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Controversy rears its ugly head

Country Musings by Robert Loy, November 2002

Oh boy, another controversy. There's nothing I like better than a good old-fashioned fracas, though I really can't say why. Even before he was charged with assault and horse-rustling, Tim McGraw was no stranger to controversy. His very first hit "Indian Outlaw" angered Native Americans, who thought rhymes like "Maw-Maw" and "Paw-Paw" were pretty childish, and that buffalo briefs were a ridiculously itchy undergarment. (No, wait a minute. That's why the song angered me. I don't know what the Native Americans were upset about. Maybe they thought the line about beating the tomtom in the wigwam gave away too much information about their private lives.)

But all that was mild compared to the brouhaha over his new single "Red Rag Top." This song tells a sensitive coming-of-age story of a pair of young lovers and what went wrong with their relationship. So what's the problem? Well, it says they "decided not to have a child," and they decided this after they discover the distaff half of the twosome is pregnant.

That's right. The A word. Abortion. But understand that this song does not glorify abortion in any way. The man is looking back over his life and he notes "you do what you do and you pay for your sins/And there's no such thing as what might have been."

That seems to me to be a healthy way to deal with your past and mistakes you made and opportunities you missed. But several radio stations, including WSM-FM in Nashville and WCOS in Columbia, S.C., yanked the song from the air after callers complained. (WSM has subsequently put it back into rotation.) Other stations around the country are monitoring its reaction and will pull it if they get too many complaints.

My favorite reaction is from Coyote Calhoun, program director at WAMZ-FM in Louisville, who says, "My only hope is the song peaks before anybody really pays any attention to it, so I can get rid of it forever ." (Emphasis mine.)

Can't you just "hear" the anger and the fear that man feels - about a song! I guess that's why I love controversy. In an age when country music seems so bland and impotent, it's reassuring to see that it can occasionally still get everybody's knickers in a knot.