Oh to the elder spokesman of country music, Mr. Johnny Cash, who helped put country music on the map by jump-starting it into mainstream America (“Living and Dying in 3/4 Time,” 9/19). His presence will be missed by many. He will be remembered for his meaningful lyrics, which demonstrated the significance of what traditional country music was in the days of old vs. what it has become today.

Country music always had a story to tell the listener, while at the same time maintaining its artistic value and prominence in the music industry. The words from each song spoke for themselves, without the use of music videos that lean on displaced and misguided plots out of sync with the meaning of the song. In the earlier eras of country music, songs reflected themes: the somebody-done-somebody-wrong song, the past, changing times. Often, the music would spotlight and address everyday trials, tragedies, and triumphs, with an acoustic guitar strapped on and a cool drink in hand to quench the thirst of the brokenhearted.

In the early days of country music, it didn’t matter who you were, what you wore, or how plain or beat-down you looked, because it was the message in a song that attracted many to flock to the Grand Ole Opry and to purchase record after record from the shelves in music stores. The singer’s audience mostly comprised folks who worked hard, loved hard, and lived hard. Fashion portrayed the singer as a mature upstanding person with a mission.

Today, the attitudes of the music industry and the media have changed in terms of what they perceive the consumer wants and needs out of country music and its current array of youthful princesses and princes. The image of the polished and mature country singer has been drastically altered over the years. Many of the older singers are now overlooked because of the industry demand for a fresher, youthful singer with sex appeal. Thus, in overlooking real talent, the integrity of the music industry is compromised and a significant consumer market has been lost: the older audience, which controls a significant share of the purse strings.

Realistically speaking, not everyone is thrilled about overexposed youthful and sexy images in country-music videos and (potentially talented) one-hit wonders. But leave it to the music industry: It’s all about youth, skin, and sex appeal. It’s almost as if a country-music singer is only as good as long as he looks young and oozes sex appeal. Die-hard country-music listeners are concerned about whether the new youthful and sexy singers can really sing or are merely manufactured for show-and-tell television. A form of age discrimination? Only a lawyer would know for sure.

Southwest