Thursday, November 29, 2007

An offer I CAN refuse

Just ran across this WSM promotion:

Uhh....tempting, but...I mean, I'm sure Eddie's a nice guy 'n' all, very knowledgeable about the music...I think I'll pass.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Gone country...but which one?

What is country music? It seems that most people would have a hard time answering that question, at least in a definitive way. that is often (but not always) about life in either the rural American South or the wild West...involving immorality (drankin', cheatin', carousin') or deep religious belief or both...played and sung with a people wearing cowboy hats. But even the most casual listener knows this description is more stereotype than reality.

Giving examples is easy enough: Josh Turner, Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney. Only one name is needed for some: Dolly, Garth, Reba, Cash, Merle, Buck, Hank (Sr., Jr. or rarely, III). The history-minded might reference Jimmie Rogers or Roy Acuff. Usually the names a fan mentions will come from a certain era, the one they consider golden by comparison to the rest; the older the fan, the better the old days of "real" country (whatever that is). Never mind that the old-timers of (name the period) were making the same complaints about how the artists of the day were destroying the tradition.

Most people would probably paraphrase what someone once said about obscenity (you do the Googling), and say "I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I hear it." Or at least, I know when I'm not hearing it. Most agree that much of what's on "country radio" is as much rock, pop and even hip-hop as it is country, and plenty of country music is not even considered for airplay.

So does country music have certain distinctive stylistic features? Time signature? Instrumentation? Lyrical approach? Number of lines or verse/chorus structure? Is country whatever is played on country radio and put in the bins labeled as such in Wal-Mart? Can you sing it with a Northern accent? Or British? Or even (shudder) Russian or French? Can Jessica Simpson sing country? Is it too late to stop her? Do you have to have stories of a poverty-stricken upbringing or look good in tight jeans ("not that there's anything wrong with that") to be an authentic performer in the genre?

This ambiguity is apparent even--especially--in Nashville, which long ago claimed its place as "Music City USA", the heart of country music for those who heard it via radio and recordings and saw it performed live at the Grand Ole Opry shows. Every award show is as much an opportunity for debate as it is a celebration of the music that has been a moneymaker and/or a heartbreaker for artists, writers, industry execs and wannabe's. Like sports, the music industry is a point of fascination and sometimes downright obsession for onlookers and pro's alike. Even if you don't have a stake in the race, it's hard not to feel the need to express an opinion (but then, I have that problem with a lot of topics).

I'm interested in the ongoing discussion for what it reveals about the participants as much as anything. But before we get into whether Big & Rich should be applauded or tarred and feathered for their long-term impact (if any) on Nashville (have you seen the picture of the monstrosity--er, house John Rich is building?), it's helpful to get some historical perspective. May not help answer the question but it does reveal that the argument has been going on for quite awhile, even before the Opry conceded to such modernities as the use of drums (gasp!) and electrified instruments (oh my!) on stage.

Two books--one I've read and one I plan to read--should be a big help.

I just finished reading "the official inside history of the home of country music," written by Colin Escott. It's titled The Grand Ole Opry : the Making of an American Icon. Found this one in the library, but it's available online as well and I'm sure at the Opry gift shop and bookstores everywhere.

The story of the Opry is told using lots of quotes from artists and staff, with plenty of pictures. Having ushered at the Opry House for a few years made the book that much more interesting to me, even though I had heard or read some of the information elsewhere.

This book covers many of the controversial issues that are inherent in an enterprise that has the combined goals of entertaining, turning a profit and preserving the dynamic, shifting culture of country music...while maintaining its balance amidst the tug-of-war of those who claim it (management, artist, and the public).

On my literary to-do list is Air Castle of the South: WSM and the Making of Music City by music journalist Craig Havighurst, heard occasionally on NPR and a former Tennessean reporter. Havighurst has written what he calls "a history of Nashville's music business told through the historic broadcaster that made it all possible." WSM was the station that birthed the Grand Ole Opry, the radio show (not "concert" as solemn host Eddie Stubbs likes to point out) that has become to country music what Atlanta is to Delta customers; if you haven't played the Opry, you're not there yet.

