Music News

Hunky Tonk

A few years ago, many people were shocked when Judas Priest lead singer Rob Halford came out of the closet. They shouldn't have been -- after all, Halford had long been roaring onto the stage on a motorcycle looking like the biker in the Village People. But then, you couldn't blame people for being surprised -- in the world of heavy metal, the fact that Halford was openly flaunting a gay stereotype flew right under the radar. Hell, some people were even surprised to learn that Freddie Mercury was gay, despite his image and the fact that his band was named Queen.

This article's not about rock or metal, though. It's about another macho genre -- namely, country music. Neither is it an article about outing people. We don't know if any of the people featured here are gay, nor are we making any allegations about their sexual preference. We're just examining images here, and lately it seems as if many of today's top country artists have been spending some quality time with the Fab Five from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

Let's start with Pat Green. A few years ago, when he was a champion of the Texas Music (Bowel) Movement, he looked quite the man's man, and not in that way, if you catch our drift. He was the kind of guy who would chug-a-lug a can of Pearl, belch, and crush the empty against his head -- the kind of guy who would unrepentantly walk around with a five-alarm chili stain on his T-shirt. Then Pat signed with Republic, a New York-based subsidiary of Universal. Gone is the taco'd hat and the flannel shirt, replaced by a mop of feathery, highlighted hair, pukka shells, and the sort of shades sported by the top hairdresser to the ladies who lunch at the Breakers. He may not be gay, but he sure as hell is pushing the metrosexual envelope.

Moving along, we come to Tim McGraw, who rolls into West Palm Beach on his "Out Loud" tour. Circa 1993, McGraw's image was kind of an aw-shucks wallflower at the hat-act dance. He looked pensive, insecure, like he was thinking, "One day, I'll be as cool as that doggone Garth Brooks. Dadgummit, I'll show 'em. He sure as shootin' won't kick sand in my face again." Fast-forward a decade. McGraw enrolls in a Charles Atlas program or something like that, and presto! To take Keith Jackson about as far out of context as he's ever been taken -- whoa, Nelly! You can leave your hat on, Tim. Suddenly he's buff and looks like the top dancer at La Bare. This is a guy whose wall calendars move lots of units across the sexual preference spectrum. "Who doesn't like Tim McGraw?" enthused one calendar buyer. "He is a handsome hunk to look at 12 months of the year. -- A gay fan." (Another disclaimer -- just because he has gay fans doesn't mean he's gay, so don't trip.)

Next we have the strange case of Kenny Chesney. Capricorn gave him his major-label break in 1994 and tried to package him as a Dwight Yoakam clone. After switching labels to BNA a year later, he was briefly peddled as a Garth-like hat act, before he entered the Ralph Lauren-at-Davie Junction phase. Like McGraw, Chesney seems to have spent some quality time at the YMCA, and thus we now have the oiled-up, muscle-T version of Chesney -- which always puts us in mind of that infamous Electric Six song ("I've got something to put in you -- at the gay bar, gay bar!"). And then there's the fact that on Sharp Dressed Men, the 2002 country tribute to ZZ Top, of all the songs in the trio's body of work, Chesney chose to sing "Tush." Lord, take him downtown indeed.

As for good ol' boy George Strait, he hasn't changed much over the years, and he's as "Strait" as they come. And just in case you might be entertaining thoughts to the contrary, he's not just Strait, but "Strait George Strait," as one of his patriotic posters states. If you got a problem with that, you can take it up with his giant screaming pet eagle.

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax