Country Music Broke My Brain (7 page)

BOOK: Country Music Broke My Brain
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Garth also has had the benefit of one of those music guys with a magic touch: his producer, Allen Reynolds. And good record biz people. I think Garth deserves everything he has, including the fabulous Trisha Yearwood.

One of the weird things that happen to famous people in the press is how the public absorbs certain moments: “He's gay.” “She hated her mother.” “They aren't really the kid's parents.” Some statement that's usually lifted from an interview or a story that may or may not be true.

I saw it happen to Garth. When he was preparing to jump ship on the artist life, he did an interview. Talking with that “can you believe it” line of thought, he said one quick off-the-cuff thing. It wasn't meant the way the public accepted it. Garth said, “I've got more money than my children's children can spend.” It was one of those typical self-effacing, “Dude, am I lucky or what?” moments. That's all it meant. But over and over, that comment has come back to me in various forms. Listeners, fans, and friends all think it meant, “I'm rich, so back off.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Or so I read it. Yes, he
is
rich; we all know that. It's just odd how resentment rears its ugly head on so many things. In other words, “He's gettin' somethin' I ain't gettin'.”

I can't imagine how many times the guy who said those words has been confronted with them. I guess it becomes part of the lore, and unless you want to spend all your energy fixing it, you just shrug and know in your heart it isn't true. That is, if you're normal and secure. Me? I'd be out there every day going, “People of Earth: I am one of you. I was
not
born on the Planet Ignoramus, as you have been told. Don't believe what they say about me. Don't make me come out there!”

There was a moment in time when Garth had his own record company. His own personal little business dealio was called Capitol Nashville Records. I'm certain there were many other acts on that label who also think they were on that label. They were, but they were just tick birds on the rhino. Garth was the gorilla in the room. The promo department, the press department, and the executive department worked for Garth. He was
that
big. I also know he spent a lot of time taking care of people. He called them back. He listened to their songs. He paid overdue bills for people. He did (and does) a ton of charity work.

Remember that horrible incident where a congressman from Indiana or someplace criticized Garth for not meeting with a cancer victim? I vaguely remember it myself, but the point is that Garth didn't ignore anyone. Like
all
artists, they are supposed to drop whatever schedule they have and run immediately to handle something somebody else wants them to do. They do this a lot. They hold concerts, they go to hospitals, and they meet sick people.

Vince Gill, who spends most of his life doing so much charity work his friends call him “Benefit,” once told me, “I was rushing to the car to catch a plane, and a woman yelled for me. I just had to put my head down and keep going. She said, ‘Wait! I have
cancer!'
” What is anyone supposed to do at that point? I was furious when Garth got raked over the coals for meeting or not meeting somebody somewhere.

Most of the time, recording artists don't even know their own schedules. My journalist friend Robert Oermann said it best: “Since when is it the sole responsibility of artists to meet with the sick?” I guarantee you that lame-ass congressman doesn't spend his days running to be bedside for somebody he doesn't know.

Yes, it's disappointing when the artists can't meet you. You hurt for your niece or cousin, who is an enormous fan of the star. These fans don't have much time and are literally dying to meet the artist. I get that, but try to remember these artists are trying as hard as they can to get it
all
done, to shake hands and hold and kiss and nod with tears in their eyes at as many people as they can. Often, people will promise an artist's presence, and the poor singer doesn't even know about it. And don't even get me started on how much these people do for our troops.

I wish I had a really funny Garth story here, but I don't. That's because, even though I've been with him many times, I don't really know him—or any of the three Garths, for that matter. I'm not sure
anyone
has much of a bead on the guy except those that know him really, really well. And they all have glorious things to say. And as I said, he got Trisha Yearwood.

I remember when Bruce Hinton at MCA hired Trisha to make albums for his record label. Bruce is a quiet, unassuming exec who ruled Music Row for years. He is the human Zoloft. Bruce is one even-tempered dude. He makes Don Williams look jittery. His idea of a riotous evening is putting on an Oscar Peterson piano album and having a glass-
and-a-half
of wine. Party! He's also one of my close friends.

Bruce is a numbers guy. Not the mob numbers, but the accountant/business numbers. He told me, “I've just signed a singer who is gonna change the world. She's so warm and so fabulous and such a wonder that I can't wait for people to hear her.” That singer was Trisha Yearwood. In 1991, “She's in Love with the Boy” was her first hit and launched her career. Trisha always had that big-moment, white-hot-spotlight, operatic finish to her songs that I just love. I often thought she'd just explode at the end of one of her concerts and that would be it. Trisha would hit that last note with all that power, and boom! Good night, Ms. Yearwood.

Trisha, who loved to hear the late Luciano Pavarotti sing, did an event with him, and he had all his costars over for a small, casual twelve-course dinner. Even though it meant a lot to her, Trisha gave me the invitation he had sent her for that night because she knew I loved to hear Pavarotti sing Puccini's aria “Nessun Dorma.” Later, I went to see him in concert and watched him “brace” himself for the big note that was coming. I think he
did
blow up one night in Italy.

But it was just nice she sent that to me—a special memory from another evening in a long night of special evenings she wanted to share. I know she's doing a cooking show nowadays, and I'm certain she can still peel the cover off an onion with her voice. I think she's Garth's greatest accomplishment.

