The Reason of Rimes

LeAnn Rimes has taken country music by storm. She's only 14. And that's the rub.

The more you get to know LeAnn Rimes, the easier it is to believe that she, too, will one day see her dreams come true, and the more ludicrous the idea that anyone, from her parents to the president, could take advantage of this determined young woman becomes. But there's something striking that becomes apparent when watching her video archives, a taped record of Rimes's major appearances. In the older ones, Wilbur appears a different man, relaxed, happy, every inch the proud papa; these days there's a perpetual crouch, a wariness and a readiness to protect that can at times make him seem suspicious and hard. There was a time when such a posture was part and parcel of fatherhood, necessary to adequately protect the brood, and it's sobering to contemplate how essential it remains.

In one clip LeAnn, on horseback in cowgirl gear and a big, flat Oklahoma-style straw hat, is singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at a rodeo; she looks noticeably younger, maybe ten or 11. Wilbur stands next to her horse, holding the reins and beaming contentedly. Although only a few years have passed since then, Wilbur has aged ten, and it saddens to think of him like one of our presidents, a man whose picture can be accurately dated by how worn-out and tired he looks. All of a sudden his admonition -- "You can quit anytime, and we'll just go back to how it used to be" -- takes on an unforeseen poignancy.

All the great stories involve cost, and LeAnn Rimes's may well be one of the classics: The heart's deepest desire granted, then the bill. A child beautiful beyond all expectation and likewise taxing, yet who can deny their child? Wilbur and Belinda Rimes are bound to stand by; there is no place else they would rather be. Trouble is always lurking in the shadows and fame seems to be one of his more abundant hunting grounds. Until you stop caring you can never let your guard down. LeAnn Rimes, full of youthful energy, seems able to care forever.

LeAnn Rimes's performance Friday, February 14, at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo at the Astrodome is sold out. Rodeo begins at 7 p.m.; concert follows rodeo. With Alan Jackson. For info, call 791-9000.

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