Country Music is So…Gay?

I’ve been keeping a secret from you, denizens, but now it’s time I come out.

I used to be a major country music fan.

I know, I know. That statement just sparks WTFery, right? I am the one, after all, who often reminisces quite fondly about my metal hair days and I even recently expressed my still-bright love for old school rap and go-go. But there was a period of time in my life when I traded in my metal cred and my go-go bounce for the love of a little slide guitar and fiddle.

How did this happen? Honestly, I’m not really sure. I know it involved patient but persistent prodding from a very good friend whose veins ran hot for country. It was her ultimate goal, I think, to convert as many of her friends as possible. And, for a brief moment in time, she succeeded in convincing me that country music was worth my time.

Then, however, came the Bush administration and all the über-jingoistic insanity that went with it. And there went my love for country. Music, that is (don’t think I don’t know what you jingo dingoes say about my traitorous liberal bleeding heart commie kind being America haters).

Here, in fact, is the original blog post I made on September 9, 2006, to ring the death knell for my country music love:

It’s been over for a while now. We were just going through the motions because…well, we’d been together for more than 10 years and we were comfortable together, even in our mutual unhappiness. We had changed so much, especially in the past few tumultuous years, that there really was no more common ground on which we could agree. So we met for one more time last night. It seemed at times to be as great as it had been when we first met. But there was the taint of change still there, still reminding me that it will never be truly that great again. At the end of the evening, we parted ways, perhaps not for good but at least for a while.

And so comes to an end my love affair with country music. It couldn’t have been a better ending though – third row seats for Terri Clark. In the words of Wayne Campbell, she wails. I’ve always loved her voice and her lyrics as well as how, throughout her career, she has remained different among the bevy of Nashville Barbies. It was a strength that added to her allure. I think right now though, even she is relenting to the deluge of jingoism roiling through the country camp. Though she’s not draping herself in red, white, and blue, she has definitely undergone a shift that has dimmed her uniqueness just enough to be noticeable by long-time fans.

I will continue to listen to Terri Clark’s CDs, as I will continue to listen to the country CDs that I have purchased over the years. It’s a small collection, to be sure, but truly representative of why I loved country music in the first place. I was drawn to it for its simplicity, its honesty, its honky tonk chords and whiskey-soaked vocals. Now, however, there has been a pervasive attitude shift, and the simplicity has been replaced by simple-mindedness. And that’s my stop.

I think what sealed the fate of my love affair was last night, staring at the no-neck beer keg two rows in front of me who was wearing a T-Shirt that posed the following philosophical question: “What do deer and women have in common?” From the drawing of a mounted deer head with large antlers next to a buxom blonde wearing a camouflage bikini, I figured the answer would have to include the word “rack.” But no, it wasn’t even that clever. He leaned forward and I saw the answer: “The hornier the better.”

At that moment, I understood: These were not my people and I was not their people. I don’t want to listen to the music of a people who so blatantly debase women. This included the no-neck beer keg two seats down from Mr. Buck-and-Fuck, who constantly yelled out lewd comments to Terri Clark whenever she would engage the audience in friendly stage banter. Interestingly, he never made a peep when the male opening act talked to the audience. Disturbingly, his wife never made a peep when he was harassing Terri Clark. She and others around him simply laughed at his ribald shouts encouraging the singer to strip on stage. Had I paid for a striptease accompanied by the blathering of a bellicose redneck, perhaps I would have been more inclined to be amused as well.

I’m not blind. I know that country music is a genre geared toward people with a completely different mindset from mine. For more than 10 years I was an East Coast Yankee in the Confederacy’s Court. It wasn’t until last night that I truly felt like an outsider. I guess our differences are now just too deep a chasm at this point. Does that make me a fairweather friend? I guess it does. So be it.

So Terri Clark sang the swan song of my love affair. I couldn’t have asked for a better farewell.

I keep trying to imagine what “Mr. Buck-and-Fuck” from the above blog post is probably saying right now about Chely Wright. Not one thing I’m imagining is kind.

