Shut Up and Listen

If you're one of those people who earnestly believe that homosexuality is a sin, runs contrary to all that is holy, and are convinced that the fall of the American Empire will ultimately be laid at the feet of Adam Lambert, please stop reading this blog now. Instead, may I direct you to the Book of Matthew, Chapter 7, verses 1 - 5.

OK, now that we've cleared the room of the intolerant, let's talk about Chely Wright.

While today she is largely unknown outside of Nashville and long-time radio vets, Chely was once quite an up-and-comer. She was named the CMA Best New Female Artist of 1994, and following that had a few hits on the country charts, including the #1 "Single White Female". Talented and telegenic (the latter being the most important trait of modern-day country stars) the reasons why Chely didn't make it bigger after her initial splash could have been some of the same reasons why many brilliant performers don't have success the size of their dreams: lack of airplay by a male-dominated country radio industry with a quota on female singers, lack of label support, poor single choices or simply just bad luck. It's the same story for thousands of Nashville hopefuls; for every Garth and Taylor, there are a thousand singers with an equal amount of talent who will end up selling cars and waiting tables for the rest of their lives.

Do I think that Chely timed her confession to coincide with the release of a new album and autobiography as a last-ditch effort to get her music heard? Yes, I do. I also think that sadly, her revelation about her sexuality probably won't do much for her career beyond making her a punch line on country music morning shows. She may get a little airplay here and there, but by and large, country radio programmers are a conservative lot, and they're not going to take chances offending a large part of their audience by playing her music. As I write that, however, I hope I'm wrong.

Because here's the bottom line: Chely writes great songs and has a beautiful voice. For that reason alone, her music should be heard. I spent a few minutes today digging up some of her videos, and I was reminded just how terrific her music was; hell, she was sobbing into a camera long before Jennifer Nettles did it. The haunting passion of "It Was", the bouncy relateability of "Single White Female" and plucky fury of "Jezebel" stand up over time because the pain of heartbreak and the search for love are not just exclusive to heterosexuals. Everyone feels them, and it's one of the things that make country music so very special. It would be a shame if we judged Chely's music by any other standard.

Michele Coppola is a Portland-based writer and former radio personality whose most recent work has been published in the feminist journals So To Speak and Perceptions. Find her blog at www.coppolawords.com

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