Thursday, May 28, 2009

Well, Excuse Me!

My past and present will mix this weekend in an odd, but perhaps interesting way. I'm going to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night to see Steve Martin perform songs from his bluegrass album, "The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo." Mr. Martin will appear with Vince Gill, John McEuen, Amy Grant and Tim O'Brien. (Now that's an Opry debut!)

As someone who grew up during the '70s watching "Saturday Night Live," the comedy stylings of Martin are firmly etched into my gray matter—not just from that show, but also from movies like "The Jerk" ("These cans are defective. They're springing leaks!). Steve Martin was everywhere back then. If I remember correctly, I'm pretty sure my friend Marty and I used to do our own version of the famous Martin-Akroyd "Two Wild And Crazy Guys" skits. 

More recently, my daughter and son have discovered Martin—albeit a more subdued Martin than the man of my youth—in the two "Cheaper By The Dozen" movies.

Now he's making his debut appearance on the Opry. And he's doing it with some of Nashville's finest pickers and singers. Wild and crazy stuff. 

If you had told me when I was a teenager growing up in Cleveland that I'd be seeing Steve Martin play banjo at the Grand Ole Opry when I was in my mid-40s and actually looking forward to it, I don't know what I would have said in response. I mean, it probably would have been a smart-ass remark—that's a constant—but beyond that I don't know.

This much I do know: Martin's appearance at the Opry House makes a lot more sense and will be a much more natural fit for him than his appearance on the season finale of "American Idol," which was wrong on so many levels.

And unlike so many other celebrities who dabble in music—don't get me started on Steven Seagal's foray into Nashville via the clunker "Fire Down Below" a few years back and some more recent examples—Martin actually has the chops to hang with Nashville's best.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Baggy, Saggy Pants

As much as I love living in Tennessee—I've been here 19 years now—I still have my doubts about our state legislature, which seems to go out of its way to draw attention to the inane. 

A bill that would have made it a crime to wear pants below the waistline, "in a manner that exposes the person's underwear or bare buttocks," was recently moved to a summer study committee, according to the Tennessean.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Joe Towns, a Memphis Democrat, proposed changing the bill to allow the offender to yank up his or her pants at the request of a police officer, and thereby avoid a fine.

The sponsor likes to joke it’s an “anti-crack bill, because people are tired of seeing the crack of folks’ butts'." Ha. Seriously. Ha.

Think about that for a moment. Can you imagine the discussions on the floor of the Tennessee House? "What if we allow the perp to yank up his pants to avoid arrest?" "I'm good with that. The important thing is that my constituents should never see another person's underwear." 
"Is there a way we can tie this into the funding I need for the bridge to honor my mother?" "I'm sure there is." "OK, let's roll with it as long as they have the chance to pull up their pants."

Tennessee is not the first to try to outlaw saggy baggies. A similar bill failed last year in Louisiana. South Carolina also tried. 

Diana Carter, a ninth-grade teacher at Plantation High School in Plantation, Fla., thinks making saggy pants illegal will work.

“If you legislate it, I think we will have a better response to it,” she said. “I know people are going to say ... you’re taking away their rights to be individuals. But I also have a right not to look at your underwear.”

Yes, you do, Diana. I think it's mentioned in the Third Amendment. Or maybe not. I'm not really sure, because I've never really thought about our government regulating baggy pants.

Do we really need laws to regulate how people wear their pants? After all, I'm probably 25-30 years from wearing my pants pulled up above my navel. Will that be illegal?

Actually, I hope it is, because I've never been good at dressing myself. 

I'm ready to move to Texas. It was there that comedian Ron "Tater Salad" White was recently honored with his own day—he recommended that the legislature "go home and drink"—and Willie Nelson was named State Musician.

That's a state that has its priorities straight.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

We have both kinds: country and western

No matter how many research projects the Country Music Association commissions and no matter what the results say, we just can't get away from the old stereotypes.

Actor John Ratzenberger (Cliff Claven on "Cheers" and, more importantly, the voice of numerous Disney/Pixar characters) recently filed a restraining order against his ex-girlfriend, claiming she is "capable of violence because she listens to country music," according to TMZ.

Ratzenberger said that his former flame "indicated that it is common in many country western songs for women to set the cars of their former boyfriends on fire."

