Saturday, January 13, 2007

Retaliation for murder

Nashville has sometimes been called "Hillbilly Hollywood" because any young man or woman in the South with any discernable singing talent longs to go to Nashville and launch a country music career. Making it to the Music City is tantamount to making the big time on broadway in a cultural sense. A great deal of the reason for this is because of the institution of the Grand Ole Opry. The Opry is the longest running radio program in the world, it began in 1925 and continues every Friday and Saturday night on Nashville's WSM Radio-to achieve Opry membership is generally seen as the pinnacle of a successful country music career-perhaps only the Country Music Hall of Fame carries as much prestige as does the Opry, and that only because most Hall of Fame inductees were Opry members first.

That's what makes country singer Stonewall Jackson's age discrimination allegations so galling. Unfortunately, they are also believable. I am not associated with the Opry, nor am I one who actually works on music row, but I can tell you from having observed as a country music afficionado and lifelong fan that Nashville's atmosphere has indeed changed, and as the Travis Tritt son goes "Country Ain't Country No More." The great old talents of the genre are no less talented today in most cases than they were in their prime. In the case of the offending Opry General Manager Pete Fisher, his goal is apparently to "appeal to a wider audience."

I am not opposed to all change, contrary to popular belief. As times change, country will slowly change with the times where change is appropriate. However, you can't add new branches to a tree by destroying the roots of that tree-destroy the roots of the tree and the branches will also die. I believe Stonewall Jackson when he says that he was told by Mr. Fisher that he was "too old" and "too country." You actually hear those words floating around some quarters in Nashville (usually from outsiders)-too country. If you don't want to be country but would rather be something else, try Los Angeles or New York.

The Opry is perhaps the crown jewel in Tennessee's many contributions to the lexicon of American music. So important is the Opry to the music world that the late James Brown believed that one of the highest honors bestowed upon him was being asked by Porter Wagonner to appear on the Grand Ole Opry-an honor previously unheard of for an African-American who did not have a country music background. It was revolutionary at the time, and people winced, but the Godfather fully understood the Opry's place as a living shrine to American music-exactly why he was so honored to do a number there.

Many different kinds of musicians and even different kinds of music have made their way to the Opry stage, but only recently (relatively speaking) has the Opry began to lose sight of its roots, and some would say its very soul. Artists like Stonewall Jackson are the foundation that built country music. These greats do not deserve to be thrown aside as mere items for Trivial Pursuit. Country music can't remain country if the roots of the tree are killed. For once, I'm all for fighting to keep the roots in the ground-go Stonewall!



At Saturday, January 13, 2007 10:53:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with you all the way on the Stonewall suit, but I think you'll find that the Opry dates to 1925, not 1929. The Opry celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2005. I know. I was there.

At Saturday, January 13, 2007 11:22:00 AM, Blogger Dave Oatney said...

I checked the sources on this and you are correct sir/madam...WSM (We Shield Millions) debuted the show in 1925.


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