A lot of people don’t know who Wright is, so a brief Loba rundown. She debuted on the country scene back in the mid-90s, won some awards, had some big hits (hits, you pervs…hits) like “Shut Up and Drive,” “Single White Female,” and “Jezebel.” Though never hitting the dizzying heights of fellow country songstresses like Martina McBride, Faith Hill, or Shania Twain, she had a solid career and a solid following. Toward the end of my waning interest in the genre, I remember that she was also climbing onto the “Love This Country or We’ll Burn You Alive” patriotism bandwagon (led, of course, by Mr. “Boot to the Ass” himself, Toby Keith) that I think many country artists felt they needed to ride in order to survive in the genre, with some song about a “Support Our Troops” bumper sticker on her SUV.

[Yeah, is it any wonder I stopped listening to country music? Like any true traitorous liberal, overt expressions of patriotism that involve the acronym “SUV” make my soul frown. What can I say? In many ways, I’m still blue through and through.]

Because of my distinct disdain for Bush-era country music, I really had no idea that Wright had fallen off the radar in recent years. She came out with a few more CDs, but never really hit the levels of popularity that she had in the 90s. Then, poof, she disappeared completely for several years. During this period of solitude, she reached a point in which, tired of praying and wrangling and hiding, she stuck a 9mm in her mouth and nearly ended it all.

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The thought of no more Chely Wright in this world also makes my soul frown, for distinctly different reasons. Whatever stopped her from pulling that trigger, I’m so glad she made it through that darkness.

Now, I’ve read some comments from people who think that Wright has made this announcement about her sexuality as a means of re-igniting her career and kicking up promotion for her new CD and her book. In watching the above clip, I can see a certain truth in that. Maybe it’s because I’ve written speeches and advertising materials before, but I can immediately detect the “pull quotes” from her comments, those little lines that she’s probably going to repeat so many times over the next several weeks that she’ll be saying them in her sleep. Regardless of anything else, Wright is an entertainer, and just like all others in the entertainment industry, she must market herself to audiences as part of her chosen career. This, like everything else, is another part of her pursuit of her celebrity. All part of the business…

I also see a woman who nearly ended it all because of what she was hiding from the world, and still seems quite fragile and uncertain as she struggles with what this will do to her place in a genre that, in her own words, is composed of conservative mindsets that are not readily known for kickin’ it rainbow-style at the annual gay pride parades. True, kd lang has been out for years, but she’s also been outside the country realm for years as well. Although lang won a Grammy for her country debut, she was never accepted by the Nashville elite and soon walked away from the mainstream genre completely.

And then there is the fact that even something as supposedly important to country music fans as enjoying those almighty American freedoms can get you in serious trouble. Isn’t that right, Natalie, Emily, and Martie? The Dixie Chicks know all too well how quickly country fans will turn on you. I still remember all the newsreels showing former fans burning their Dixie Chicks merchandise and running over their CDs with tractors. Why? Because Natalie Maines dared to speak her mind. And she and her bandmates paid for it, with radio stations refusing to play their music (I suspect some still would rather drink roadkill-infused moonshine than play a Dixie Chicks song) and people aiming death threats toward them and their families. All for Maines’s simple sin of exercising her right to free speech, which apparently many country fans believe is only extended to those who toe the same lines they do.

So, yeah. This is not the announcement you make when you’re trying to get country fans to buy your stuff. This is the kind of announcement you make when you want country fans to fire up the bonfires and the tractors and make death threats toward you and your family.

But you know what? I hope that country music fans prove me completely wrong, show me that things do change. However, I can’t really say that I’m holding my breath. I even tried to check out what country fans have been saying about Wright, but what I’ve found instead is a none-too-surprising silence coming from many of the big country representatives. County Music Television has nothing on Wright’s announcement on their Web site. Neither does the Grand Ole Opry (although they’ve got bigger problems right now, with Nashville floodwaters leaking into their home).

I was even shocked to see that our local country station, WMZQ, has fuck-all about Wright on their Web site. You’d think being located in the evil liberal empire of the D.C. area would have rubbed off even slightly onto this station. Of course, they are owned by blatantly conservative Clear Channel Communications, so there you go.

Of all the country sites I visited, the only one I found that mentions Wright’s announcement was Great American Country, with this piece on their blog.

Small step, to be sure. But even small steps get you where you need to go in time.

I also hope that country musicians surprise me, too, and embrace Wright rather than ostracize her. I know there are those within the country ranks who have it in them to do so: The Dixie Chicks, Dolly Parton, and Garth Brooks immediately come to mind. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see. I really hope for the best for Wright, regardless of her reasons for her announcement. The best and maybe a duet with Terri Clark. “Dirty Girl” maybe?