Lunch at the Tin Roof

The Tin Roof is a bar/restaurant down on Demonbreun Street that I love because they have wrinkly fries. The folks down the hall took me there for lunch today and sitting on one side of us was Phil Vassar and on the other side was Cledus T. Judd.

Luckily, we had someone at our table who recognized all these folks, because I’m oblivious to the famous.

Let me tell you my Brad Paisley story.

We used to live out near the airport and our neighborhood grocery store was particularly neighborhoody, the kind of place where you get to know the bag boy and help his mom, the manager, make fun of him. The kind of place where they seem genuinely happy to see you and friendly.

So, once the Butcher, one of our friends, and I are at Granite Falls, another restaurant I love, back when they had the Patio Burger, which was, frankly, the best burger in town. They’d pepper-encrust the meat and then throw on some sour cream, onion, and baby spinach. It was awesome. They don’t have it any more and so I don’t go there as often.

But, back to my story. So, we get done eating and we’re walking out and sitting at the table by the door are three guys. One looks at the Butcher’s Beatles hat and gives him a thumb’s up. The kid in the middle looks very familiar and he’s smiling in that “yes, you know who I am” way that’s supposed to let you know that it’s okay for you to approach a famous person, I guess.

But I’m still not used to seeing famous people in real life, just out at restaurants and such, so I figure, if I recognize you, it must be because I know you. So, I’m wracking my brain, trying to figure out where I’d know some young kid like this from.

And, voila! I think he’s my bag boy. So, I say, “Hey, how you doing? Tell your mom I said ‘hi'” and I walk out of the restaurant.

The Butcher turns to me and says, “So, you know Brad Paisley’s mom?”

Five Songs You Aren’t Listening to But Should

Oops. It’s Women’s History Month. I’ve done nothing to celebrate except slag on Anne Coulter. To rectify that, I’m giving you a list of five songs you aren’t listening to, but should, all by women.

1. “Turn Da Lights Off” by Tweet. I loved Tweet’s other song, which was about all kinds of self-love. That one made the list of awesomely bad songs because the nitwits at Blender and VH1 still think women being frank and excited about their sexuality is something to titter about. This one’s also about sex, and it’s got this groovy sample. Also, the video features the latest video accoutrement–the record player. Tweet doesn’t have the greatest voice or the most innovative lyrics, but this is a song you find yourself dancing around the living room to, even when the radio is off.

2. “Country Boys” by Tyra. This is my “drive around with the windows down” anthem of the moment. I love it, especially the way she kind of half sings, half growls “dirty, dirty South.” I’m so unhip I don’t know the difference between rap and hip-hop and I have no idea what being from the dirty, dirty South means, but if it involves the hot men in her video and growling like that. . . I’m all for it.

3. “Fist City” by Loretta Lynn. This is an old song, one that I’ve been kind of listening to all my life, but it’s the joy of digital cable and the awesome classic country channel that let me rehear this song. It’s awesome. Your first time through should be listening to the lyrics. Yes, on the one hand, it is a woman threatening to beat up another woman over a cheating man, which is not very empowering. But I can’t think of another song that got played on the radio, except “Goodbye Earl,” in which you hear a woman enjoying being unapologetically violent.

The second time through, pay close attention to how she delivers those words, how they lay up against the music. She has this really interesting way of fucking with the tempo to serve the lyrics. She starts out kind of slow and smooth at the beginning of both of her verses, to lure both the listener and the subject of her hatred in: “Well, you’ve been a-makin’ your brags around town, that you’ve been a-lovin’ my man.” Then, in the second couple of lines, she picks up speed, just a little big, so that the insult really stands out: “But the man I love when he picks up trash, he puts it in a garbage can.” And then it gets faster for the rest of the verse, until the end, when she slows it back down to “If you don’t want to go to Fist City.”

The best part is that she’s got all these sharp little “I”s and “t”s all over the song that she spits out like machine gun fire: “I’m not saying my baby’s a saint, ’cause he ain’t, and that he won’t cat around with a kitty. I’m here to tell you, gal, to lay off of my man, if you don’t want to go to Fist City.”

God, it’s great.

4. “Get Right” by Jennifer Lopez. I don’t know why I love this song, but I do. I think it’s the killer oboe hook–fine, killer sax hook–and the fact that her crappy voice kind of blends into the rest of what’s going on in the song and so it’s more about the music and the beat.

