I used to work at Warner Bros Records but I had already left by the time our Nashville division had released its first album with Big Kenny (Alphin) and John Rich (pka, Big & Rich). When I first heard Warners had a hit artist called Big & Rich I thought they had finally broken into the rap business. They hadn't.
A kind of a good-time schlocky, commercial-country outfit they've been raking in enough dough with multi-platinum records that please people who love the glitz that they drive around in Bentleys and live a fast, somewhat sordid celebrity lifestyle. But John Rich is also an outspoken conservative. He isn't the only one in Nashville who is, of course, and he has every right to speak his mind and endorse Frederick of Hollywood or whomever else he thinks will best personify a third term for George W. Bush among the bunch of pathetic pygmies™ running for the useless GOP presidential nomination.
Perhaps Big & Rich fans and Fred Thompson supporters care but non one else could. Thursday, however, I started getting barraged with e-mails from distraught employees of Warner Bros all complaining about Big & Rich being homophobic. It stems from half the duo, John Rich, going on a gay-bashing, Rick Santorum-like jag on Steve Gill's radio show in Nashville, where he's a regular commentator. After a tequila-fueled search for the most backward of the candidates Rich found his man, and has endorsed Thompson. And in a slap at the cousin-marrying Rudy Giuliani and at gay-Americans, he spouted off about gay marriage on Wednesday:
"I think if you legalize that, you've got to legalize some other things that are pretty unsavory. You can call me a radical, but how can you tell an aunt that she can't marry her nephew if they are really in love and sharing the bills? How can you tell them they can't get married, but something else that's unnatural can happen?"
I suppose far more "natural" would be Rich's own lifestyle as an embarrassing philanderer. He may be hysterical and obsessive about his irrational zombie-like hatred for Hillary Clinton but reports from the road are that when he's got enough substances in him there isn't a woman breathing he doesn't try to jump on.
Gay employees and straight non-bigots at Warner Bros, and that pretty much accounts for almost everyone who works there, are pretty disappointed, to put it mildly... and I'm not the only one getting complaints. One person who has worked on the Big & Rich projects wrote, "I tend to support all of our artists unconditionally even when some of their politics don't necessarily coincide with mine. I have been made aware of comments made by Big and Rich and I must say this is a real blatant slap in the face and it's somewhat scary to think that I'm helping to make artists' voices such as theirs heard out in the world. I feel deeply torn by comments that they've made recently and can't help but feel really uncomfortable having to see or hear them played in this amazingly diverse environment of Warner Brothers Records that to me has always spoken on behalf of the eccentric and artistic."
Another WB employee, an out front gay men, is torn between his disapproval of censorship and his disapproval of bigotry. He feels it's the company's duty-- their moral responsibility-- to take a public stand against this denigration of a class of people. "Rich's comments are not a political position, they are words of hatred that denounce an entire community and are taken as a personal attack on many of our families. CBS did not tolerate Imus's racist remarks against Blacks nor should we with Rich's remarks about gay families."
I spoke with one of Tennessee's most influential and respected radio programmers. He was still dismayed today and he said most everyone he knows in the music business is as well. This is what he told me:
"Much of the Nashville music scene is ashamed of John. We have felt betrayed because many of us had embraced him and his mantra of love everybody. John has made a career on the backs of many people, and a lot of them are gay. More than anything, his hateful comments have hurt them and they feel especially betrayed. John is entitled to his opinion. However, comparing gay marriage to incest was unforgivable. I have urged those who feel as I do to stop buying his records and songs that he writes."
That sounds like a very sensible suggestion. Nice artwork for this over at my own blog, DownWithTyranny.
UPDATE: WARNER BROS MAKES JOHN RICH SAY HE'S SORRY
Whatever the motivation, he apologized