Tan and Purple

They’re putting up a new building on Charlotte and they’re finally putting the outsides on it. It’s this mix of tan and kind of purplish slate bricks. I really like it. Both because Nashville loves the fuck out of tan buildings and it’s nice to see something that spices it up, but also because that stretch is filled with both a lot of tan buildings and a lot of purplish gray buildings.

It’s as if someone looked at the neighborhood they were putting the building in and… made their building fit it!

So, that makes me happy.

Kevin Gordon

We went to see Kevin Gordon last night. He was, of course, incredible. The drumset was gorgeous. I’m convinced you can tell the difference between the plastic heads and the skin heads. You. Not me. Not just me. Anyone. You can hear something in the skin heads you can’t hear in the plastic. A kind of thickness to the strike.

We were sitting close enough that the bass drum resonated in our rib cages, our chests echoing their native lub-dub, lub-dub and that thump, thump, thump overlapping.

The drummer held his hands the old fashioned way. The jazz way. The way my dad did. That’s called “the right way,” but I wouldn’t say so in public.

I’m Missing a Door, Possibly Two

But I think my casual writer’s retreat was a success. I retreated, anyway.

Did I Discover White Joe Pye Weed?

The Joe Pye Weed that grows around my neighborhood used to be a kind of dusky purple. Then I had a brief, stupid idea that I would grow it on purpose in my yard and so I bought some from Bates and now the Joe Pye Weed in my neighborhood is a really vibrant purple, like the kind I grew in my yard.

But lately, I have noticed this white flower, which seems very similar to Joe Pye Weed. But the leaves are a little different, so I don’t know. I am, however, excited to see how it takes off in the coming years. Right now, it’s only growing in two places on Lloyd, but Joe Pye Weed, if that’s what it is, really likes my neighborhood.

joe pye1 joe pye2

Jury Duty

I had jury duty yesterday. I got seated on a jury, but didn’t make it through the selection process. And I get it. Looking at it from the lawyers’ perspective, my hobby is having opinions on the internet. I wouldn’t want me on a jury. But it still hurt my feelings. Which made the Butcher laugh at me. Which was well-deserved.

Jury Duty

I have jury duty next week. I’m excited but nervous. Not nervous about the being on a jury part. Nervous about getting parked and finding my way to where I’m supposed to go and all that stuff. They try to make it simple and clear but I still expect I’ll be nervous peeing about twelve times in a row Monday morning.

Dwight Yoakam?

So, the dog and I were walking home across the AT&T yard where George Straight was blaring out of one of the vans. A black guy comes out of the building and, in a joking manner, says “Turn that crap off.” His white co-worker says, “Yeah, the only one of these guys black people like is Dwight Yoakam. We’ll get you some Dwight Yoakam, buddy, and then you’ll like country music.”

I think this may be the strangest stereotype of black people I’ve ever heard a white person spout. Obviously, I don’t like racial stereotyping, but I love imagining Dwight Yoakam as some kind of secret weakness of every American, they just don’t know it yet.

But then, I thought, if this is true, what a strange place Charley Pride’s house would be. He could never listen to his own music with any kind of satisfaction, because the only country artist he would care for is Dwight Yoakam.

Smith Park in Brentwood

It’s harder, though not at all impossible, to find houses the same age as Ashland would be, if Ashland were a real place, but the new Brentwood park has one. The house isn’t open to the public, but I creeped around outside.


I had a lunch meeting at Lucky Belly, whose tuna burger is so good it could make me stray from beef forever. The bun is perfect. The spicing is well done. It’s not overly salty. The pickled onions actually seemed to be adding something interesting to the dish, rather than just being pickled for the sake of having some kind of pickle on the burger.

And I got to have an awesome conversation with a couple of book publicists who are just so nice and interesting. And I got to hear good gossip. I loaded them down with copies of A City of Ghosts, because I haven’t bothered to take the box out of my backseat yet.

And then I had sushi for dinner and the roll I had was so good–crab and avocado and roe–that I wished I’d ordered like five rolls and just ate until I died.

And then I went over to Parnassus to see Nicki Wood talk about her new cookbook (and to gossip with a friend who had good Cragfont ghost stories to tell me). And my god, Nicki was fantastic. Just at ease and funny and deeply insightful about southern cooking and its history. And she has hopes and dreams for southern cooking, which, you know, is just not really how I think about food, so that kind of blew my mind.

But, as an author, I was really glad to get to see her do her thing, because book events aren’t easy and they aren’t something someone at my level gets to do regularly enough to feel like they’re well-practiced at it. So, seeing someone who’s just so fucking boss about it and who is someone I know and like a great deal, well, it just feels kind of aspirational–like if Nicki can do this, it’s something I can learn to do, because it’s really fucking pleasant for her audience and I want my stuff to be pleasant for my audience.

