Country Music Broke My Brain, Gerry House. (BenBella Books, 2014)
Gerry House spent many years inside the country-music establishment in Nashville, both as a songwriter of hits for big stars and as a popular radio deejay whose show frequently hosted many of those same big stars. In other words, he is perfectly situated to know all the juiciest gossip and behind-the-scenes details of what often seems more like a small town than a multi-billion dollar industry.
When I picked this book up, I was hoping for an updated version of Three Chords and the Truth: Hope, Heartbreak and Changing Fortunes in Nashville, written by Laurence Leamer and published in 1997. That one is a good honest look at how the musical sausage gets made in Music City. It isn’t salacious or scandalous but Leamer doesn’t pull his punches when sketching the personalities and interactions of those who are hoping to make it big, have already made it big, or get to decide which of the former get to be the latter.
Alas, House is probably a little too closely associated with the movers and shakers in today’s country music scene to write the kind of book that truly breaks new ground. Never mind not dishing the dirt; House barely has anything even slightly critical to say about anyone who is still alive. A couple of mildly scandalous stories are told as anonymous fables, and it wasn’t even worth the time to try to figure out who they might be referring to. And throughout the short chapters, House’s ba—da-bump rimshot one-liner jokey style wears thin much more quickly in print than it does on the radio.
I was also annoyed that House takes a swipe at the Americana genre (or, as I like to call it, country music that’s too good to get played on the radio) by referring to artists in that genre as people who aren’t good enough to get a record deal; in addition to being surprisingly mean-spirited for a guy in whose mouth butter seemingly wouldn’t melt, he’s just flat-out wrong. Those little digs made me think that House is well aware of the artistic deficiencies in today’s brand of radio-friendly country music but you’ll never get him to admit it, apparently. At least not while he’s still hoping to get some of his cuts onto albums that get played in heavy rotation. Maybe once he’s well and truly retired he’ll come back and write another book that’s more interesting and more readable than this frothy mash note. More likely, we’ll have to wait for another outsider like Leamer to come along and shine a flashlight into the pit.