5. “Dracula Moon” by Joan Osbourne. The Corporate Shill lent be Osbourne’s first album when we were in college and I remember being up in my dorm room and pressing “play” on the CD player and not being very excited because I didn’t really like “What if God Were One of Us?” and not quite trusting the Shill when she said that the rest of the album wasn’t like that. But, egad, she was right! The whole album, except for that song, is so great. And this, I think, is the best song off it. “Don’t feel sorry for me. I hate that look on your face. You say just let go. You say come back home. I say I’m just falling from grace.”

Atlanta is Not Far Enough Away

I’m afraid of my brothers doing something they can’t come back from.

Not as afraid as I was when we were younger and they were–allegedly–dealing drugs and robbing bars and stealing from each other, and basically living like the James Gang. I didn’t think they’d kill anyone intentionally, but I worried all the time that they’d do something stupid and end up killing someone or themselves on accident.

But their newfound sanity and law-abiding-ness still feels too tentative to me, too fragile. And I worry that neither of them have a good enough reason to keep doing things the hard way, when the easy way is so much fun and, as long as you don’t get caught, lucrative.

Because, it’s hard in ways we don’t often acknowledge, to be good, to defer our own gratification for the safety and happiness of others. And it’s so easy to do wrong and go wrong and, once you go, to keep on going.

You have to care about something–your family, your god or whatever–or fear something–getting stuck in rural Illinois, going to prison, dying, whatever–so much that you’re willing to do whatever it takes, no matter how boring, in order to keep from self-destructing.

I don’t think people are inherently evil, but I know they are inherently selfish and that selfishness is easily corrupted into evil.

This morning, on Headline News, they showed a brief clip of Mark Nichols on Larry King Live talking about how weird this all was and how he always thought of his brother, Brian, as the stable one and how they’d stay up all night and play Madden. It broke my heart, it sounded so ordinary.

Last night on Dan Abrams, Dan was reading letters from people and one of them was criticizing Ashley Smith–Brian Nichols’ hostage–for not fleeing earlier in the morning, as if everyone knows exactly what to do when being held hostage and she was remiss for not doing it.

They’d shown Ashley Smith earlier, talking about her ordeal and how she felt that her god had put her in the path of Nichols for a reason. Her two guesses for that reason were the widely reported “so that he wouldn’t kill anyone else” and the “so that he can experience God’s love and share it in prison.” In other words, she felt he was so profoundly changed by his experience with her, that he’d been saved.

I don’t want to spend too long talking about this, except to say that this is, yet again, another reason why Christianity and our form of government are uneasy bedfellows. She, acting on her beliefs, feels profound compassion for the man that could have very easily killed her. She’s going to visit him in prison. She’s already forgiven him. That kind of compassion is almost unbelievable. (And I think that’s why the letter-writer was compelled to criticize her. Who can stand to see ordinary people, people with flaws as terrible as our own, being heroic in ways we don’t think we can?) And her response to her ordeal argues for something savable in even the most violent killers, which is incompatible with killing them in return.

The grief of the families of his victims, though, is unbearable. The AP has photos from the memorial service up and they are heartbreaking. What kind of person, when presented with a chance to escape, takes a gun and goes into the courtroom and starts killing people instead?

They were talking last night on one of the news shows about how Smith is going to be set for life because someone will want to take her story and make it into a movie.

It seems like they’ll have to turn it into a narrative of some sort, to give it a plot arc, and clear more-than-human heroes and a clear less-than-human villain. Right now, it’s unbearable. Here’s a man who was loved by his brother but who savaged his girlfriend, who wanted to hang curtains for his hostage, but killed a court clerk. It’d be a lot easier to see him as a Hollywood villain than it is to see him as someone like any of us.

And there’s a woman, whose life had gone wrong in the ways all our lives turn out a little sadder and harder than we’d hoped, who ends up being a hero.

And there are the ordinary families and friends of ordinary people who are now dead for no good reason.

If Hollywood takes this over, it won’t be us anymore. They’ll have instantly recognizable stars who are better-looking and flashier than us in all the important roles. The story will be condensed and simplified into something we can understand without agonizing over it. Atlanta will be reduced to five or six good establishing shots and the courthouse will be spiffed up or dirtied down to set the proper mood.

The experience will be taken out of our neighborhoods and worked over until it’s molten and moldable and then sold back to us in a form that’s no longer too familiar.

Then, it’ll follow the usual scripts, with people outraged that the movie glorifies violence, or thrilled that it delivers their political or religious message, and there will be the usual red carpet coverage of the film’s opening, and the interviews with the stars.

It’ll be Hollywood.

Frankly, I can’t wait for that. Right now, it’s too real, the feeling that this is the kind of thing that could happen to any of us, that we’re all just one wrong choice away from sitting on Larry King Live trying to explain, to understand, how the brother we love is that man who did those horrible things.