I spoke with Havighurst a few months ago, and he mentioned that this book is not the "authorized" story, and in fact it may ruffle a feather or two in it should be even more interesting than the Opry book above, especially regarding the controversies of how WSM and the Opry have been managed. The book was instigated by the "what were they thinking?" incident of not long ago when the powers that be considered turning WSM into yet another talk radio station.

He'll be signing his book at Davis Kidd in Nashville tomorrow (click for info).

Meanwhile you can preview the first few pages (click this link and use side arrows to advance pages)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Have You Hugged Yours Today?

In case you can't think of anything to be thankful for this week...this might bring something to mind:

World Toilet Day

19 November was declared 'World Toilet Day' in 2001 by 17 toilet associations around the world. Since then there has been established an annual World Toilet Summit and many other regional conferences. Each toilet association has also engaged in many activities promoting clean toilets in their own respective country.

Since 2001, World Toilet Day has become a global platform for academics, sanitation experts, toilet designers, environmentalists etc. to share the latest on rural and urban toilets. Thi

The World Toilet Organisation asks each individual, in their respective country, to request better equality (more facilities for women); more accessibility & special provisions (for the disabled & mothers with babies); clean toilets (for everyone); and more toilets (for the less fortunate).

About World Toilet Organisation (

The World Toilet Organisation has the following objectives:

* Establish a world body to coordinate and promote sanitation issues.
* To continuously generate awareness for the importance of a good toilet environment.
* To gather resources and promote creative development in the Research & Development, Usage & Attitudes and Aesthetics & Functionalities in Design for the betterment of health in general.
* To propagate the need for better toilet standards in both the developed and developing economies of the world.
* To provide and promote a community of all toilet associations, related organizations and committed individuals to facilitate an exchange of ideas, health and cultural matters.
* To collate, publish and disseminate information globally in a timely and viable manner globally.

But seriously...what would we do without them? Don't answer that. If you've ever gone without one....

* * *

And in a coincidence I wasn't even aware of when I originally posted this...

Mr. Whipple Actor Dick Wilson Dies at 91

Rest in peace to one of our nation's most beloved advertising characters. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was never portrayed in a more endearing and memorable manner.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Musical to-do's this week

Thursday: Heather Morgan with Matt Ramsey & Faith Gilmore

Saturday: Kim McClean live DVD recording

Every day: Thank God for great music and the talented women that make it. Not necessarily in that order.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Give a hug, get...detention?

I feel more intelligent (relatively speaking) every day...and this one makes me feel like a genius.

(Kids, make sure your parents are OK with your reading explicit act of human contact is discussed).

This eighth-grade girl (center of the pic) gave hugs to two of her friends--half-hugs, actually, but hugs--as they left school. Shocking, huh?

She was given DETENTION because the morons who run the school deemed that this was the kind of "display of affection" that was prohibited by policy, as outlined in the school handbook.

Here's the full story.

No mention of a record of misbehavior, any complaints, anything. Nor is there a reference to a warning being issued; regardless, they applied the punishment for a second offense because she gave two hugs. Clearly these "leaders" know as little about the law as they do about human behavior (especially middle-school girl behavior). I wonder how three people could come to such a misguided conclusion. Actually I wonder if they dress themselves in the morning.

I don't throw the word "moron" around that much (not publicly, anyway) but the principal, assistant principal and the superintendent have more than earned the title in my thinking.

What ARE they teaching in the schools our education professionals attend? Or NEA seminars, maybe? I realize teachers are under a lot of stress and expected to do way too much with way too little in the way of financial and parental support. And too many people are too eager to sue. And of course, there's Oprah's problem in South Africa. Actually, teachers are my heroes...the good ones, anyway.

However, some seem to have come to the conclusion that it is never their job to exercise any judgement whatsoever when it comes to discipline, or any human interaction with their students. Not allowing a kid to take an aspirin (but a condom? No problem!)...treating a spoon in a 2nd grader's backpack as if it were a nuclear warhead...forcing "school standard attire" to achieve an illusion of conformity, despite a lack of evidence of any effect on this.

