So, I’ve been thinking more about my growing love for the Hall of Fame & Museum and I think it’s largely for two reasons. One is that we have these music channels on our digital cable and I’ve been turning on “classic country” and just letting it play in the background as I do shit around the house.
(They used to have one for alt.country, but I think they discovered the sorry truth, which is, most of it sounds exactly the same–bad. Flame on, alt.country folks, about how Nashville I am. Whatever, you and I both know I’ll see you down to the Bluegrass Inn soon enough.)
It helps a great deal to actually know old country music before you start wandering around a museum devoted to it.
But the second thing I love about it, and this love grows more every time I go there, is the music in the museum. Every place you turn, there’s more music. Yes, the displays are just as cheesy as they were over at the old place. Yes, it does seem strange to go and look at people’s boots (though, sweet Jesus, there are some awesome men’s shoes in the place). And yes, it feels kind of weirdly spread out.
But don’t go to look at things. Go to listen.
And, wow, then the museum springs to life like no other museum I’ve ever been to. It literally takes on a whole other shape, once you shut your eyes. They have these strange, seashelled shaped listening booths, and the first one you walk around brings you up to speed on what was going on in Southern music in general when “country” music started to coalesce.
You stand in front of it, and you’re hearing old timey mountain music; you step to the side and the mountain music fades from hearing, replaced by old Bob Johnson, and as you turn fully into the booth, there’s church singing.
I don’t know how they do it, but it’s like this all over the museum. You’d expect it to degrade into cacophony, with sounds from one part leaking into the sounds from another, until it’s all just noise. But somehow they keep the sound spaces distinct.
But, most awesomely, the museum constantly reaffirms my faith in country music. All along one wall, there are all these gold and platinum records. Some of them swing open and, when they open, you can hear the music from the record that won the award. I don’t know who picked which ones should open, but it’s the Outlaws and Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline and all the folks you know by heart and love.
Unlike pop or rap or rock, where you feel like the best those genres has to offer is constantly getting lost–like there’s some secret cannon that only the hipsters are onto that is filled with all the “really” good stuff–listening to the biggest country music records renews your faith in the taste of ordinary folks.
Sure, crap is rewarded in country, the same way it’s rewarded in other genres. But there we were, in a mostly empty space, listening to Cash sing and knowing that was good, just the same as the museum knows he’s good, the same as the people who bought his albums know he’s good, the same as the folks who cheer when his songs get sung in honky-tonks know he’s good, the same as the men in Folsom prison knew he was good. It’s pretty amazing. How can you not dance to that?