PHIL SWEETLAND sent the latest copy of his e-zine "Country Insider" today and he makes a thought-provoking point: What exactly were WILLIE NELSON and LOST HIGHWAY RECORDS thinking by putting a marijuana leaf on the cover of Willie’s new Reggae album, Countryman? That’s the album cover one sees at Tower on West End, but not at the family-oriented Wal-Mart: As the Associated Press reports, “Universal Music Group Nashville is substituting palm trees for the marijuana leaves on CDs sold at the retail chain Wal-Mart, a huge outlet for Country music that’s also sensitive about lyrics and packaging.”
All of us in Music and Radio who have lost friends to drug abuse and alcoholism should question why Nelson and his record company feel it’s necessary to emulate Cheech&Chong’s outdated humor by putting an illegal drug on the cover of his album in 2005, four years after 9/11. How many parents will be outraged when they see that album cover in their teen-age son’s or daughter’s backpack? Cheech&Chong aren’t exactly hip anymore, and Tommy Chong was recently busted for selling bongs over the Internet, an incident Variety perfectly captured with the headline WRONG BONG FOR CHONG. But Willie, a true American genius and one of Country’s greatest songwriters and artists ever, seems stuck to be stuck in a Seventies lifestyle in this respect. Too many people grin and wink about Willie’s tour bus, but Nelson should know better. He’s a hero to countless young musicians and fans (including this fan), and he should have cleaned up his Dope act long ago.
Do you really think the Metro Police, and especially Tennessee law enforcement in the rural areas where Meth labs are exploding every week and ruining countless lives, believe that Willie’s album cover is all that funny? I don’t see many cops grinning and winking about it.
Both Lost Highway and Nelson blew it on this one big-time, but they’re hardly alone among Record companies and artists on this score. Drugs, including dope, are serious business. They’re also illegal. How many sessions or gigs have we all been at when the artist or his band were virtually worthless because they’re high? How many idiots drive the streets of Nashville drunk or stoned? How many record companies or concert promoters have lost thousands of dollars, due to artists who became unreliable buffoons because of drugs or alcohol? How many friends in Music and Radio have we seen fall prey to drugs or booze when their careers struggle? How many friends have died too early? The Record and Radio businesses have never been as competitive as they are today. Artists with poor work habits and unreliable track records lose their deals. Willie Nelson, one of the most beloved musical figures in the entire world, has always had superior work habits and a fabulous track record. But we hope for his next album cover, he and his label think a little harder.
Sweetland has written 68 stories on music and Radio for The New York Times, including four in the last two weeks, and is a contributing editor at American Songwriter magazine. To receive 52 issues of the Country Insider E-newsletter, send $26 payable to: PHIL SWEETLAND, PO Box 291346, Nashville TN 37229-1346. For 104 issues, send $45 to the same address.
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