Also, the podium at Parnassus has a crystal ball and I want to someday stand behind that podium and ponder that ball with and in front of a crowd.

My Trip to Cragfont

Today I went out to Cragfont and, let me tell you, that was the best $5 I have spent in a long time. I was the only person there, so the curator, the guy who’s been responsible for the home for the past three and a half decades, showed me the house. Just me. I got a personalized tour.

I really wanted to focus on the house itself. Not that the Winchesters aren’t interesting and, hey, thanks for Memphis, but I wanted to walk around a house just a little older than Ashland would be, if it were a real place. A house like this or the Hermitage is more of the style of Ashland than later homes.

When Cragfont was built, it was the largest home in Middle Tennessee, which, by today’s standard’s is not that large. But it has three rooms downstairs–a front ladies parlor, Winchester’s office, and a large sitting room that takes up the whole other side of the house. It’s also built in a lollypop shape, so there’s a kind of middle entrance hall with stairs going up to the ballroom, then the dining room and then the kitchen. On the other side of the kitchen is the smokehouse. Yes, all attached. In the early 1800s.

Which, of course, was my first source of questions. But the construction of the house is ungodly amazing. It’s all limestone. All of it. Every wall and those walls are at least a foot thick, I’d estimate. So, what worry did the Winchesters have of fire? I assume the house was built to withstand Indian attack, even though it was built after relative peace had broken out. I mean it’s clearly intended to be a fortress. And the cook slept above the kitchen, which, to me, is another sign that they didn’t want to risk losing a valuable, skilled slave to attack.

The stars on the building are the outside ends of long metal poles put through the house to hold it together during an earthquake. Much to my delight, these went in after the 1812 earthquake. Because, of course they did.

I also think the rock served to keep the house a steady temperature–like building yourself a giant, above-ground cave.

Also cool is that much of the stuff that’s painted in the house is painted with a buttermilk-based paint. The greens are buttermilk and various plants. The reds are buttermilk and… ready?… goat’s blood. Hell yes, I’m stealing that.

I was really impressed by how much he talked about the slave labor and basically how it made the house possible.

I had heard that Cragfont is ridiculously haunted, but I have to tell you, he’d been having such problems with things falling off the walls and it was so creepy in parts of the house–the front hallway, for instance–and we were in there all alone, so I just didn’t have the guts.

But it was beautiful and awesome and I’m so glad I went.

I would love to get into Fairview, too, even though it’s been substantially remodeled.

Based On

The event at Belmont was really lovely and fun. I liked sitting in the green room getting to meet all of the artists and, man, musicians can tell some stories–quickly and with humor. I also liked seeing people’s pre-show rituals. A lot of folks got quiet and needed time to gather themselves. Some folks seemed cool going straight from watching in the audience to playing on stage.

When I got back to the green room, I had a million texts of pictures of myself from all my friends in the audience. Which made me smile.

But man, we have so much talent in town. I was glad I went early on, because I think I would have lost my nerve. The whole thing was just one spectacular reader followed by an awesome artist after another.

Anyway, I may have more coherent things to say after I wake up a little, but basically, it was lovely.

And, also, I’ll just say, because the Butcher brought it up, too, Craig Havighurst is some kind of minor god. He just kept things moving and lively and shifted the crowd from one artist to another in a really smooth and lovely manner. It’s one of those things that is a real and complicated skills that, when you see someone who’s got it mastered, you kind of wonder how they even knew they’d be good at it, if they just worked at it. Like, obviously, it’s a needed thing, but when done well, it’s kind of mostly invisible how much work it is.


Yesterday I saw a bald eagle downtown. I thought I was seeing something… like a mistake… or an impossibility. But it turns out that there was a bald eagle at Radnor last year and a breeding pair in Franklin some time before that. So, it’s actually not that weird, though uncommon, to see a bald eagle in Middle Tennessee.

But it felt amazing.


Just to recap for locals making weekend plans:

The launch party is at East Side Story at 6 p.m. I suspect actual doings won’t start until 6:30. You can pre-purchase copies here (and that’s the only way for out of town people to get books that I know of at the moment). You don’t have to pre-purchase copies. Plenty will be available at the event.

But once they’re gone, they’re gone.

How is this Real Life?

I went to lunch over at Two Boots and Muddy Waters came on. People started to whoop. Customers were whooping. And then they started to dance. And, even after that died out, when a new person came in, he or she would start dancing. Even though he or she hadn’t seen the others dancing.

It seemed like magic.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure it was this version of Mannish Boy. I’m going to guess it was the subliminal influence of Mick’s butt shaking that caused all the dancing.

