Alan Jackson As Nostradamus-A Brief Essay on Shelf Life and Inevitability
Holly Gleason wrote a very insightful and articulate piece here yesterday.
Somewhere around graph six, I began to get the sense that Holly was already on a solid track to, herself, answering the very question(s) that she was rhetorically posing.
Her reminiscence of the once upon a time “departure” of Johnny Cash from Columbia Records , however unintentionally, provided an unbeatable solution to any mystery that might be involved in the recent departure of Alan Jackson from Arista.
Andy Warhol defined it years ago with his observation about the “fifteen minutes”.
In some cases, fifteen minutes simply lasts longer than in others.
All due respect to the singing/songwriting skills Alan possesses, the obvious available for clear grasping has always been, and will always be, that to everything there is a season.
And a shelf life.
Stars shine brightly. And then they dim.
And the brightest of those stars seem to dim the most, if only because of the extra contrast involved.
Ironically, I think, it was Johnny Cash, himself, who most exquisitely articulated it with what essentially became his last, and best, hurrah, the staggeringly brilliant recording/video of the Trent Reznor song “Hurt”.
Dollars to donuts that no one appreciated Johnny’s point of view more that the blond, lanky guy capable of creating “Where Were You”, “Remember When”, et al.
Even if he had to get to his point in his own career before that appreciation reached its zenith.
And while speculating on the why makes for good blogging material and/or a fun way to kill some time, it’s ultimately an exercise in futility because, in the end, no one really knows, or will know, the reason why save those who were directly involved in the decision making.
More dollars to more donuts they won’t be talking anytime soon.
As far as Holly’s observations re’ the “sanitized for your protection, Ken’N’Barbie proposition down on Music Row”, I can’t help but be tempted to offer to buy Holly a beer, give her a big wink and say “uh, where you been, sister girlfriend?”
Nashville has always been a factory town. A factory that manufactures product, product for sale. Really no different, at its center, than Detroit or Battle Creek.
The difference, of course, being that in Music City, the product isn’t motor vehicles or corn flakes.
And just as Hollywood is run, not by the creative types who weave the dreams, but the bean counters who fund the weaving and look for a nice ROI on the dreams, so, too, is Nashville run by those whose primary purpose is maintaining the profit margin.
Gary Overton, for example, has been one of those margin maestros in Nashville for over twenty five years now. He and I worked together a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, he as a song plugger, I a staff songwriter for Chelsea Music Group. I don’t think he would have the lawyers track me down if he read this and found me suggesting that he would likely admit his passion was for marketing and sales of the product, not creative research and developement of the product itself.
And while it’s no small irony that today he’s not only the head of Sony Nashville now, the mother ship of Arista Records, but also was Alan’s personal manager for a few years back in the day, the real end of the story is the inevitable end of the story.
It’s nothing personal, as the Corleone family made fashionable to suggest, it’s just business.
And, despite the wishful thinking we indulgently allow ourselves, it’s always been business.
Traditional country music, as a genre, is, in the clear light of profit and loss, a myth.
It is merely a deservedly respected yin to the yang of “contemporary” country music, both of which politely, albeit often begrudgingly, wait their respective turns in the wheel house.
In the 1980’s, the new traditionalism of Randy Travis came into fashion as the fades were playing out on the 1970’s “country-politanism” of Kenny Rogers, Lee Greenwood, et al.
Alan Jackson’s brand of “traditional country music”, beginning in 1989 has most certainly faded in the growing new millennium rush of Sugarland, Lady Antebellum, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, traceable, I would offer you, back to its own beginnings, the Mutt Lange pop coated, new and improved version of the singer Harold Shedd couldn’t get arrested, Shania Twain.
And, personally, I wouldn’t have any problem risking a c note or two that, sooner or later, just like sands through the hourglass, the “pop” sounds will give way to the next wave of more “traditional” sounds. (Although a good case could be made for the theory that with each cycle, both genre’s find their “purity” a little less so. At some point, it becomes difficult to taste either the peanut butter or the chocolate as separate flavors)
All of this, though, is determined less by the direction of the prevailing winds of artistry than it is the bullet points in the business plan designed to achieve projected revenues.
Has been for a long time.
Will be for a long time.
Unasked, my own, for the fun of it, guess is that Alan, obviously financially free to do, or not do, as he pleases, will implement a “Mattea”….he’ll make the kind of music he wants, when he wants, with whom he wants and release it on his own ,or an eager to have him indy, label.
As for his place in country music history, that’s already an obvious done deal.
New to the plot, though, is the connecting of the dots that only getting to this point in the story could provide.
For those of us who have labored in the factory at one time or another, the dream has always been that art would find a way to earn the legitimate, not just lip service, respect of the CFO’s.
That same those of us learn, sooner or later, that that ain’t never gonna happen.
Alas, in a perfect world…
Turns out, Alan has as much in common with Nostradamus as he does his country music peers.
Cranked out the perfect theme song.
Over twenty years ago.
“Here In The Real World”.