Tuesday, January 22, 2013

See Music City

I came to Nashville as kitchen help, the chief cook and bottle washer for a group of writers on a blitzkrieg assignment covering all that made the mid South vibrant, various, and enterprising. Blake was part of the group, and while we were often in awe of the intellectual pedigrees of our companions, we felt less like impostors when the subject of music came around.  Not a twang in the bunch; not a soul who could quote lyrics chapter and verse like our daughter at home.  No one possessed a basement of eight track tapes of Charlie Rich or Charlie Pride, Tompall Glaser or Tom T Hall.

I know Nashville is more than music, but for me, the city will always have a sound track. That first visit found us pulling our journalistic trench coats against the chilly wind as we sought the heart of honky tonk on a nearly deserted Broadway. Tootsie's was steamy and raucous, but the Buddy Holly hair, driving snare and vintage silver mikes of the band in the chilly bar down the street kept us nursing our beers and wishing we knew their names. They played their set with grit and gravel in their voices and disregard for the audience or lack thereof.  I could have boogied out the door on a cloud of cigarette smoke.

Deep in the labyrinth of warehouses, potholes and unfinished construction where the soul despairs the accuracy of its Google map,  there is jazz in Nashville.  Midway between the city sewage treatment and the Bicentennial Mall, Music City shows its talent is more than sequin deep when seasoned performers and composers fill the intimate space with waves of rhythm and chord as the eclectic listeners (for jazz, is there any other kind) sip beverages, mingle and keep the beat.

There is reserved parking downtown for bands to unload; there is good natured hollering and ribbing as equipment emerges from vehicles I can only describe as beat on all four corners. At 10:30 in the morning, the quartet at Tootsie's is not a headliner; three vets going through the motions and a young lady on vocals making the mistake of playing songs folks know like the back of their hand.  A couple sets down their beers (bottle, no tap) and takes a twirl alongside the bar; they tell the barkeep how much quieter it is than the night previous.  There's no coffee at Tootsie's either...keep it simple.  In the daylight its possible to appreciate the old publicity shots and group photos peeling like mica behind yellowed Plexiglass. Does Tootsie's actually work at being a dive, or does it just come natural?  When I learn there are at least two other establishments nearby owned by the Tootsie's conglomerate, I lean toward calculating...

But  somehow that's not the prevailing atmosphere in downtown Nashville.  Of course, all that neon is meant to attract tourists, but I also feel I could walk right into a time warp, hear the air crackle like celluloid, and look around at a landscape out of a Hatch Show Print.  Maybe its a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame; maybe its plaster Elvis swiveling for neon Betty; maybe its the Ryman itself,  a mother hen of music hovering over it nest of honky tonks.  I've heard music in both the Opry venues; one has all the personality of a theater show in Branson, but the Ryman is a church and the folks on stage are preachin' to the choir.

What I'm sayin' is that I love a good cliche'. And Nashville parades its cliches' with aplomb.  Biscuits and gravy, jam and pie?  See the Loveless Cafe complex on the Natchez Trace where the merchandising balances precariously on the foundation of the 1950s motel.   Shrimp with grits, homemade pimento spread and hummingbird cake? Presented tea room style at the Chef's Market with recipes to go and the implication that they taste the very best if one wears an apron.

Alas, its time to head west, leave the cultured past and return to the frontier.  Goodbye Cumberland, goodbye chandeliers, farewell to fountains and literary gardens.  No more nightly serenades....til next time.

 I guess it's the process 
Of learning to excess  
All of those things 
That you already know...
......Lyle Lovett 'Good Intentions' 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Boot Scootin'

Sometime during childhood, the kids upped the ante.  Instead of merely 'wanting'something, the emotional intensity ratcheted and 'need'was the verb of choice.  It was a recurring joke; it was ongoing italics with an underline for emphasis.   ''Need''.

Well, I need some boots.

No, not THAT kind of boot. I already have those...and as wonderful as my feet settle into them, and as many miles as they have trod without soaking up water, they are utilitarian.  These boots are made for ....workin'.

Nope, the boots I'm pining for would be works of art, of whimsy, stacked heel, stitching, and as subtle as red lipstick or turquoise jewelry. 

There is precedent.  I've wanted boots ever since Trisha Yearwood dropped names in 'Hello, I'm Gone':
Got her suitcase all packed up
In the back of the pickup
Got her red knee-high Luccheses on '..