Clowning Around


Yesterday I went back up to Gallatin for the thing they were having out at Bledsoe’s Fort–a bunch of reinactors from the early days. It was all very interesting. I talked dolls with a woman for a long time, Native American tattoos with a couple of Indians who lectured me on how stupid they thought the term Native American was, and weaving with a guy who does the whole nine yards from flax to linen, which was really interesting. I always imagine with things like that, which require multiple steps, or, think about, say, cake making or any kind of baking really, when it’s more than just “Here’s a raw thing. Put it on heat until it’s cooked.” and I think of the people who first figured it out and I wonder a lot about them. All those steps. How long did it take you to figure out how to take them?

I also met this clown, who did not speak, but she blew my mind. She hand-made this outfit. The stitching, which she let me look at, was extraordinary. I tend to find clowns creepy, but I thought she was beautiful. And she was like if a contortionist and a dancer had a happy baby. That was her act, leaping and tumbling and juggling. It didn’t feel so far removed from something sacred.

One part of last week was hard. Not in a bad way hard. Last week was fucking awesome (and I’m fully expecting this week, when it runs in the paper, to be a lot less fun).

But here’s the thing. I think of myself as a blogger, first and foremost, and someone who aspires to write amazing ghost stories. I don’t really consider myself to be a straight up fantasy writer or a straight up horror writer. I just think of myself as writing ghost stories. All my stories are about a past that comes creeping up on you, no matter how buried. And I like it that way.

The non-fiction I write, I normally write because I have learned something interesting that I might want to use in my fiction later that I think other people also might find interesting. Sometimes I don’t end up using it. Sometimes I just find it really interesting and want to share it with other people because I think it helps me make better sense of where I live.

And I have this ghost story I really want to write.

But some of the responses to the Isaac Franklin piece make me wonder if I should go back to the Nashvillains book and let the ghost story sit. And I don’t know.

Right now would be the time to have a plan and goals, but I genuinely am not sure what I should be doing next.

We also went to see Age of Ultron yesterday and, though I thought it was good, I thought the clown was better and I’ve been thinking a lot about why. And I genuinely think it’s because she stood under a tree with a very few props and yet I felt like something transcendent was brushing right up next to me. I marveled at her (if I might be excused for using that word) and I didn’t at the movie. Also, I think I’m becoming some kind of strange old romantic softy in my own way as I get older, but I find “we can’t be together” storylines irritating not compelling.

Anyway, that’s where things are here. Which thing deserves my attention? How do I see myself?

I’m not sure.

The House in Harmony with Fairies

stone house

Oh, you guys! I totally forgot to tell you the awesome, strange thing I learned while in Gallatin. This house, up in the Bledsoe’s Fort park, was built by an Irish guy. The two doors are not the front of the house, but the side. Back in the day, all of the doors, they think, were double-paned–so you could keep livestock shut out and still have a breeze.

And everything about the house is set up to be in harmony with fairies. They have a big book explaining it. But the house is only one room wide–apparently fairies like (or used to like) that. Every window is across from another window or door so that, if a fairy came in one, he or she could easily pass through the house and back out. Apparently, from what I can gather, fairies like (or liked at the time) to be able to flow freely through a place without getting lost or stuck in it. You also enter right in the bedroom of the house. The back of the house was the dining/work room (dude was a weaver). And apparently this was also important, that guests be welcomed into the heart of the home and the front door open onto the hearth.

I immediately texted a picture to local author, Sara Harvey, for reasons.

So, This is What It’s Like

All day long, people complimented me on the Isaac Franklin piece. And it felt wonderful. If anyone didn’t like it, they didn’t tell me. Which was also wonderful.

I feel proud.

And relieved.

I kind of want to cry a little bit, but I can’t articulate why.

Isaac Franklin!

It’s up! Holy shit. The art is incredible.

I worked so hard on this, rewriting it and rejiggering it and reworking it, that my feeling upon seeing it live is almost tears of relief.

I think it’s good. One point that I would make, in retrospect, is that Franklin was considered at the time the epitome of a good slave trader. If you were going to “ethically” buy slaves, Franklin & Armfield was your best option. And this was Isaac Franklin.

There was no firm moral high ground to stand on as a slave owner. But one of the most important points that Ed Baptist makes is that there was no firm moral high ground to stand on throughout the whole cotton industry. An abolitionist wearing cotton shirts was a compromised man.

Anyway, fair warning, it discusses slavery and all that is entailed in that.

Corduroy Roads

Last night I went out to OZ, which is this huge artistic event space out by the Tune airport. It used to be a cigar factory. It’s pretty ordinary looking from the outside, but it’s extraordinary inside. Wow.

I was there to see William Tyler’s “Corduroy Roads.” It was fantastic. Ha ha ha. You can tell I’m just writing this for my own blog. Saw this. It was amazing.

