I recently watched the Academy of Country Music (ACM) awards show and found it less than interesting. This is not surprising since even my wife and kids tell me that the brand of country music I like is long gone. The likes of Conway Twitty, Merle Haggard and Vern Gosdin are a thing of the past.
Still, the 2012 ACM show featured some notable aspects for a dinosaur like me. For example, I was happy to see a tribute to the late, great Earl Scruggs. Scruggs was a pioneer in establishing Bluegrass music and co-wrote the theme song to The Beverly Hillbillies. (He passed away March 28 at the age of 88).
But overall, I found the jokes passed by Reba McIntyre and Blake Sheldon to be stale and the songs less than memorable. Does anybody REALLY care if Taylor Swift had a date with Tim Tebow? However, one of the moments I found especially interesting was when Toby Keith (TK) took the stage.
Don’t get me wrong … I am not a HUGE TK fan, but the man has certainly had his moments. He’s been in the midst of the lead story in the world of country music for nearly 20 years.
In the aftermath of 9/11, his anthem, The Angry American, raised the ire of stodgy Peter Jennings, who refused to allow TK appear on ABC’s World News Tonight because of it. “I find it interesting that he’s not from the U.S.,” TK said at the time in 2002 (Jennings is Canadian).
In 2003, following Natalie Maines’ (lead singer of The Dixie Chicks) public confession while in London that she was “ashamed” that Bush was her President (I was in London at the time … the reaction was furious!), TK took offense. Maines shot back that The Angry American was an “ignorant” song and it made “country music sound ignorant.” The war was on, and I’m not talking about Iraq … at least not yet! From the stage of the 2003 ACM show, Maines took the stage wearing a shirt with the letters, “FUTK.” You can figure out what that meant!
But TK will always have a special place in my heart thanks to a hot summer day in Baghdad in 2004. That’s the day he and 70s rocker Ted Nugent showed up at Camp Victory to play and perform for the military members there fully engaged in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF). One of those many soldiers was me.
I’ve written about my experiences in Iraq in my 2011 biography, Crossing the Line. Those of you who read it know that OIF was the worst experience of my life and it had NOTHING to do with being in a combat zone, the stifling heat, lack of sleep or being separated from my family. As Forrest Gump might say, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
But seeing TK and Nugent mix and mingle with those soldiers and sing from the heart really touched me that day. There were no television cameras or publicity … just these guys with their guitars and about 1,000 grateful military men and women.
The 45-minute concert was amazing (they went from Baghdad to other areas to do follow-on concerts at desert locations). TK changed many of his songs’ lyrics to suit the audience … it was definitely NOT PC and cannot be repeated here, but he drew roars of approval over and over from appreciative soldiers!
And Nugent? I recall being a freshman in college in 1977 and laughing at the silliness of Cat Scratch Fever! (And no, I did NOT understand what the lyrics meant at the time)! Who knew then that he would become such an outspoken supporter of the 2nd Amendment and staunch fan of the US military? On his webpage soon after his return from Iraq in 2004, he wrote a letter of thanks to his “American Blood Brothers of the US Military,” including one of the most awesome prayers I have EVER heard:
“May God be with you and may the devil be crushed underfoot as you march for peace on the skulls of our enemies!”
Now THAT’S a man after my own heart!
There were not many days that brought a smile to my face in 2004 during my tenure in Iraq. But the day TK and “the Nuge” came to town was easily my favorite.
Since then, Peter Jennings, Saddam Hussein and the Dixie Chicks have gone the way of the dinosaur themselves. But as of April 2012, TK is still going strong based on his Red Solo Cup hit and rousing appearance on the ACM show. Go get’em, TK! And thanks for being there!
Angry American? For sure! Now where did I leave my cowboy boots?