There are moments in pop-music history when complete unknowns suddenly become household names, as recognizable as Abe Lincoln. In that instant their images, histories, and even hometowns become the stuff of legend: Memphis. Liverpool. Motown. Flatwoods, Ky.
Now hold on — Flatwoods, Kentucky? Yup. Although it may be a tad premature to put the home of Billy Ray Cyrus on such an illustrious list, don’t try telling that to the 24,000 screaming Cyrus worshippers at the recent Fan Fair, Nashville’s annual orgy of star-gazing. A combination of fan frenzy and promotional muscle have given the beefy 30-year-old Cyrus a No. 1 pop album (Some Gave All, on Mercury) and a top 10 pop single (the ubiquitous ”Achy Breaky Heart”), unheard-of achievements for a country-music rookie. Moreover, Cyrus’ glorious pecs and sultry hip fakes have made him country’s first true video star, while his speed at amassing publicity has almost overnight made him the love-hate object of supermarket headlines. In just the last few weeks, the existence of Cyrus’ ex-wife and a baby son by another woman have come bubbling to the surface. Such notoriety is not new to country stars, but achieving it in about five weeks is notable.
Not all of Nashville is pleased. Travis Tritt recently snapped about Cyrus’ success, ”What we’re going to have to do to be popular in country music is get into an ass-wiggling contest (with) one another.” The New York Times snipped, ”If Garth Brooks is the new Elvis of country music, then Billy Ray Cyrus is the new Fabian.” Cyrus’ gyrations also have at least one Nashville insider shaking his head at Cyrus’ Fan Fair show: ”You just can’t tell me that’s country.” As if on cue, Cyrus’ five-piece band kicks off a raucous version of ”Rock and Roll,” the 1971 party tune by those renowned cowpokes Led Zeppelin.
The jibes don’t worry him; instead, the self-described ”some-gave-all type of guy” has driven himself to near collapse; his doctor has recently ordered two days’ strict bed rest. Exhaustion, in fact, seems to dominate his life. ”Enjoy your blessings while you can,” he asserts, ”because you never know when it can all be gone.” And he has paid for that philosophy. ”I’d just got done playing 14 days in a row, and I was averaging three or four hours of sleep,” he says during his enforced recuperation. ”The next thing I know, my body started shaking, and my temperature went crazy, and my body just give out on me.”