But so the deal is that Duke University has opened its library’s special collections to artists and commissions works based on the things in it. Which, damn, man. I wish there was some way to make happen here.

So, Duke has these two old books of Civil War images. And William Tyler is a guitarist who’s worked with Lambchop and Will Oldham who is a Southerner. And the piece was… well, there were two movie screens that showed Duke’s photos and moving images made from Duke’s photos. Tyler moved around the stage playing music and ruminating on what it means to be a white Southern man who feels some great desire to make sense of the Civil War but who isn’t one of the boys Faulkner describes as dreaming it’s… I can’t remember… the second day at Appomattox or whatever.

It was really interesting to hear him talk about how even Shelby Foote seemed to not quite get at what Tyler needed someone to try to get at. He had a great quote from Robert Penn Warren’s “The Legacy of the Civil  War, 1961.” But mostly he played music, incredible music, while these pictures moved in the background.

I guess because when scholarship can’t scratch your itch, you turn to art to try to get at it.

The part I found most amazing and moving and discombobulating was that, since so many of the images were old photographs, there were a lot of “ghosts,” people or animals who had moved during the exposure time. And so there was a whole portion of the show devoted to looking at those “ghosts” in the photos. It had this effect of making you feel like you were looking at pictures of dead people.

Which, of course, you are.

It was so amazing and the people at OZ were really lovely.

But, for all my talk of what a small town Nashville is, I only recognized one person there. Which is nice and humbling. Here are all these people with interests similar to mine who do things I might be interested in and I don’t know any of them. Not quite so small-townish after all.

Anyway, I think they said it’s touring, so, if you get a chance to see it, I highly, highly recommend it. I’m glad the Butcher insisted I go.

George Featherstonhaugh

George Featherstonhaugh is a racist, no doubt. In his book, he warbles at length about the calm and placid nature of untroubled Negroes, who only revert to savagery when provoked. But it’s because he’s so biased and so biased in a way that should be sympathetic to the likes of Isaac Franklin, that his revulsion at the slave coffles stands out. How gross does it have to be if someone like Featherstonhaugh is “What the fuck is this motherfucking bullshit evil?”

Anyway, I had been struggling to figure out how to write about Isaac Franklin, but I decided to just go with him being a villain and the white people of Nashville as willing to overlook his villainy I cannot tell you how much I want there to be the word “villainry” which would have a slightly different meaning than villainy. Villainy, in my perfect world would be the actions taken by a villain–plunder, rape, burning down houses, befriending cats, etc. “Villainry” would be the act of being or becoming a villain, adopting the persona of a villain. A peerson’s first act of villainry would, therefore, be to go out and do acts of villainy. Because what bothers me is not so much Nashville missing out on Franklin’s acts of villainy. I mean, yes, he kept sex slaves at Fairview and yes, his neighbors knew, and yes, it did not go unnoticed that he shipped one of his sex slaves and her child off from Fairview right before he married Adelicia. But the raping and the leaving dead bodies in the swamp, he mostly did on the road or down in Natchez.

What bothers me is that white Nashville completely missed his villainry–his transformation into a villain. Because his victims were slaves, white Nashville could not see Franklin’s villainy for what it was and thus missed that he was, in fact, becoming a villain.

But think about it this way. Isaac Franklin loved to rape women. We know this from his letters in which he discussed it. We know that he especially loved to rape enslaved women who, by his measure, looked “white.”

No matter how racist you are, no matter how sure you are that people of African descent don’t deserve better than the depravities the white South unleashed on them, when you hear that a white man has such unabashed enthusiasm for raping “white” women, would you marry your white daughter to him?

Oliver Hayes did. He put his daughter in bed with this monster.

Isaac Franklin and All His Stuff

So, I read the one biography of Isaac Franklin. It was written back in the 30s and purports to be scholarly. But it’s the kind of book where, whenever the guy quotes someone in the 1830s being viscerally disgusted upon seeing what Franklin was up to, he has some footnote about how that person is obviously ignorant and we all these days understand that people are complex. And even this biographer, smoother-overer of all things unseemly about Franklin, says he had “mulatto mistresses” at Fairview, up in Gallatin, before he married Adelicia Hayes.

Sex slaves.

He had literal sex slaves and it was so well-known that even the guy who’s devoted himself to shining up Franklin’s reputation can’t leave it unmentioned.

Here’s a list of things we have thanks to Isaac Franklin’s money: Belmont University, the University of the South, Beersheeba Springs, Angola Penitentiary, Gallatin Road, Metro Center (yes, a whole fucking neighborhood because Franklin liked horse racing, which made it reasonable to try to keep that part of town from flooding); the Fairview subdivision, Ledbelly… I mean, maybe you could argue we have the Blues and thus most forms of American music because of Franklin, since he moved so many people into Mississippi in bondage.