT: Country Music Television has appointed Bobby Lopez to the new position of programming manager for Latin America. He will be based in Nashville and will report to Mary Healy, CMT’s director of international operations and development.
♦ A round of thanks to the electors who recently voted Jo Walker-Meador into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The former executive director of the Country Music Association will be honored during the CMA Awards Show Oct. 4, as will her fellow inductee, the late Roger Miller. It is hard to imagine that country music would be in the rosy position it is today without Walker-Meador’s years of hard work and unfailing graciousness. Regal, intelligent and soft-spoken, she has been the living, enduring proof that country music is much more than the voice of rubesas so many have been willing to believe. If the Hall of Fame is about honoring those who have kept country music vibrant and visible, then no oneinside or outis more deserving than she.
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