7. All the Same Old Haunts

They say that Interstate 40 sliced the heart of the city in two.  But the truth is that, as a Southern town, Nashville always had two hearts.  Broadway for some folks and Jefferson Street for others.  Back before the interstate almost killed it, Jefferson Street between Fisk and TSU was home to some of the most amazing music.  Folks will still tell you about watching Jimi (“Marbles” at the time) Hendrix drag his amp clear from the Del Morocco to Club Baron to challenge Johnny Jones and how Johnny Jones handed young Hendrix his ass, back before Marbles became a rock god.

Of course, if everyone who claims to have seen that had actually seen it, half the city would have been empty.  Hell, who knows?  Maybe a little known open secret is that half the city used to congregate outside Club Baron just waiting to see what might happen.  You’d think, though, if that was the case, someone could have stepped in and helped poor Harold Hebb when he was stabbed, rest his soul.

Most folks will tell you that the Elks Lodge, which is what’s there now, is a little unsettling and I know the folks who feel uneasy about it laugh and claim that it must be the ghost of Harold Hebb .  And I’m not trying to discount what folks are saying.  I’m just saying that what’s going on at the Elks Lodge is stranger than that, because the Elks Lodge is not haunted by a man; it’s haunted by the Club Baron.

No, hear me out.

You know that feeling, when you’re slightly drunk at a bar with your friends?  And you go into the bathroom and do what women do in the bathroom and you come out and you start heading towards the bar and you suddenly realize that you can’t find your friends?  Remember that moment, when you aren’t quite sure of where you are or what’s going on?  And how one of them will call your name, from another part of the room, and wave you over with “We found a table?”

At the Elks Lodge, it is just as common for a woman to come out of the bathroom and find that not only can she not find her friends, but that none of the people before her look familiar to her.  Even the room looks different.  And, quite often, she will step back, confused, and believe she has some how come out of the wrong bathroom door, that maybe there were two exits, one into the room she is supposed to occupy, and another into this room.  And she’ll go back into the bathroom, maybe pat her face and neck with a cool, wet paper towel, and come back out again, to find the familiar Elks Lodge.  She won’t even think to mention to her friends the wrong door and the other room.

But, of course, there is no wrong door.  It’s just that once she came out of the bathroom into Club Baron and the next time she came out into the Elks Lodge.

Other times, folks will mention it, that for a second they seemed to have gotten lost.  And someone at another table will roll his eyes to his friends and they will all nod but say nothing.

As far as I can tell, it’s very rare for one place to haunt another, so folks have their theories about what is happening.  Maybe the Elks Lodge isn’t haunted at all.  Instead, maybe there’s some kind of time anomaly, and folks are, just for a few seconds, transported back in time.  Two things are brought up to discount this theory, both based on the noticeable differences in how women dress–one, if it is really the 1950s or 60s a person is travelling to, why is no one shocked when this contemporary woman comes out of the bathroom?  Wouldn’t her outfit be so strange that she would be remarkable?  And two, it’s not like that was so long ago and yet no one who frequented the Club Baron back in the day has any recollection of anything strange like that happening.  They remember gambling and music and dancing and drinking.  But no one remembers oddly dressed women regularly coming out of the bathroom.

Another popular theory is that it’s not exactly haunted in that it’s not like the souls of the dead are trapped in the Elks Lodge.  But instead, the folks in this camp explain, the times folks had in Club Baron were so intense and singular and fun that somehow those moments were imprinted into the building itself and, when the circumstances are right, whatever “right” might be, Club Baron is projected into the Elks Lodge and plays, like a movie plays when you bring light and screen together, with no need for actors to be present.  So, the Elks Lodge seems haunted, but really, you’re just seeing what you might call old footage.

I, myself, don’t know.  All I do know is that you can’t make it happen–a person could walk in and out of the Elks Lodge every day for the rest of his life and never walk in to Club Baron–but that it happens frequently enough that only almost everyone you meet will think you’re crazy if it happens to you.

I know that it happened to a couple of guys who were down here from New York.  I won’t mention their names, because I know they don’t want people to think they’re crazy, but one, a black man, is a well-known music producer and the other is a relatively famous white male musician.  At the time, they were still at that stage in their careers where they knew enough about music to be a little foolish.  They were, for example, determined while they were down here to find the actual crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil, because they did not yet know enough to know that there is no crossroads to find because Robert Johnson never did that.  And, I suspect, they had no clue how far a drive it is from here to Clarksdale, unless it was worse and they had Clarksdale and Clarksville confused.

