For Nashvillians Only! (Well, and for Nashvillains, too)

If you’ve been pissed off about the death of Oldies 96.3, and I’m guessing by the amount of traffic I’m getting from Google with people wanting to know what the fuck happened last week, you’ll be happy to know that I just read on Nashville is Talking that Star 97 has switched formats to the Oldies and hired all the folks from 96.3.

So, though we all have to reprogram our car radios, at least we won’t be without a place to hear Aretha singing “Chain of Fools.” My god. I could make do with just about any song from the 60s–I’d be sad they were gone, but could live–except that one.

Rarely do boneheaded radio moves in this town get so promptly fixed. (RIP The Phoenix.)

So, happy day!

The Perfect Country and Western Song

Well, not the most perfect country and western song of all times, because David Allan Coe has that covered and I’m not picking a fight with him about it because… well, because he’s one bad-ass motherfucker and I’m a little afraid of him.

But the most perfect country and western song out right now is “What’s a Guy Gotta Do.” I can’t find who wrote it, but it’s performed by… well, that’s also tricky because I had been going on all weekend about how Blake Shelton just might be the most solid mid-level artist out there right now, with good songs like “What’s a Guy Gotta Do” and “Goodbye Time” just chugging away on my radio, hooking me in.

But it turns out Blake Shelton didn’t record “What’s a Guy Gotta Do,” that other long haired handsome man, Joe Nichols, did.

(Christ Jesus. All this fuss about stem-cell cloning and someone here in Nashville has perfected a way to clone long haired handsome dudes and no one says a word.)

Anyway, back to “What’s a Guy Gotta Do.” I’m not saying this is the best country song out there at the moment, but just that this song is really the most ordinary country song currently getting airplay. I don’t mean that in a bad way, I mean that George Jones could have recorded this in his “The King is Gone (So are You)” period (an awesome song about sitting around pouring liquor out of a bottle shaped like Elvis into a Fred Flintstone cup and bemoaning lost love–“Yabba Dabba Doo, the King is gone and so are you.”–it’s both unbearably hokey and unbelievably heartbreaking) or maybe Lefty Frizzell before that could have done it.

It’s just a good, solid, traditional country music song in a way that most folks don’t think about when they talk about Country Music Tradition, like that’s some monolithic and decided-on designation.

Here’s what it’s got going for it:

1. Like a lot of good country music songs, it seems to be about a guy new to a place, trying to figure out the local ways and how he might fit it.
2. It’s about wanting love, but not being sure how to get it.
3. It posits itself as working class and ordinary (with the reference to the produce aisle at the Super Walmart).
4. It’s got sophisticated wordplay that passes itself off as corn-pone: “Well, ask anybody, I’m a pretty good guy/ and the ‘looks decent’ wagon didn’t pass me by.”
5. It’s got sophisticated wordplay that is going to give musicologists fits in thirty years: “So I bumped into a pretty girl’s shopping cart/ but all I did was break her eggs and bruise her artichoke hearts.” Now, clearly there are two kinds of bruised hearts at play here, which you know is going to lead somebody to wonder whether, since the hearts have significance on two levels, if the eggs do as well, which will lead to someone doing a master’s thesis on whether “shopping cart” is a euphemism for a woman’s vagina. That’s going to be awesome and I can’t wait.
6. It’s got a timeless quality about it. You hear it and you don’t instantly know whether it’s a new song or an old one you just didn’t know about.
7. It’s got a good sense of humor about itself, as far as songs go.

So, I like it. It’s not my favorite song on the radio right now (I’m kind of hooked on that Old Crow Medicine Show song that makes me want to quit my job and become a carney), but it’s solid and has some roots and I appreciate that.

70 and Sunny

Let me set the scene for you. Imagine yesterday, sunny and beautiful, with a cool breeze coming from the west. We’re all outside. I’m sitting in the big lawn chair on the concrete in front of the Butcher’s car. The dog is laying in the shade of my car. I’m finishing up the work I had to bring home in order to feel okay about taking Friday off. The cats are both sleeping in the dirt under the front bushes and the Butcher is hitting what appear to be tiny wiffle balls around the yard with his one golf club, which is, for some reason, spraypainted green.

Occasionally, I say something to the Butcher like, “I told the Shill I was going to taunt her husband about the fact that she will never make those awesome Jello peanut butter cup things for him because he doesn’t allow her in the kitchen… You should totally go to the store and get some of those.”

“Woman, we ate cookies for breakfast!” He says back to me, pretending to be annoyed.

And then we’re back to our respective silences.

All afternoon we spend out in that glorious day.

Now, I’m sunburnt and headed back to work. It’s just not fair.

Jimmy Martin Called Me a Motherfucker

The King of Bluegrass, Jimmy Martin died today.

I met him once, and he was something, dressed from top to bottom in deep red with sequins on all the seams and a big old cowboy hat with beautiful plumage. He was drunk, I think, at least his eyes were shiny and dangerous.

It doesn’t matter why he called me a motherfucker, but he did, and in a way that felt like I’d lucked out, because something a lot uglier could have happened. But instead, he threw his arm around my waist and pulled me right up next to him and took me around the room and asked people if they’d “met this here motherfucker?”

That’s how it was with him, you just never knew if it was going to be okay or if he’d be mean, at least when he’d been drinking.

But for every story I heard about what a mean cuss he was, I heard another story about how he’d go so far out of his way to help people that you almost couldn’t believe it was the same person.

He really, really wanted to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry, in a way that nobody feels anymore. I mean, people want to be member, but not enough to fulfill their commitments to the Opry once they get in. But Jimmy was of that generation to whom the Grand Ole Opry was the pinnacle of achievement. Being a member of the Opry meant that you’d made it.

They never let him in.

And now he’s dead.

Long before he died, he put up his tombstone right across the drive from Roy Acuff’s. See? So, if you’re on a tour and you’re on the left side of the bus, you can get a good look at Acuff’s grave, but if you’re on the right and you get bored of staring at other tourists’ butts, you can look out your window and see Jimmy’s gravestone. And just when you think “What the hell kind of jackass puts up his gravestone years too early, just to enjoy seeing people stare at it*?” you learn that he put his housekeeper in that grave when her family didn’t have enough money to bury her.

The ego and the big heart, and the talent, oh god, the talent. As Tom Piazza says, bluegrass is country’s jazz. To do it well, you have to be a virtuoso, and to do it like Jimmy Martin… well, who could compare?

I hope he rests in peace, but I bet there’s some folks sweating out to the Grand Ole Opry house right now, because you can keep a man off the stage when he has a body to escort off the premises, but what can you do when he’s dead and ornery?

*Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn come the closest, I guess. Speaking of Huck, Eric Lott brings up the interesting point that there is still debate over this book. What the fuck? America, yes, Mark Twain uses “the n-word,” and, yes, he characterizes Jim as superstitious and, yes, Twain’s a man of his times in ways that don’t sit so comfortably now days. But the central conceit of the book is that of everyone Huck encounters on his trip down the Mississippi, hell, in his whole life, the only one who never tries to hurt him or constrain him or change him, is Jim. The big joke at the center of the book is that the only real man in the book is the man who’s not legally a man at all.

See why it pissed folks off when it came out? See why it still pisses folks off?