My favorite thing about Nashville is how ridiculous it is. It’s also my least favorite thing, so there you go. But Nashville is the kind of place where, since no one seems sure of how things are exactly supposed to go, there’s always the possibility for them to go all kinds of ways. All kinds of things can happen to you here and all kinds of weird things kind of happen to everyone, so weird is kind of normal.
Like, back when Jimmy Martin was alive, he realized that, when tour buses pulled into the cemetery to look at Roy Acuff’s grave, everyone on the right side of the bus would have nothing to look at. So, Martin bought a plot and put a headstone with his biography up there–yes while he was alive–to give Acuff’s visitors who couldn’t see a little something to occupy themselves with.
Or how, during the Civil War, downtown Nashville was basically just one teaming brothel and how, though we tear almost everything down, you can still drive around and walk into buildings those women walked through and fucked in.
Or how a rag-tag group of “liberal elites” somehow defeated English-only.
But my favorite thing to think about, when I’m thinking about Nashville is how, right after World War II, a bunch of men in Nashville decided to start record companies. This tickles me so much because you’d have guys who were all “I own a furniture show. I should produce records.”
I mean, what the fuck? You’re sitting around trying to get Mrs. Smith to buy an ottoman and it hits you, “Gosh, I bet I’m the person with the ear for figuring out what people want to hear.”?
No, I mean, I know how it went. They were actually sitting around selling record players and then records to go in those players (before record stores became their own thing) and then they realized that, if they made those records, they would get money from every step of the way.
So, men like Jim Bulliet and Randy Wood who saw opportunity, took it. Sometimes, like in Wood’s case, it made some sense. Other times, especially with some of the smaller labels, it did not.
And then you had the musicians, who were sneaking all over town to play with each other, societal segregation be damned.
I often succumb to the temptation to believe that Nashville is and only ever was a country music town, but, while the independent labels were making music by and large by Nashvillians to turn around and sell in their Nashville stores to other Nashvillians (with national success being an awesome, later, side effect [though again, I’m oversimplifying, especially in Wood’s case]), the sounds coming out of Nashville were not just country.
We, as a city, have never been as simple and clear-cut as we sometimes like to believe we are. I would do well to remember that more often.
Anyway, I bet you’re wondering–if not country, what did Nashville sound like? And here, my friends, is Bullet Records’ biggest hit, the success of which destroyed the label as they tried over and over again to replicate its success. I don’t want to tell you anything about it, because I just want to imagine your face as you try to reconcile this with being a Nashville sound. But we sure can talk about it later.
(And you must go right now to iTunes and download Cecil Gant’s “Nashville Jumps” if you do not already own it. You can thank me later.)
(Which reminds me: 1. How come Gant, who was born and died in Nashville, is buried in Ohio? and 2. Of course, I don’t just know this shit out of thin air. Everything comes from Martin Hawkins’s terrific book on the subject, that comes with a fun CD, which I cannot find in my house, so I had to buy that music again in order to let you hear it. The book is obviously not on sale at the moment, though, so that sucks.)