Lonesome Onry and Mean

Lonesome Onry and Mean: "Nashville Phantom" Goes Off on the Scene's Country Music Poll

Another 30-plus-year vet of Viet Nashville got his bowels in an uproar about the Nashville Scene's country music poll. In a long email to Lonesome Onry and Mean, this denizen of the songwriting trenches and the recording alleys who has had songs recorded by Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris and other greats vented about just about everything he's found wrong in Music City during his lifelong career there.

"Mount Rushmore Blues

"Through the years, the country music machine in terms of Nashville, Austin and Los Angeles has always had a tendency to create their own initiatives and publicize them through in-house and independent channels, exploit them, amass any likelihood of journalistic movement, and then quickly swallow the initiative whole should there be an absence of a groundswell to follow. Vamoose! On to the next initiative.

"Oddly enough, over the past 15 years there seems to have been more decent, important, soul-searching country-music writers than there have been important stories to write about. When there is nothing to write about (and personal drug or alcohol abuse is not an option), the stories have had a tendency to be about: sales, lack of sales, mega-sales, artist prayers for increased airplay, boring blabber about video shoots or, most sadly, commentaries by many major label artists that joyously declare, 'I'm finally doing a record that is really me!'

"When you hear an artist say that, you just sort of sadly hang your head and quietly surmise, 'Well, what in the hell have you been doing for the past three albums, putting us on?' It's a legitimate question. It's also one of those questions that never gets asked and, if it did, would never be answered.

Many artists try 'the major label way' thinking they will get the chance to 'be real' down the line. That's what many Nashville personal managers tell new clients to ease their guilt for recording songs they hate. Problem is, it doesn't work like that. What you stick on your music ledger stays there. You are responsible for its existence.

"Few if any artists have ever righted themselves who knowingly made that compromising choice in the beginning. You can't get a little bit pregnant, but even more difficult is trying to get un-pregnant late in your second or third creative trimester. The wagon is already in motion and everybody wants that next release to turn that Top 10 corner no matter what the damn thing sounds like. Announcing that an artist is stepping out on a limb usually means they've been playing it pretty safe around the trunk of the tree for quite some time.

"And, that must be noted if you are being groomed for Mount Rushmore. It must be duly noted!

If you are a brand new recording artist (or music writer) and you actually believe that sales numbers bring artistic validity, then nowadays Nashville is where you should hang your hat. The place is perfect for you. You'll forever get a smiley face from like-minded colleagues if that is your belief or if you feel it's a practical reality to think like that.

"Heck, you might even graduate (hydroponically) from the Belmont School Of Music Business and intern for the next five years before you even begin to discover what goes on in Nashville that no one ever writes about. 'Well hellfire, if they ain't writing about it then it can't be happening, can it?'

However, the other route is harder and the dollars are shorter but you will probably sleep better at night knowing you have attempted to present your music to the world undistorted, that it was the best you had in you, and if you are lucky you'll probably be able to pay your bills along the way. Maybe. One thing is for sure, though: you will not be perpetuating the scene that exists right now.

"One Taylor Swift is enough, and you can make a decision to like her work or dislike it based on what she records, but you can bet your sweet ass that those record companies that don't have a Taylor Swift are going to be trying to find their own version of her in 2010, and they are going to want their version to be almost identical to the original, and they are going to want those that write and broadcast to write and broadcast what they want the public to read and hear about her. Bet on it.

"As for Mount Rushmore - I don't think so. Nice try. Even a well written article. But I don't think so. Guy Clark, George Strait, Billy Joe Shaver and Emmylou should be next in line for sculpture alongside Hank, Bob Wills, Cash, Waylon, Willie, Jones, Haggard and Patsy Cline and a few others. As for this new pack in question, well, let's not start breaking out the dynamite and 'honeycombing' any granite just yet.

"That new breed of Paisley, Swift, Lambert and Johnson need another twenty years in the trenches before any predictions start rolling in. That bunch has a way to go in proving their worth, don't you think? Impact, brothers and sisters, we need to see a little life-changing impact from them first, don't you think?

"Nothing against the four in question, but even with all their sales, if you think they have had the national impact of people's lives that Guy Clark and Billy Joe Shaver and Emmylou Harris have had, you need to think again. You need to reconsider.

"As for those that write about country music, I'll leave you with this: don't take your marching orders from the artist's record-company publicist or their Indy packing mule because they're taking their marching orders from an out-of-touch, taste-challenged, multi-millionaire ex-lawyer that you probably wouldn't have over to your house for dinner.

Break the chain. If someone starts suggesting to you what you should write about, they are WRONG! If they are using you to start a movement that doesn't exist, they are WRONG again! Or, if they are hinting that you should attempt to boost or augment an artist's mediocrity, they are REALLY WRONG and if you do it, you are REALLY WRONG TOO!

"On the other hand, if you hear greatness or undeniable promise with your own ears, write about it! I mention this because it is your ears we are trusting. If you hear music that moves you greater than major-label music, write about that! And lastly, if you hear something great that is on a major label, don't assume it's worthless just because it will be receiving greater hype, write about that too.

"Truth is, the last thing country music needs is a Mount Rushmore. When written and recorded properly, country music's 'soul purpose' is served well without it. As a matter of fact, great country music renders the very thought of a Mount Rushmore irrelevant.

"[Signed] The Nashville Phantom"

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William Michael Smith