Monday, February 27, 2006

A City That Sleeps

I live in a city called Nashville. "Cashville" if you're Nappy Roots. "Nashvegas" if you're lame. I'm at a loss for a better name, because the city itself is at a loss for a better self.

I live in a city called "Music City." I live in a city where jazz doesn't function, blues is a ghoststory, and rock is a fairytale; where the venues close at 2, the bands quit by one, and nobody's ever seen a time-clock; where the guys in the balcony wear more makeup than the background singers onstage, where the jeans are ironed and the boots shined. I live in a city where music row is for rent; where the city's biggest draw is a faux-divebar's Thursday coverband; where bands call home before L.A., where "Christian" is a genre, and "Belmont" is an adjective. I live in a city where country came to die.

A city half-heartedly fighting its own contraditions: geographically Southern but culturally sterile. A city lacking New Orleans' history, Atlanta's vibrance, or Memphis' culture; neither upstart regional capital nor loveable underdog, demographically confused, economically stagnant, logistically dysfunctional. A city palpably lacking self-esteem. A city of first-generation redneck yuppies. Orlando with a muddled twang. Charlotte with designer boots.

I live in a city with short limits and a small scope. I live in a city where it's better to be mentioned in a bad Ryan Adams song than not at all; where Toby Keith's official title is "Recording Artist" rather than "Sergeant of Apes," or "Public Enemy Number Six"; where the cops write tickets rather than make arrests; where the restaurant owners, newspaper editors, art gallery curators, music venue bookers, indie hipsters, and city-governors cite "how they do it in [other city]," and none of them I live in [other city], a city where everyone is from somewhere else...or wants to be.

I live in a city called by nearly any name you can conjure, and nearly any name that'll fit; a city that doesn't sleep and doesn't wake, doesn't grow or shrink, doesn't live or die; a city tucked safely in the shadows of something bigger than itself, writing its own history in the footnotes of another's, lying on its foundations and dreaming in the dark. I live in a city called Nashville, but only until I die somewhere else.


Ross K. said...

Chris, this time I one-hundred percent feel your fucking pain, to the bone. I was there four years. I remember that place. It's an existential desert. The best I ever heard somebody say it was that when he got inside the Davidson County limits, his gas tank started going down faster, his wallet emptied sooner, all his resources depleted extra-quickly. Something about the city took the blood and sap out of him and left him a wriggling insect cooking in the fierce, white-person-hating sun, on a dirty sidewalk in polluted, allergy-unfriendly air, with the same bums who were on the street three years ago strolling up to hit his insect form for change.

Nashville makes people into its bitch, man. Everything you said and I just said is just exactly why I don't come down there anymore. For awhile I crawled back for more, but then I admitted my defeat and made peace with it, turned tail and went home, to start my whole life over from scratch in Kentucky. I was like, "I'm broke, it's hot, I hate this traffic, I have no friends here: this sucks."

There was an old joke in show business that Hollywood was the west coast of Iowa; I think Nashville is the east coast of Hollywood. Because everything there is a big fake fucking joke. Broadway is a big strip of glitz and lights and lost reveling pilgrims, and when you go two blocks either direction, you're standing in a bomb crater, the husk of old industry fallout, the rusted wreck of the L&N railroad.

I just couldn't keep living there. I don't know how you take it. But I think there are a handful of musicians there still keeping it real. Marcus Finnie has a website now, Memphis, represent!

Anonymous said...

Oh, right on about ape-sergeant and PE no. 6--fuck Toby Keith and everyone who listens to his bullshit.

Too strong for too long,

Ross K!

Chris Milam said...

Ross, what Nashville needs is another good drummer. Come on back and join my traveling troubadours...I swear we'll throw in a Flaming Lips' cover.

melusina said...

Wow, great post. It is everything I felt about Nashville, everything my friends ever felt about Nashville.

I had friends who "got out" but were pulled back.

I got out by sheer dumb luck, the city pulls me back, but I won't be returning. Not permanently, at least.

I hate it, and love it, it is the America I miss, because it is the America I know. But I watched Nashville kill music too many times to believe it was really music city.
And I am glad I don't live there anymore.

Again, great post, beautifully written.

burrito said...

Shit, we're up to our eyeballs in good drummers. Finnie doesn't suck, but neither do a dozen others who've payed their dues.

What we need is a hipster-plague.

Lambast Nashville in beautiful prose all you want, Chris. You are correct, but you neglect.

The reason Nashville "sucks" is because you haven't found an undercurrent to your liking. There are countless artistic collectives in this city that are miles ahead of their time. But everyone lives here, and home is a place to relax, not work.

All the magic happens when you take your shit on the road, BUT WE ALL LIVE HERE and if the city itself has a low profile, its cause all the heavies are at home resting and kicking it in their own private ways.

