I made my career and my fortune as a manager of country music stars in Nashville.
I was blessed to find a career in Country Music. I did not start out as a country music fan. I had intended to go to New York or Los Angeles, but fate led me to Nashville. And I am glad it did. Instead of ending up in the elite and aloof hyper-competitive worlds of the entertainment business in New York and Los Angeles, I ended up in the community of Country, and I acquired a taste for the wonderful traditions of this uniquely American musical form.
One of the unique things about Country Music is that it appeals to folks of all ages, from all economic circumstances, and from all political persuasions. When your business success is dependent on marketing to everybody, you learn to develop an eye and an ear, and an ability to tune into the cares and concerns of “the people.” My career gave me a feel for America and its people, and that is a beautiful thing. But I fear we are at risk of losing a beautiful thing.
In Country Music, you learn to respect all people no matter their position in life. That’s just part and parcel of country culture: good ole southern politeness and hospitality. And then there’s self-interest. The first time I shook hands with Garth Brooks, he was selling boots at a boot store in Brentwood, Tennessee. In Nashville, you never know if your waiter, or a day laborer, or someone sleeping in their car might be the next superstar. You learn to respect everyone, which happens to be a good lesson to learn in life anyway.
Since my business was dependent on the country music fan being able to go out to a concert with a date or family, or purchase our music, you always think about pricing and affordability. It was other people’s hard-earned money that ultimately flowed into my pocket via a concert ticket, or an album or t-shirt purchase. But ironically, my career in Nashville started out at the dawn of the age of financialization, and trickle-down economics, and globalization. This was in the ‘80s. I saw the political class in both parties take their eye off the people that elected them, and focus entirely on Wall Street and whatever made the corporate board room happy. I am a geek for financial information, and I read a lot of it. During this era, I watched as worker productivity increased, worker wages remained flat (or declined), and cost of living crept upward. The financial class was taking all the new wealth from the working people of America.
These were my people that this was happening to. And like cancer, it happened slow. At first, no one really paid attention. But I saw it, and I heard it, and it made me nervous. How can the great nation of America survive without a strong middle class? How can my business survive without strong consumers?
You could hear it in the music. One of my favorite, if more obscure songs by Country Music star Toby Keith is called “Tired.” It is a beautiful piece of Country Music poetry about the struggles of working Americans:
My name is Jackson,
I was named after my father Followed in his footsteps, down here to this factory
I ain’t complainin’, wouldn’t waste my breath to bother This work ain’t hard,
it’s only borin’ as can be.
back in seventy-seven
I still love her
and I guess she loves me too We go to church on Sundays ’cause we want to go to heaven Me and my family,
ain’t that how you’re supposed to do
But I’m tired, Lord I’m tired
Life is wearin’ me smooth down to the bone No rest for the weary, ya just move on Tired, Lord I’m tired
I’ve only missed six days
in nigh on twenty years o’ work
The money went to taxes
and these bills I’ve paid on time
The raise I got two months ago
don’t meet the cost o’ living
Selling my body for these nickels and these dimes
The smell of Becky’s coffee rolled me out of bed this morning I showered and shaved and dressed and pulled my work boots on Walked in the kitchen,
she was starin’ out the window
The way she said good morning made me ask is something wrong
She said I’m tired, woke up tired
Life is wearin’ me smooth down to the bone No rest for the weary, ya just move on
I guess you just keep goin’ till your gone Tired, Lord I’m tired
Tired, Lord I’m tired
Before I became a manager, I had my own aspirations to become a songwriter. I went to Nashville and had a pitch meeting with a publisher. After playing several songs, I asked him what he thought, and he told me he didn’t hear a hit. I asked him what a hit was and he said, “A hit song is a song about whatever keeps people awake at night.” I never forgot that.
I used that line many years later. A friend of mine (I’ll call him Tom) ran a large division of a major multi-national entertainment company in Nashville. He had worked his way up from sweeping the floor in recording studios. He was from a small town in rural Tennessee, of strong faith, and conservative in political outlook. He was what people would call a Southern Christian Conservative. He is a good man.
My mother’s lessons in polite conversation never took in me, and I love to talk politics with anyone and everyone. During the 2008 Presidential election, I was chatting with Tom and I asked him what issues were important to him.
ME: Tom, what issues are important to you this election?
TOM: (Thinking for a second) Family values.
ME: You mean gay marriage?
TOM: Yes, I think the family is an institution we should protect.
ME: Tom, do you lay awake in bed at night and worry about that?
TOM: (Big laugh) No!
ME: What do you lay awake in bed at night and worry about?
TOM: I worry about these big giant corporations marketing to my kids, and shipping jobs overseas, and squeezing profits out of everyone, and shutting plants down, and running our politics…
And Tom kept going on for a few minutes. He saw firsthand what the “new economy” was doing to his small hometown, and the economic stress it was putting on people. That is what kept him awake at night. It was what kept me awake at night too.
Now, there is nothing like a homegrown Tennessee tomato. One of my greatest delights is going out to my garden and picking tomatoes at their prime ripeness. A homegrown tomato is in-color, a store bought tomato is black and white. If you’re a gardener or a farmer you know your main mission is to produce a good crop. But in order to do that, you first need good soil. You have to care for your soil. You have to replenish it. If you don’t, each year, the crop will diminish, until you can’t produce anything. The American economy is no different. If we want to produce bountiful fruit, we have to replenish the soil. In an economy, the soil is replenished through good wages and good education. If all the productive people in America are tired like Jackson in Toby Keith’s song, the entire economy will suffer. Business will suffer. As a wealthy, successful businessman, I will suffer.
That is why I support the Patriotic Millionaires.