Anyway, the two of them were determined to see some of these old clubs and they had asked around at their hotel and no one seemed to be able to help them.  They chalked this up to a mixture of Southern stupidity and white people not knowing where the cool places in town were, so they asked for directions to Jefferson Street and, after a long meal with a lot of booze, they set out in that direction.  They parked, I believe, in the shopping center there at the corner of 18th and Jefferson and got out and began walking towards TSU.

They must have been a strange sight, even now.  Two obviously wealthy men, in long, expensive coats, swaying gently as they walked down the street.  Stumbling under the interstate, wondering where, in this god-forsaken town, they could find a little action.  And, finally, there was the Club Baron, lights blazing, music pouring out into the street, people gathered in the doorway.

Maybe if our New York pair had been less drunk, they would have noticed if there were strange stares.  But, as it was, nothing seemed amiss and they made their way in and were about to sit down when a woman came over and grabbed the Producer’s elbow.

“Not here,” she said.  “First, you’re early.  You know it doesn’t start until after one.  And second, you know,” and here she lowered her voice, “he’s going to make folks uncomfortable.  Go on upstairs.”  The two looked at each other, confused, but curious.  And up the stairs they went.

I think they were expecting a poker game, to hear them tell it, when they do tell it, which is not often.  Instead, there were maybe twenty wooden chairs and some tables and, most strange, some instruments–a couple of beat-up guitars against the wall, a trumpet on one of the chairs, and a trombone on a stand near a table in the back.

For a few minutes, they just stood there.  But nothing happened.  So, being musicians at heart, they both slipped out of their heavy coats, threw them over a chair, picked up the guitars, tested them out, made some tuning adjustments, and began to pick out some melodies.

After a while, other men started arriving carrying cases, up the staircase our duo had come come up, and from a staircase that seemed to lead directly out back.  At first, the men were black, but, after instruments had been unpacked and small talk had and beer and cigarettes passed around, white men began arriving, too.  And only a few people seemed to know each other, but they all seemed friendly.

“I saw you at the Subway Lounge,” a white man said, shaking hands with a black man, “What were you doing with your hand on that solo?  Can you show me?”

Or, “When I was in London, there was a man who, when he played the trumpet, would mute it with his beer bottle, like this…” and everyone would turn to watch and then the folks who could play trumpet would give it a try.

Or, they would all play songs they knew, together.  And though our pair didn’t know those songs, they would strum along, thrilled to be watching talented men play together.  And that was the whole night.  There was some sense that it was crucial that they break things up before daylight, that they didn’t want to be caught together.  But the Producer and the Musician at the time just took this to mean that there might be trouble with wives or girlfriends if they were out clear into the next day.

And so, after a few hours, our duo said their goodbyes to their new friends, insisted that folks look them up in New York if they every found themselves that way, and made their way into the street.  Now, the Producer will tell you, if he tells you the story at all, that, looking back, it should have been that moment that tipped them off, because, when they got out on the street, it was dead silent.  And they should have heard the leaving noises of the men who should have been coming out of the club with them.  But they were so caught up in recounting for each other the best parts of the night that they didn’t notice they were alone.

And, of course, when they tried to come back the next night, they found only the Elks Lodge and not the club they had been in the night before.

13 thoughts on “7. All the Same Old Haunts

  1. These just keep getting better!!! It’s like interacting with Nashville on a whole new level. Every day, a new favorite. I particularly adore the idea of a place being haunted by another entire era. Fantastic.

  2. This is one of my favorites, too (the story on the 20th being the other). I don’t think they get much better than this. I wrote it and it still gives me the chills and makes me want to go drive by the Elks Lodge every time I read it.

  3. Oh, now you have given me a new “something I read in a work of fiction that ought to be true”: that musicians from different times/places intersect and share their art. Don’t you think that ought to happen at any time, any place? Just … suddenly, there those other folks and their instruments are?

  4. I would think, if it were possible, that it could happen at any place generations of musicians felt positive about, yeah, absolutely.

    I wouldn’t think there was anything unique about this particular venue in that regard.

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