Do not for one minute think that this city lacks a soul. Its just not accesable to outsiders. You have to live here A LONG TIME and shut the fuck up and take it all in and learn from the masters, and learn to be humble, a lesson I'm still grappeling with. Music Mafia doesn't get it, the row doesn't get it, but there are lots of people here who do. They just don't give a shit whether you find em or not.

We're turning drummers away at the door, buddy, and we've got plenty of shit going on here.

Ross K. said...

Yeah, I still have the same FEELING about Nashville that makes me agree with Chris, but what Burrito says is on-track. During my short stay in town, what I came to understand was that there were innumerable tight-knit music cliques that didn't interact with each other. So there isn't one music scene, there's a bunch of little scenes that never meet up.

Since I was into jazz in college, the guys I went and saw the most were the guys associated with the Jazz Workshop--Marcus, Derico Watson, Nioshi Jackson, Chris Brown, Jim White, Rod McGaha, Kirk Whalum, guys who play a cross-over mix of gospel, R & B, jazz and so on. They all know each other, but they don't really have anything to do with all the rock guys at 12th and Porter or The End with jet-black dyed hair and glam make-up, and those guys usually haven't heard of them either. But you know, I was playing in the school jazz band and my bandleader was connected out the ass, but he didn't know any of the young cats I liked. And I heard there are old rock dinosaurs from the '80s who relive the old days at bars like Legends that I've never been in, 'cause I don't hunt stars or drink a lot. And this is leaving out all the country you can see at Robert's and so on, and the Symphony and Youth Symphony people who don't care about anybody else, and all the marching people, Tennessee is nuts about band...and there are more that I don't know about than there are that I named. It's like there are so many cliques going on there, the pot is so big, it's impossible for everybody to know everybody.

So a certain set tends to hang out mostly or exclusively at certain spots, their bars and their studios, their clubs where they play and their restaurants where they have lunch, and if the jazz guys don't know the rock guys and neither of them know the country guys, it's 'cause they're already doing their own thing.

And I admit that I didn't have the goods to impress people who were already stoked by the great players I mentioned, so I felt like I was out of the loop, on the outside looking in. The insiders, however they got that way, were getting all the gigs and when they were available for entertainment, why would people check out new kids who are struggling when they're already digging something better? I was a small fish and there were sharks in the tank, and I admit it.

So, who are you, Burrito? Did I ever hear anything you did?

burrito said...

I knew a guy named Ross from KY who played drums, went to Vandy, and was here for about 4 years. Ross, if that's you, you SHOULD come back. I miss you and you were cool as hell.

burrito said...

He had blond hair, cut pretty short most of the time, and was really good on the snare. Dude, you remember Jack Rutledge, the sax player?!

burrito said...

He was a good buddy of mine. Sorry I'm clogging your thread, Chris.

Ross Kimberlin from KENTUCKY! said...

Burrito, that's me. Still blonde, still good on the snare. Were you in Billy's big band? Roger's jazz combo? WHO ARE YOU?

I actually roomed with Jack for a year, and last I heard he was with a salsa band at Club Caliente. I never saw them, but I'm sure Jack is bad as fuck by now.

Forgive my jumping to conclusions, but "Burrito" gave me the idea that you're Latino and the first guy I thought of was Giovanni Rodriguez who plays congas and percussion and was at Caffeine with Afro Blue. And mentioning Jack, who was playing salsa, seemed to go along with that...but if you're not Giovanni I don't have a clue. Maybe Joe Francica? Jake Wolfgang? Chris Martin? Jesus, I don't know. But you seem to know exactly who I am! What's up, dude?

Ross to the K said...

Drew? Alex? Bryan Gorman? Mike Gelety? Rebekah Davis? Bekka, is that you? This is driving me nuts; who am I talking to? Maybe it's Raul on piano. Am I getting warmer? Or that really good piano player from New York, what was your name...Matt Merker.

The suspense is killing me.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Ross, I'm busy as hell today. It's Jim Bonomo, Jack's buddy from the African group. We hung on numerous occasions. Dude, you are a great drummer, I don't know what you were talking about earlier. I'm just really blown away that I found you on this here blog! Man you've gotta come back and hang out, I was wondering how you've been!!

burrito said...

And for the record, Ross thumps the hell out of a kit. He's just being modest. Dude, that made my day...

Ross said...

Holy crap, Jim. Whudup, playa? Yeah, I'm chillin' in Lexington, trying to learn how to tune and repair pianos, and how to play 'em. Still playing drums with a couple groups, still trying to learn. I've just discovered brushes, I mean not just known about them but really gotten comfortable with them and learned how to pull different shadings and textures out of the set with them.

I vote we definitely meet up in Nashville the next time there's a good show. I've been trying to get together with Chris but he claims he's busy--yeah, like he has anything to do. :-) I will totally come down when we both have a free weekend. I have no idea what your phone number is these days but you can call me at (859) 523-2163 or e-mail (no, I'm serious).

This is awesome.


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