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The Battle Of Nashville 

The country music industry fights its own war

Country music has long considered itself the voice of the common folk and historically that has usually meant it was politically conservative. But a polarity of opinions emerged when the first two country songs to address the current crisis -- Alan Jackson's reflective "Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)?" and Toby Keith's defiant and incendiary "Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue (The Angry American)" -- both climbed the charts. And as soon as our troops begin to face Iraqi opposition, the battle only got uglier. Several weeks ago, Charlie Daniels posted on his website a nasty message to Hollywood, blasting celebrities for speaking out against the war. It was just another of Daniels' frequent and mostly ignored right-wing tirades until Daniels' publicist, Kirt Webster, mass e-mailed the "Open Letter" to thousands of music industry people. Tamara Saviano, an employee at Great American Country cable channel responded in opposition to Daniels' statements, and she ultimately got fired. According to GAC, they felt justified in firing "an employee who violated company policy, misrepresented company beliefs and placed our company in jeopardy." Her mistake was to include her employer's name in the signature of her personal e-mail, and to threaten a boycott of Daniels' music.

Earlier, Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines told a concert audience in London that she was "ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." American country music fans responded negatively when word spread of the statement, and radio stations nationwide reacted by banishing the group from playlists and, in some cases, setting up collection points for trashing Chicks CDs. On radio station website message boards, fans also reported burning or tearing up concert tickets. Maines was compelled to apologize in a carefully worded statement, but the group's No. 1 single dropped quickly in the charts, given the numerous boycotts. Ironically, the song -- "Traveling Soldier" -- is a touching, honest tune about a young man going to Vietnam and the effects of his death on the girl he left behind.

Several other country artists -- mostly those whose careers are on the downslide -- quickly released statements spouting their views on the war. Georgia resident Travis Tritt stated that we all need to respect and trust the people in the military and the president. Singer Sammy Kershaw (who has a new album coming soon) was so impressed with a satellite photo of his Tennessee farm, he said that if the government can take pictures of his farm then the president must know exactly what's going on in Iraq.

Among the more shocking incidents involving country music and the war came March 13, when an attendee at a Houston rodeo was reportedly the victim of a physical assault because he refused to stand up during the playing of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." And Greenwood's tune isn't even the national anthem. Yet.

Of course, Nashville now has put a rush on pro-war songs. Clint Black -- emerging from the land of "where are they now?" -- premiered his obnoxiously titled "Iraq And Roll" at the same Houston rodeo where the assault took place. And Darryl Worley's new release, "Have You Forgotten?" which uses Sept. 11 to justify an Iraq war, is rocketing up the charts. "Have you forgotten when those towers fell/We had neighbors still inside going through a living hell/And you say we shouldn't worry "bout bin Laden/Have you forgotten?/I've been there with the soldiers who've gone away to war/And you can bet that they remember just what they're fighting for." Apparently, Worley knows something about the war even Bush officials haven't guessed -- that we're fighting in Iraq to get bin Laden.

What's going on here? Free speech punished with firings, boycotts and physical abuse? (Note that there has been no public call to boycott Charlie Daniels, Travis Tritt or even Sammy Kershaw -- not that anyone would notice if there was.) Why such a negative reaction to dissention? Certainly, opposing a war that will cause American deaths is not anti-American. Clearly, it's possible to love your country, respect the people in the military and oppose the use of force to resolve the crisis.

Most troubling in this whole thing: the exploitation of the war as a way to get an artist's name in the media. When publicists issue press releases stating an artist's opinion on the conflict while simultaneously criticizing Hollywood for doing the same thing, the hypocrisy is stunning. Rushing the release of songs about the war may be a way of supporting troops and helping morale at home. But the bottom line here is money.

You can bet Lee Greenwood (also a client of Kirt Webster) gets dollar signs in his eyes every time there's a national tragedy. After all, as a career choice, doing special one-song concert appearances to rouse patriotism sure beats the hell out of selling carpets on TV. And what's wrong with that? After all, America is the land of opportunity.

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