i’m back in e-town after a week in nashville.
i love to travel, so generally any road trip is a good trip … but i’m still trying to sort out my conflicting gut impressions of music city.
some of the high notes:
- getting to hear john irving (the world according to garp, hotel new hampshire, cider house rules, a prayer for owen meany, etc.) deliver a free lecture to an almost-packed house at the ryman auditorium. irving spoke at length about the state of publishing in america, and the importance of libraries (“there you can still find the classics; most of the books in a bookstore today are crap”).
he talked about censorship and book-banning in the u.s.a. (“americans love to ban things. there’s no law that says you have to read a book before you can ban it.”) and how that spills over into issues like same-sex marriage and abortion rights: “the instinct to suppress is always there. suppression is very american: if you don’t like something, don’t let ANYONE have it. my own attitude is, if you don’t like abortion, don’t have one. and why should it matter to straight couples if gay couples get married? how insecure can they be? all over the world, i am asked: ‘what is the problem you americans have with gays, with abortion, with sex, with drinking?’ ah, yes, drinking. remember how well prohibition worked.”
his advice to young aspiring writers: “read every book you can get your hands on, see every play that you can. if you’re fortunate enough to become a (successful) writer, there’ll come a time when you’ll want to write more than you read. and then you won’t read anymore. the time to read everything … is when you’re young. being a widely-read person is the only defence there is from crap, from the junk. you’ve just gotta read as much as you can. read, read, read.”
- the frist, the rymer gallery, cheekwood museum: there’s a whole lot more to tennessee than country music, jack daniel’s, football and barbecue. there’s a thriving arts scene, for example. but it can be hard to find when the titans are 9-0, and the CMA awards are coming to you live from 5th and broadway, and elvis paraphernalia assaults you from every souvenir shop window.
- the honky tonks: thumbs up to the concept of rotating bands at live music venues all through the day and long into the night. no cover? even better. nothing but budweiser and pabst on tap? pity.
- the country music hall of fame/museum: awesome! as you’ve probably guessed, i’m not a huge country fan but it was hard not to be dazzled by this outstanding multi-layered attraction which includes an amazing array of musical instruments, rhinestone jackets, satin shirts, belts, and of course cowboy hats and boots. elvis’s gold piano and cadillac, webb pierce’s “silver dollar” car, and johnny cash’s black shirts are just a few of the gems preserved in Sing Me Back Home, the museum’s permanent exhibit which includes artifacts, photographs, original recordings, archival video, and interactive displays that glorify the history and sounds of country music. . . (did you know there was a song called “dern ya” recorded in feminist response to roger miller’s hit “dang me”?). there are walls and walls of gold & platinum records (anne murray’s on there at least twice), bill monroe’s gibson F5 (“the most famous mandolin in American music history”), and a gift shop that stocks thousands of CD titles, not to mention googoo clusters — a confection item involving chocolate, peanuts and marshmallow that’s apparently been an american tradition since 1912 and is manufactured right there in nashville.
- the grand ole opry: yes, indeedy, i attended the opry at the ryman. saw vince gill and randy owen and mel tillis (pam’s dad) and diamond rio and marty stuart, and a parade of geezers from the glory days of the ’50s and’ 60s. i had fun … still, couldn’t help but notice that there wasn’t a single person of colour in the entire audience. (the ryman is located two blocks from a boulevard named in honour of rosa l. parks. if you’re missing the connecting thread … google rosa parks.)
… and some sour notes:
- kevin costner and modern west. kevin, give it up. you are not a singer. you are barely an actor. put an end to this charade right now and let us remember you for bull durham and dances with wolves … not for your feeble attempts at becoming a country crooner.
- the veterans day parade. in canada, regardless of how you feel about war, november 11 tends to be a day of solemn remembrance, of showing respect for victims of war; a day for honouring those who gave their lives in battle. it’s two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month. for many it’s a day of sadness; of sombre reflection and gratitude.
in the states, if nashville is any indication, november 11 is a day to flex your military muscle by rolling your tanks and jeeps down main street while marching bands play peppy tunes, shriners in garish fake arab costumes (oh, the irony) ride around in ridiculous little miniature cars, and soldiers atop armored tanks spin their turrets at clowns mugging for cheap laughs. (excuse me, i seem to have forgotten… somebody please remind me again what’s funny about war?)
perhaps most pathetic was the sight of white-haired veterans in their 80s and 90s crowded onto wagons and flatbeds pulled by tractors, smiling and waving feebly at people on the sidewalks. these were clearly soldiers from wars prior to vietnam and desert storm, before iraq and afghanistan. knowing how the current administration treats, er, ignores the broken veterans of its more recent military actions … well, let’s just say it was harder to stomach than the googoo clusters.