I don't expect every educator to display the wisdom of Solomon, but a little common sense would prevent this kind of nonsense from happening. There's a time for punishment and a time for mercy; some folks apparently need to check their watches.

I mean, did these people learn nothing from The Breakfast Club?

If all an educator can do is interpret a policy in the most rigid and literal way possible, like a computer...why don't we just let HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey take over? Or has he already? HAL...are you there? HAL?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Odd "news" pic of the day

Not that this is part of a series I'm doing...this just struck me as so odd, and SO badly composed, I thought it blogworthy. This is Anastasia Brown, who helps connect the Nashville music industry with the Hollywood film industry (and vice-versa). Local party scene "reporter" Heather Byrd managed to make even this gorgeous example of God's handiwork look, uh, less than her best. Scary, even. Proof that antlers make for a poor podium, in case you were wondering.

It's not so much that the picture is bad...and I'm not sure who took's that the reporter chose to include it "as is" in a photo slideshow as her contribution to the online Tennessean. Don't hold your breath for the Pulitzer, Heather.


Last Thursday I got a glimpse of "history" at the Koinonia Family Reunion concert. This event at the Factory at Franklin was a celebration of the years of ministry through the Koinonia Coffeehouse & Bookstore on Music Row. Koinonia, named after the biblical Greek term for a spiritual sense of fellowship and community, was a local manifestation of the Jesus Movement of the 1970's. Belmont Church established the venue to invite the street people and musicians (still not always easily distinguishable) to explore Truth, on a "come as you are" basis. Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith were among the artists whose music was nurtured there, and both were unannounced participants in the reunion concert.

I missed MWS's part because he provided "pre-show" music and I was merely on time (early for me). Amy, however, was part of a four-artist round and stayed through most of the evening to watch the show. She was eager to make clear that she viewed the older artists with the respect due to mentors, and downplayed her "star" status as best she could. She raised eyebrows with a comment about their relative innocence during the coffeehouse days: "Little did we know then that our best sinning was still ahead of us." I would guess the unspoken responses varied from "Amen" to "speak for yourself, Amy." But I knew what she meant.

I felt like a long-lost cousin by marriage in this "family" of artists and church members. I never actually went to Koinonia until just a few years ago, to attend a couple of concerts and participate in a couple of writers nights. The place was little more than a meeting space for Belmont Church at that point, though a space with a history. I had seen several of the artists on stage (Billy Sprague, Jim Weber) at a similar concert series in Knoxville in the 80's, called Aslan's Lair. And the time frame the event harkened back to was a little before my time. Still, I enjoyed the music and even recognized a tune here and there. More importantly, it gave me a better understanding of my own personal musical and spiritual heritage, and hopefully a little inspiration to start my own "movement" today that might just have as great an impact. Who knows, maybe I already have.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

But my face rings a bell

In addition to having a common name (see previous post), I also apparently have a common face. I've lost count on how many people have told me I looked familiar and had clearly never seen me, and how many have mistaken me for someone else.

I was at Tin Pan South a few years ago and a singer/songwriter I was standing next to in one of the clubs looked at me intently and said "I did a session with you!" But since I'd never done any recording in a Nashville studio I knew he hadn't. Should've told him he still owed me for it.

I was sitting at McDonald's before ushering at the Opry one evening and a family (probably tourists) was nearby. After a while the father said with a grin "You're famous, aren't you?" I said no....though who knows what a faster-thinking and less-honest person could have done with that. I mean, if I were "famous" would I be at McDonald's by myself on a Saturday evening? OK, yes, I might. So maybe it wasn't such a stretch.

A couple of times earlier this year I went up to two different women to offer compliments on their respective musical performances, and they both hugged me thinking I was someone else, even though I had spoken to one several times before. So it's not always a bad thing. But I don't plan on volunteering for any police lineups, just in case.

I found this site that finds famous faces that supposedly look like a picture you can upload. I can't say I'm in agreement with the results, overall...Dakota Fanning? Really? And Tom Green didn't show up; that's the one I've gotten most often since I've had the goatee. One more cautionary example of the limits of technology.