Three Chords and the Truth: Hope, Heartbreak, and Changing Fortunes in Nashville

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9780060175054: Three Chords and the Truth: Hope, Heartbreak, and Changing Fortunes in Nashville

Every June, in gratitude to their devoted fans, the stars of country music appear at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds to sign autographs for hours and perform during the week called Fan Fair. Though the 1996 Fan Fair was a phenomenal success, for Nashville itself it was also a time of doubt, uncertainty and dramatic change. The week was like a country song: intense, emotional, filled with joy and disappointment, passion and dismay, laughter and tears.

Fan Fair is the setting for this extraordinary inside look at country music. Laurence Leamer had unprecedented access to the stars, managers, songwriters and record company execs of Nashville. Here is the troubled inner life of Garth Brooks, the greatest-selling solo artist of all time. Vince Gill takes a song out of an old leather bag and records a No.1 hit. Reba McEntire angers her fans so much that they tear up her photos, Patty Loveless sings her heart out while her beloved older sister lies dying in a nearby hospital and superstar Shania Twain talks with handicapped Fan Fair goers. Here is Mary Chapin Carpenter singing at the White House instead of Fan Fair. Here are Alan Jackson and Brooks and Dunn at the height of their success juxtaposed against the struggles of Emmylou Harris. The younger stars are portrayed as well: LeAnn Rimes, Mindy McCready, James Bonamy, and BR5-49, all in vivid, novelesque detail. Unknowns, once-knowns, label reps, producers, songwriters and managers are all part of this rich mosaic of Nashville life as it plays out for one incredible week.

To millions of country fans, Three Chords and the Truth will be a book of revelations. Those who have rarely listened to country music will learn why it is the most-listened-to music in the nation, played on more than 2,400 radio stations. And everyone who reads it will never again hear a country song quite the same way.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

An exhaustive journey into the heart and cash-glutted soul of today's country-music scene that overturns many long-held perceptions about the field--and its fans. As a symbol of the current state of country music, Leamer (The Kennedy Women, 1994, etc.) could hardly do better than the annual Nashville Fan Fair. Originated as a vehicle for fans to chat with their favorite performers and get an autograph or even a picture, the Fan Fair had, by 1996, become yet another example of marketing excess. The curious thing about this turn of events is that country music, so often derided by city slickers as tacky, has, Leamer argues, been made more so by such ``big-city'' companies as Sony Music, BMG, and Frito-Lay, which have rushed in to exploit one of the most lucrative entertainment markets. Leamer interviews fans and musicians, and offers in-depth profiles of stars such as the diva Reba McEntire, whose growing distance from her fans symbolizes country-music aficionados' worst fears; Garth Brooks, a success- obsessed superstar anxious to press the flesh with the record buyers who have made him the biggest-selling male solo artist of all time; and Shania Twain, who emerged from crippling poverty in the woods of northern Ontario and who, despite overwhelming hype, clearly does have a distinctive talent. The old ``covenant'' between country performers and their fans, which Leamer describes as requiring one to be ``as truthful to the past as to the present,'' is being swept aside and the identity of the music diluted by an industry on the prowl for young warblers who look good in jeans and a Stetson; questions about the music and its value place a distinct (and distant) second. As Joe Galante, head of a major label's Nashville office, laments, ``We're strip mining this business,'' attempting to inflate fragile talents into superstars. A disturbing, solid outing whose lessons will interest fans of all styles of pop music. -- Copyright 1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Booklist:

"The dramatic rise of country music has been one of the greatest changes in American popular culture," Leamer opines. He goes on, however, to lament that the music is languishing. In fact, album sales have dipped, which is but one particular concern he addresses in a book built around Fan Fair, an annual Nashville event during which fans meet current stars. This relatively intimate gathering has become a mainstay of the country ethos, but the Country Music Association, "trying to sell a new upscale country music to advertisers," is, Leamer suspects, planning to move the wingding "downtown to the sleek new arena" and render its present "folksy intimacy" only a memory. The conflict between contact with the fans and mass marketing remains a theme as Leamer also details some of the stars' woes. For example, Garth Brooks had a major falling out with his record company; Leamer paints Brooks as disaffected--conscious of his fame and his hold on his audience yet unsure what to do with either. Other artists share Brooks' uncertainties, and in telling their stories, Leamer creates portraits of the real people behind the publicity packets. The business side of country seems to be threatening to make the music irrelevant. Should this happen, Leamer's book will be a snapshot of country before it was finally adulterated into just another safe corporate product. Mike Tribby

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