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Don’t speak

Face of a Man Who Is Covering His Ears and Squeezing His Eyes Shut

My mom has always warned me that once you’ve put your foot in your mouth, no good can come from going back later and trying to explain what you really meant to say. After ignoring her advice a few too many times–and winding up with two feet in my mouth–I’ve decided she’s right.

You know how it is. Some friend or coworker asks what you think about so-and-so’s job performance or what you’ve heard about such-and-such’s marital troubles. You make some offhand comment that was better left unsaid. And the next thing you know, your comment has spread like wildfire and you’re feeling the heat. So you go back and try to make amends, only to wish you’d left it alone.

Those kinds of open-mouth-insert-foot moments also seem to be at the heart of every so-called celebrity feud we see splashed across the tabloids in the supermarket. Most of the time, the stars are probably stirring the pot for publicity. But sometimes public figures get into trouble for making the same kind of off-the-cuff remarks that plague the rest of us. And they, too, could benefit from taking my mother’s advice—as American country singer Travis Tritt learned during his infamous feud with fellow singer Billy Ray Cyrus.

Say what?

As Tritt recounted the story in his 1994 autobiography Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof, he was appearing at a fan event in the early 1990s when a reporter asked his take on Cyrus. He hadn’t met the country newcomer and hadn’t heard any of his music beyond the megahit “Achy Breaky Heart.” But, living up to his reputation for bluntness, Tritt told the reporter he didn’t care for the song or its accompanying video. When asked why, Tritt said he found the song kind of frivolous and didn’t appreciate the video showing an unknown Billy Ray Cyrus stepping out of a limo to be greeted by hordes of screaming fans. He pointed out that Garth Brooks—then the biggest star in the music industry—didn’t even portray himself that way.

By the next day a Nashville radio station had initiated a call-in program asking fans to comment on Tritt attacking country’s new star. Within days, it seemed every negative comment about Billy Ray Cyrus was being attributed to Travis Tritt.

Say again?

Tritt decided he could put a stop to the so-called feud by clarifying what he’d said and why. He called the radio station and said he was on his way to the studio for an interview. Once on the air, he owned up to his comments. He explained why he didn’t like the song and said it wasn’t personal. He said not everyone enjoyed all his songs, and that was okay with him. He apologized to Billy Ray, said he hoped he’d sell 10 million records, and stressed that he didn’t want to see an offhand comment blown out of proportion.

It sounded like a perfectly civil explanation and a perfectly charming apology—except Tritt didn’t stop there. As often happens when people try to explain themselves, he wound up tacking on a little something extra, a small dig at Billy Ray’s dancing in the “Achy Breaky” video. He threw in that he’d hate to see country music become—to paraphrase—a butt-wiggling contest.

Tritt left the radio station feeling he’d settled the matter, oblivious to the fact that he was now chomping on foot number two.

The headline in the Nashville paper the next day: “Travis Tritt Trashes Billy Ray Cyrus.”

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