Bruce Feiler,

Bruce Feiler,

A weeklong electronic journal.
June 17 1998 3:30 AM

Bruce Feiler,

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Monday; noon ET; New York
       I missed my plane.
       Hair was a factor. I got to the airport on time and stopped to read about Michael Jordan (shot from the top, bald, in Time, he seems disfigured; but those pictures of him with hair are odder) and, by the time I made it to my gate, I was late. Seems American had moved the time up 15 minutes. Without ranting about the bad service (I was rebooked to Miami of all places, 1,000 miles away), the gesture seemed somehow fitting.
       In the early '90s, Nashville was the hottest city on the planet for a moment (think back: that was sometime between Seattle and Prague). Country sales were skyrocketing. Columbia/HCA was scarfing up hospitals. Even Bibles (Nashville's biggest industry) were jumping off shelves. American responded by making Music City a hub. The gesture was greeted with such hyperbole ("See, Memphis, we're an International City. We can fly direct to Birmingham, England!") that the city built American a new three-winged airport.
       Predictably, though, the center of the planet moved on just as the airport was opening. Country sales plateaued. Columbia/HCA was savaged by the gov'ment (warning Microsoft: conglomerate busting can work). Even the Baptists were hit hard. American rolled up its hub just as quickly as it had rolled it out. And by June 1998, if one misses the first nonstop from New York to Nashville in the morning, one has no choice but to wait till that evening to fly nonstop again.
       Or one can fly through Miami.

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6 p.m. CT; Nashville
       I arrive to more talk of hair. My friend the laid-off executive picks me up and is full of gossip. One crackpot executive, so incensed by a recent cover story about him in a local weekly, has threatened to hire private investigators to find out which of his employees was leaking (as Ken Starr goes, so goes America). Another executive is abandoning his $3 million house for a bigger one across town. And Deana Carter, a starlet with Brigitte Bardot hair and a Raquel Welch body, has fired her hairdresser for negligence. Seems the hairdresser was two-timing Deana by working on Colin Raye, which surprises me, since Raye has thinning hair at best.
       By 7 I've talked myself into the TNN/Music City News Awards, a mostly frivolous fan-voted contest, where at last I stumble onto a major story: Billy Ray Cyrus has had a haircut. Billy Ray, famed for his one-hit wonder, "Achy Breaky Heart," the "Macarena" of Modern Country, has finally relented to years of public outcry and sliced off his trademark ponytail. "I just got a call from the label one day," his hairdresser told me, after accepting congratulations from everyone in the pressroom, where Billy Ray had just SWEPT the awards show even though he hasn't put out an album in three years (the result, he all but acknowledged, of ballot stuffing by his fans). "His bangs haven't quite grown out enough. But we're getting there."
       As it happens, Billy Ray is so serious about his new look that he's also abandoned his ripped muscle shirts and high tops for a tight leather jacket and biker boots. Note to Hugo Boss, et al.: S&M is coming to Middle America.

Bruce Feiler has authored four books, including Learning to Bow and Under the Big Top. His most recent, Dreaming Out Loud: Garth Brooks, Wynonna Judd, Wade Hayes, and the Changing Face of Nashville, was published last month.