Last week the pop country world was rocked when the duo Brooks and Dunn announced they were breaking up. Though the duo has never had any particular reason to be in my crosshairs, information that came out in the various stories about the breakup painted a clear picture of the overly commercial approach that the Nashville oligarchy and some pop country artists take toward the music.
Though there is no concrete evidence that Brooks and Dunn dislike each other, it is common knowledge that the duo rarely speak or interact with each other off stage, and that they ride in separate tour buses. Apparently they do have a ritual of taking a shot of whiskey together before very show, but it is hard to understand how two people who virtually never interact could enjoy a creative, let alone productive environment to create music that feels real or has any amount of soul. It is all about keeping the “franchise” together, a word that Dunn used himself recently when talking about a new contract the duo singed:
“In the contract we are signing now…we are allowed to release solo projects, That doesn’t mean the franchise is in danger.
How can any soul or heart come out of a music project in which the artists involved look at it as a “franchise” instead of a “group” or “duo.” Using the word “franchise” denotes that the name of the group has a life of its own, and that the name is the most important thing, not the music, because of the commercial interests tied to it. The name “Brooks and Dunn” is a brand name, no different than McDonald’s or Coca-Cola.
Another telling tale was that Brooks has said publicly that he wants to be “relaxing on a Caribbean island” by age 60. This has always perplexed me: country artists “retiring.” Possibly the biggest name to retire was Garth Brooks. It makes you wonder if these artist’s hearts are in the game, when really all it seems that they are working for is the day they never have to play music again. And then you see people like Ray Price, Willie Nelson, and David Allan Coe performing way beyond retirement years, and people like Johnny Cash recording songs literally in the final weeks of his life. If music is your passion, you would never want to stop playing and performing.
This also makes me think of Jessica Simpson’s failed music career, and maybe one of the underlying reasons that Brooks and Dunn are breaking up: because if they cannot sell out football stadiums, what is the point? Most REAL country artists play country music because it is their passion, period, money interests be damned. Sometimes they might not even enjoy it, or enjoy the trappings of being a performer. But the music is their reason for living. You may not need this kind of dedication from every artists, but when it seems the only dedication is to keeping a “franchise” alive, it is hard to feel or hear the genuineness in the performances.
Someone can still sell out stadiums and still be real, but only if the true heart is there to begin with. The criticism of Nasville pop country is that it is manufactured, that it is a “product” not “music”, and “franchises” not “names” or “bands”.
I really have no venom to spew Brooks and Dunn’s way. I guess “Neon Moon” is a decent song. And I can’t see the point of spreading rumors about why this duo met their demise (though I heard Brooks said he could replace Dunn simply by getting lighter highlights in his hair, and stuffing another sock down his pants.) But their breakup reveals a lot of the flaws, and the basis for a lot of the criticisms for corporate Nashville music. In other words, this isn’t just a difference in sheer taste, as some would like to think.