Should we be surprised to learn country star John Rich will do whatever it takes to gain fame?

His act, Big & Rich, came busting out of the gates a couple years ago with a collection of songs whose videos walloped the now MTV-seasoned CMT viewer between the eyes, an album’s worth of singles that gained no traction at radio (the true gatekeeper in the country music business).

Not only were we introduced to an interesting new duo, but an entire shoot-em-up-outside-the-club-in-Vegas style posse, the so-called Muzik Mafia. It contained more country music ironies: the black country rapper, Cowboy Troy; the ‘redneck woman,’ a 2004 breakthrough artist currently fighting flash-in-the-pan status, Gretchen Wilson; and the dwarf, Two Foot Fred; not to mention a host of others who unfortunately have no immediate media hook.

After two successful albums, a couple memorable songs but not one bona fide hit single to their name, the Big & Rich boys knew some tinkering was in order. Retreating from the wild and crazy sound of songs like “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy,” they calculatedly opened their third album with the maudlin, cliché-riddled, radio-friendly “Lost In This Moment.” Ever the marketer, Rich knew this would do the trick.

And it did: “Lost In This Moment” not only went to #1, but it is nominated for both Single and Song of the Year at this year’s Country Music Association Awards in November. Without surprise, Rich (with partner Big Kenny) is also nominated for Duo of the Year.

It’s important to understand this history before we dive into the anti-gay event of late.

On Wednesday, Oct. 24, The Tennessean's celebrity writer Beverly Keel trotted out this bit of gossip:

“Beginning today, singer/songwriter John Rich is a regular on The Steve Gill Show on WLAC-AM. At 9:05 a.m., he’ll hold his inaugural “Talk the Vote” session, which will include political, music and current events talk and listener calls. John will appear every two weeks, or as his schedule allows.”

It was on that very same debut visit to the Gill show (audio clips) that Rich reportedly let slide these words regarding gay marriage:

“I think if you legalize that, you’ve got to legalize some other things that are pretty unsavory. You can call me a radical, but how can you tell an aunt that she can’t marry her nephew if they are really in love and sharing the bills? How can you tell them they can’t get married, but something else that’s unnatural can happen?”

Rich then apparently guffawed at the irony of his strongly held belief system: “I’m probably somewhat of a walking dichotomy, I guess. Some of my favorite singers were like that too, like Johnny Cash.”

While all the pickup trucks outside town may have revved a bit harder and louder at that statement, execs at the Steve Gill Show were probably salivating at the free press while Rich – who’s primary message that day was that we should all support Fred Thompson – was left to defend himself to the online masses. (More mass here.)

The very next day, gay blogger Perez Hilton posted the story, under a photo of Rich that he’d doctored to include the word “hater” in it. In the blog’s typical over-the-top bitchy and unsubstantiated lingo, Perez mixed the logical arguments with the petty snipes:

“Two gay men or women that want to make a commitment to each other and possibly start families is unsavory?” he said, followed immediately with this: “Stop with the self-hate, John. We’ve heard the rumors about you!”

I haven’t.

Perez concluded, “Shut your mouth, you queen!”

One day after that comes this carefully worded statement from Rich:

“My earlier comments on same-sex marriage don’t reflect my full views on the broader issues regarding tolerance and the treatment of gays and lesbians in our society. I apologize for that and wish to state clearly my views. I oppose same-sex marriage because my father and minister brought me up to believe that marriage is an institution for the union of a man and a woman. However, I also believe that intolerance, bigotry and hatred are wrong. People should be judged based on their merits, not on their sexual orientation. We are all children of God and should be valued and respected.”

Where’s all that swagger about Johnny Cash now? If memory serves, Johnny Cash was a very devout Christian who not once engaged in this era’s culture wars, the bait-and-switch emotion-drenched salesmanship that passes for political engagement these days.

This entire issue is reminiscent of the off-the-cuff macho talk conservative commentator Tucker Carlson engaged in during the early rounds of the Larry Craig imbroglio. Like Rich, he waxed-on rather heavily about how he and some friends took care of a toe-tapper he bumped into back in the day. A day or so later, he too was forced to strip himself of the bravado and, in a carefully worded statement that delicately parsed the issue, Carlson likewise waxed-off without all the chest-thumping.

These supposed media savvy professionals are leaving us all dumbfounded. Why would someone like John Rich even dare talk so controversially if he’ll be forced to immediately “clarify” his statements?

So what is it, John?

Should we listen to how you feel on the radio, or just wait and read about what you think a day later?

Photo courtesy of Red Bull

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Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville

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