I once suspected Garth of quitting the business as a stunt. He did a lot of events as a stunt. I still love the moment on an awards show when David Bowie (the original musical chameleon) introduced Garth as Chris Gaines. Ziggy Stardust gives us Chris. Garth wore a wig and sang songs from his movie that hadn't yet been written. A lot of stuff going on there. But quitting as a publicity ploy? Boy, was I wrong. Wrong-o! Oh, sure, he does Vegas a bit, but he got off the rocket ship. Just opened the door, tipped his hat, and said, “Fellas, I'm outta here,” and he stepped off into the unknown. Or maybe the very well known—his kids and his fam. I know for a fact that you've really got to be secure and know who you are to do that and do it successfully. Garth did it.

I bet Trisha is whipping up a peach pie for him right now. I hope so.

Gay Country

I
DON'T EVEN KNOW where to start when talking about the gay influence on country music. I really don't have any gay agenda. In fact, I'm not really sure what a gay agenda is. I never understand the phrase “flaunting their lifestyle.” Doesn't everybody flaunt their lifestyle? You are who you are and that's your lifestyle. Right?

I have friends who are gay. I worked for years with gay folks. There is a surprisingly large family of gay (openly or not) men and women in Nashville. It's no big deal to me. It's as if you whispered to me, “You know, he's French.” OK. Although I also firmly believe most French are also gay. They are openly French and flaunt their Frenchness without letting up. Them and their words for stuff we can't understand. Damn French Flaunters.

I do know that if you landed here from another planet and saw pictures of the
Opry
, you would also conclude nearly everyone in country music is “playing for the other team.” I've never seen such a fussy, bedazzled, dyed, primped, gussied-up, outlandish collection of humans in my life
not
to be all gay. Seriously, you mean you dress like that and you don't live in the East Village? A suit with lips all over it, and you're not a hairdresser? Rhinestones, darling, and you are actually straight? Really, George? George
Straight
? You're kidding, right?

My gay-dar is pretty good, but I am still shocked by some dudes who, I learn, prefer men. I always thought my friend Harry had the best response to learning of someone's sexual preference. I was sitting with Harry when an old cowboy at the table referenced a well-known publicist and outed him. I had suspected as much, but Harry just took a swig of his vodka tonic and calmly pronounced his feelings about the situation. “It's his mouth . . . he can haul coal in it if he wants to.” That says it all for me. None of my business.

I've only known one person to use gayness as a career crutch. She was a slightly successful singer/songwriter who came out as a lesbian.
Cool
, I thought,
she's probably more comfortable now.
However, Chely Wright contended that her “career” had been ruined by the Music Row community when they learned she was gay. The unfortunate part of her argument was that her career never really got that big to begin with. Chely was not exactly Carrie Underwood at any point. Besides, it had been years since she'd had a hit or anyone had even thought of her. It was like getting a note in high school from a girl you once dated in the ninth grade, announcing she was through with you. You could hardly remember her last name and now you were dumped? Oh,
no!
The agony, the pain . . . then “Who is she again?” I do hope Chely is happy, but I've always sort of doubted that happens much.

The truth is, I think hardly anyone on Music Row would punish you if you're gay. Hell,
they
might be gay. Nobody cares—or at least the people that matter don't care.

I just realized in the past few minutes I've written the word “gay” 1,000 times. Gay, gay, gay, gAY, GaY, GAy, GAY.

I've heard the rumors about some of country's biggest stars being “that way,” as my mom used to say. I remember being quite young and my mom asking me, “What do they
do
when they're gay?” Try explaining the “gay birds and bees” to your naïve fifty-year-old mother. I submit, if you can do that without causing her to have a heart attack, you should apply for the United Nations. She also summed it up for us when we'd talk about guys who “never married or seemed to date much.” Mom said, “In my day, we just called them bachelors.” Life was simpler then. I'm glad times have changed, but times were simpler then.

I've heard many, many people repeat the same old stories about how so-and-so was most certainly a queen and everyone knew it. I also know I've actually been sitting beside the “rumored to be gay” star and witnessed firsthand their attraction to a passing female fan. I can only say if they are gay, they have mastered the art of covering it by flirting, buying drinks, and inviting babes on the bus for a quick overnighter to Peoria. The same target of the rumor mill is also one of the biggest and most consistent Casanovas in history. Somehow, night after night, they manage to contain their gayness by chasing cuties on the road. Having their roadies pick out Bambis for special backstage passes and even being given “Hottie Alert” locations in the audience so he can wink at them during the concert. Protesting too much is one thing, but
nobody
can keep up appearances
that
much. Oh, I'm certain there are closet cases, but if these guys are in the closet, they are also in the witness protection program. It's impressive.

It's the clothing styles of country music that amaze me. Not so much anymore, but the early stars who really dressed like they should be in the Village People. I know Manuel, designer to the stars. He is one fabulous human being. His clothes are works of art, but you gotta be pretty secure to walk onstage in a lavender jacket with red roses on the lapels and white leather boots. Truly, a lot of Porter Wagoner's classic outfits could easily be reused for a local production of
La Cage aux Folles.
Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame sometime and see if you don't think those costumes weren't made for Marty Robbins but Martina Robbins.

And the hair. Let's not forget the hair of the ages. Puffed and buffed and shaped and whipped and teased and bullied into positions that don't normally occur in nature. I'm sorry, but I think there
is
such a thing as Gay Hair. Ridiculous, to be sure, but it's another of my theories. It's not the length—sometimes it's a buzz-cut to the scalp—but it's a giveaway.

Look, I'm as gossipy and nosy as everyone else. I'm a total hypocrite in light of all my “none of my business” pronouncements. It is none of my business, but I still sit around with songwriting buddies and wonder out loud, “Who's
he
trying to fool?” I'm sorry to fans and hope you won't take it the wrong way, but I have long suspected there are several major Hillbilly Twang Slingers who ride Side Saddle.

BOOK: Country Music Broke My Brain
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