First of all, we don't deserve the old "country western" tag—I mean, when was the last time a country singer wore a cowboy hat? Umm, never mind. Strike that.

Anywhooo, I can't remember the last time a country song espoused setting a former boyfriend's car on fire. Houses with kerosene, yes. Cars, no.

Speaking of Miranda Lambert, who famously sang about burning her boyfriend's house down and waiting for an abusive mate with her gun cocked and loaded, I spoke with her last week about her involvement in a cool new campaign for cotton. She told me that her new album, which is due in September, will be less about revenge and more about the maturity that being in a stable relationship brings.

"It’s more grown up," she told me. "It’s not so chip-on-your-shoulder and crazy. It’s definitely more stable. It’s me all the way, but it’s me at 25, versus 18 or 19."

If Miranda—the daughter of private detectives, by the way—ever breaks up with fellow country star Blake Shelton, who used to wear a cowboy hat but doesn't anymore, perhaps she can show Ratzenberger a thing or two about stereotypes.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Class of '89

Clint Black, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson and Travis Tritt: the vaunted class of '89. What a difference 20 years makes. Dozens of chart hits and millions of records sold later, only Jackson, whose home is pictured here for no other reason than my cousin was in town last week and took a bus tour of stars' homes, is still a regular on the radio. (Jackson, not my cousin. She's never been on the radio that I know of.)

Black is better known these days for his recent run on "Celebrity Apprentice" while Tritt has kept a low profile since his label folded in 2007. Brooks meanwhile, continues to do his best Brett Favre impression, popping in and out of retirement.

But the Fantastic Four had a quite a run in their heyday and I sometimes wonder whether lightning will strike twice. The fact that singles take longer to develop these days makes the chances of four future superstar acts hitting in the same year tough to imagine. 

The other thing working against today's new artists is timing. The late 80s and early 90s represented a period of unprecedented change away from country's old guard. While Black, Brooks, Jackson, Tritt and others were coming in, George Jones, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and many more were on their way out, at least when it came to radio play.

I've long held that progressive artists like Foster & Lloyd, the Desert Rose Band, New Grass Revival and Lyle Lovett, just to name a few, paved the way for the Class of '89 by cleansing country's palette, if you will. But that's another story. Or book.

Speaking of books, my friend Patsi Bale Cox has written a book about Brooks called "The Garth Factor," which comes out May 28. Buy a copy. I'm going to.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Good Luck With That, Sherman

Sherman Murdock is out of his mind. The Tennessee State University senior has vowed to stay on-air at the campus station until he gets a job in broadcasting.

Murdock, who graduates on May 9, started a marathon airshift on May 1, and as of this writing, is still on the air. He has been offered a job, but it wasn't the one he wanted. "I've been offered a production job but I want to be a broadcaster," Murdock told The Tennessean.

Murdock hopes to land a broadcasting job in a top 25 market — his first choices being Chicago, his hometown; Los Angeles; or New York, he tells the paper.

Now I'm all for stunts designed to call attention to your hireability (if that's a word)—I once orchestrated a postcard campaign to lobby for what would turn out to be my first job in Nashville—but Sherm, think about what you're doing, son. 

Professor and station manager Joseph Richie has high hopes for Murdock, an honors student. "I think he's going to get a job because he's not going to stop until he gets what he wants," said Richie.

Professor Richie, what are you teaching these kids? Don't you know that a production job is your student's best shot at broadcasting in Chicago, L.A. and New York?

If Sherm can master production, he can write his own ticket. After all, voice tracking, which is nothing more than glorified production studio wizardry, is the wave of the present and future.

Heck, with Sherman's willingness to work hard—as evidenced by his marathon air session—he's already knocking on Ryan Seacrest's door. If he's willing to broadcast non-stop, without even stopping for a shower, he's a future radio star in the making. 

Further sealing his fate, Sherm's LinkedIn profile says he's already interned for Clear Channel in its Chicago cluster. Bada bing!

If I seem particularly critical of Sherman's future, it's only because my first radio job was doing weekend nights at a station in Parkersburg, W.Va. With Clear Channel's recent move to a decidedly less local model—and the rest of the radio business de-emphasizing home grown talent—guess who would still be a speech pathologist in the Wood County, W.Va., school system if it weren't for live and local?

On the other hand, I don't think they're outsourcing the morning announcements at elementary schools. Yet.