It must be close to June, because the New York Times is jumping the gun on LGBT History month. Today, with absolutely none of the snark or sneering that accompanies some stories in the US or the Politics section, the front page at nytimes.com served this up:
This, as those of you who know me know, is WAY out of my musical genres, so I hope I can manage to do this justice. I'll concentrate on the gay part, and you can listen to the music.
A Songwriter Is Out and Riding High in Nashville
“When I stopped hiding who I am, I started writing hits,” said Shane McAnally, at his home in Nashville. He’s helped write seven country No. 1 songs in recent years.
By JODY ROSEN
Shane McAnally, who has helped write seven country No. 1 songs in recent years, found that his creativity flourished after he stopped hiding that he was gay.
So here's Mr. McAnally:
But in noteworthy ways, Mr. McAnally distinguishes himself from his peers. Over the last few years, he has emerged as a commercial force in Nashville, a songwriter with a unique melodic and lyrical touch, and an uncommon knack for hits. Since November 2010, he’s helped write seven No. 1 country singles, and numerous other fine songs, for some of the genre’s leading stars (Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum), legacy acts (Reba McEntire, Lee Ann Womack), and upstarts (Kacey Musgraves, the Band Perry). Sitting at dinner in a downtown Nashville restaurant the evening of the “We Wouldn’t Be Here,” session, Mr. McAnally received a text message informing him that “Mama’s Broken Heart,” the feisty Miranda Lambert single he helped write, had reached No. 1.Kenny Chesney. Lady Antebellum. Reba McEntire. Miranda Lambert. Mainstream, mainstream, mainstream.
What really sets Mr. McAnally apart, though, is his personal life. Mr. McAnally is gay. Country remains American music’s bastion of cultural conservatism, with a fan base that sits well to the right of the wider pop audience, and songs that strenuously uphold traditional white working-class images of masculinity. Mr. McAnally presents a paradox: a Nashville powerhouse who is also an out gay man — a songwriter who cooks up chart-topping country songs at the home he shares with his husband and their 5-month-old twins. For Mr. McAnally, the two facts are not unrelated.
You see, this is one of those stories that isn't supposed to have the middle part it does. Mr McAnally was born on one of those tiny Texas towns and grew up living and breathing country music. He dropped out of UT Austin to move to Nashville where he hoped to become a country singer. He had a good manager and one of his songs got into the top 40, but there was that closeted thing, so he headed west, to West Hollywood. Wrote, performed, bartended. In 2007 he went back to Nashville to become a songwriter, and within a week Lee Ann Womack recoded a song he co-wrote, Last Call:
Damn. I LIKED that. Went to #3 on the country charts.
This one was a #1 hit for Kenny Chesney:
Hm. These songs are pretty much gender-neutral. So THIS is how it works.
And this was a #1 hit for Jake Owen. This doesn't start out gender-neutral, but . . .:
The Times writer, Jody Owens, wondered if a hetero writer would have written the refrain. And here's the singer talking about the song.
Mr. Owen said: “That song really showed a different kind of vulnerability — a man singing about how he wanted more than just a one-night stand. Shane’s helped change a lot of people’s careers with these songs that take things to a different place.”And that's what it is. One more quote from the story
Nashville has been carrying on a sotto voce conversation about homosexuality for years, but in recent years the talk has gotten louder. In 2010, the singer Chely Wright announced that she is lesbian. The country stars Carrie Underwood and Toby Keith have both endorsed gay marriage.“Look, Nashville is a boys’ club of redneck conservative ideas,” Mr. McAnally said. “But they’re ready to embrace gay people. I never felt for one second that someone was judging me. Some people are like, “Oh, I love gay people’ in that ‘I have lots of black friends’ kind of way. It’s awkward, but you have to appreciate that they’re trying.”Can we really expect more than that people try? In Nashville?
But really, these songs that take things to a different place appear to be songs that people LIKE. And it's subversive -- unless you know something about the songwriter all you're going to do is listen to the words, and if they reach you and make you think they're telling your story, it doesn't really matter. Well, okay, it matters to US, but none of the singers appeared to be concerned at all that a gay man was writing these songs for them.
So I'll leave you with Miranda Lambert singing the #1 song Mr. McAnally wrote for her:
The language! Okay, maybe it's not Noel Coward, but for country . . .