Or...perhaps it was Jerry Jeff Walker that started the itch:

And once you wear a pair of his hand-made boots
you know you'll never wear a store-bought pair
Charlie can tell what's wrong with your feet
Just by feeling them with his hand
And he can take a look at the boots you wear
And know a whole lot about you, man.....Charlie Dunn.

I haven't earned a pair of handmades, goodness knows. Just browsing the web led me to sites with beautiful leather boots more expensive than a brand new over sized leather couch.
In other words, one can have this:

or something between this....
and this.....

Oh, so much vanity!  Such exceptional over the top-ness!  And why? What possible excuse does a flower grower on a dirt farm in northwest Missouri have for fancy feet?

Just one, I guess.  I have a vision of my grandkids...or perhaps great grandkids...digging through my closet some day, like kids do.  And since there won't be a long fur coat, or necklaces dripping with diamonds, or a tiara, or really any measurable amount of sequins, I'd like them to find these boots.  I'm hoping they'll think their granny had some sass, a little mild eccentricity, and could trip the light fantastic.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

If Life Hands You Ice, Go Skating...

The home bodies are settling; the old house creaks and groans itself against the insidious frigidity of first days of the year. In the bowels of the house, it is as if a discordant organ has been set upon by the picks of the seven dwarves; pipes shake and rattle. Upstairs, the fire hisses; it is so still I believe I hear the needles fall off the crispy Christmas tree.

That's the way of it.  Before Christmas, the house swells like a sponge, taking on heat from warm ovens of baked goodies; light from candles, from every room in the house and a motley kaleidoscope of colored strands; and sound, of Christmas music of various vintage and that most cacophonous and welcome noise of all, the crashing tidal wave of a big family celebrating.  

But now it is January.  The merry days together  are enshrined in attachments to email. The nonpareils and edible glitter have been sucked into the sweeper and the majestic tree is fish habitat. We've sworn off eggnog.  The sun goes down early, comes up late, providing but cold comfort.  The W-2s have to be done and the politicians are insufferable. The need to cut calories removes even the consolation of chocolate and cookies. Gloom prevails.

Lord, I hope this day is good
I'm feelin' empty and misunderstood
I should be thankful Lord, I know I should 
But Lord, I hope this day is good

Lord, have you forgotten me
I've been prayin' to you faithfully
I'm not sayin' I'm a righteous man
But Lord, I hope you understand

I don't need fortune and I don't need fame
Send down the thunder Lord, send down the rain
But when you're planning just how it will be
Plan a good day for me

You've been the king since the dawn of time
All that I'm asking is a little less crying
It might be hard for the devil to do 
But it would be easy for you...... Don Williams

Isn't this a great set of lyrics?  How many days have I climbed out on my side of the bed with this kind of prayer muttered under my breath?  When I stumble down the stairs with a plastic tub of decorations, I say this prayer soundlessly, 'Lord, make this year a good one. Lord , help us make it through this year. Lord, keep me hopeful; help me face this year without worry, without dread.'

In our hearts, we don't intend to be so self centered.  We are praying for our loved ones as much as ourselves.  We don't mind struggle, but we want to know the ending will be a happy one: the game will be worth the candle.*

Hey, folks, its not heaven, it is Iowa.  The hymn reminds us to count our blessings; we are never promised prayer will be answered as easily as sitting on Santa Claus' knee.   I can testify that the most heartfelt, desperate, and wrenching prayer of the past year received a merciful answer, if not one without cost. Never forget, loving friends, that "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above"(James 1:17).  As our New Year commences, we would do well to be humble in our expectations, but hopeful, neither quibbling nor querulous in our requests.  

fer·vent  [fur-vuh nt]  
having or showing great warmth or intensity of spirit, feeling, enthusiasm, etc.; ardent: a fervent admirer; a fervent plea.
hot; burning; glowing.

Think fireplace; think hot tea in a mug; think hugs and high fives by a winning team.  Put on your warmest socks, your favorite fleece, and an in-your-face-winter stocking hat. Then carry the warmth of December with you and deal fervently with January and the uncertainty of the New Year.   

*This expression, which began as a translation of a term used by the French essayist Michel de Montaigne in 1580, alludes to gambling by candlelight, which involved the expense of illumination. If the winnings were not sufficient, they did not warrant the expense. Used figuratively, it was a proverb within a century.