Nice Things

Yesterday I had to go down to the Hall of Fame for a meeting, to introduce my new co-worker to the person she’ll mostly be working with. After we met, that person took us down to the museum and walked us through the first part of the exhibit, pointing things out to her and telling her behind the scenes stories (even things that I did not know, like the gender of the person that destroyed a certain famous, now reconstructed, mandolin–and let’s just say that there’s one gender it could be that makes you say, “Wow, I guess that person must have been on drugs” and there’s another gender that makes you say, “Oh, oooooohhhh, right.” And the coverage of the destruction at the time made it seem like it was the former, but it was the latter.).

My co-worker is not very familiar with country music, with the exception of the O Brother soundtrack and I admit, I’m kind of envious of the enormous task she has before her to work up a passing familiarity with it. I guess I believe she’s in for a real treat. Ha ha ha. I guess we’ll see.

Anyway, we got to Cindy Walker’s typewriter and our generous guide asked my co-worker if she knew Cindy’s song, “Sweet Dreams,” and she seemed confused, but it’s Roy Orbison! So I figured there was a chance she might have heard the song, even if she didn’t know it, so I started singing it and then our guide joined in.

And you know that fantasy you have when you’re singing in the shower? That you will be called upon to sing in some extraordinary circumstances–like maybe you’re trying to get in a pub in Ireland with, oh, I don’t know, Colin Ferrell, and everyone who enters has to sing an Irish folk song and you’re like, “Yes, I knew those morning I sang ‘Wild Rover’ in the shower were going to come in handy, because I know four fucking verse, so you sing it and Colin Ferrell realizes he’s in love with you, even though you don’t have lavender eyes like Elizabeth Taylor, but kind of ordinary blue ones, and everyone in the pub applauds you–THIS WAS LIKE THAT BUT IN REAL LIFE (and no one fell in love with me, I don’t think).

So, my co-worker didn’t know it, but we sat in the sun and ate and talked about Nashville and I thought, well, shoot, you know, this is also my life, too. Still, I wish someone wanted to publish my book.

Charles du Charleville

So, an early Nashville history might read something like “when the first white settlers arrived in the area, they encountered French fur trader, Timothy Demonbreun, who was not the first Frenchman in the area–that being Charles du Charleville.” You might get stuck scratching your head about how the “Virginians” could be the first white people in the area when Demonbreun was here when they got here.

But what of this Charles du Charleville?

I had been assuming he was a Frenchman from Kaskaskia. There are plenty of Charlevilles in Kaskaskia at the time that Demonbreun is there and one of them is named Charles Charleville, though he seems too young to be our man. But you could imagine a scenario in which Charles Charleville retires from fur trading at French Lick, comes home to Kaskaskia and his kids tell Timothy Demonbreun about the awesome trading spot he found.

But! I found something really interesting. A few family historians and Shawnee history buffs say that the great Shawnee leader, Peter Chartier, whose dad is also a delight, had two brothers–Charles Chartier and Jean Chartier–who were fur traders at French Lick where they were known as Charles du Charleville and Jean du Charleville.

This suggests that the area during their lives may have been known as Charleville.

Anyway, I’m trying to see what kinds of historical sources I can find for these guys being the du Charlevilles. Historians seem pretty united in the belief that Peter Chartier did come (back) to the Cumberland, so the area was known to him. But did he actually have brothers?

We have to see.

The Nations

This morning, while I was walking the dog, I thinking about The Nations some more and I was wondering if there were any things that it could mean–like could it be short for something? “The Nation’s Best Donuts” or “The Domination of Mankind?”

And then I remembered that there is a known thing that “Nation” has been shortened from–Donation. Robert Johnson sings about his woman’s “nation sack.”

The nation sack has been the source of a lot of controversy over the years, but it appears that Memphis prostitutes called their purses their donation sacks as a joke poking fun at the donation sacks of tent-revival preachers, which then got shortened to “nation sack” and sometimes conflated with the hoodoo nature sack.

So, that’s a somewhat nearby usage of the term. But I’m not sure what might have been happening in The Nations. But could it have been prostitution? “I’m going to make my donation to the girls.” becomes “I’m going to the Nations.” Or tent revivals?

WXNA

We have a new radio station in town that’s the renegades from Vanderbilt’s old community station–WXNA (that’s the new station, not Vandy’s old station). And I’m loving it, so far. It’s like listening to interesting people’s cool record collections.

It makes me really happy to hear people doing interesting, creative things.

But I have to tell you that I think we’re seeing more and more a real split between people who can make a living doing the creative thing they love and creative people who have to find some way to subsidize the cool thing they love. The quality of people stuck in the “I do this for free” is exploding and it’s getting harder and harder to make a living doing what you love.

But it can’t go on, I don’t think. If society stratifies like this, then a lot of us will be happy with the entertainment provided by the people we know, which leaves the upper tier entertainment without the audience they want.

Maybe.

The Nations

I’m doing some research into why the Nashville neighborhood called “The Nations” is called “The Nations” and it’s both really interesting–the research–and not very enlightening. The two main stories are just-so stories, I think, ways of justifying the name after the fact.

I think the truth is kind of racist and kind of harder to get at because of that. I mean, no one comes out and says, “We, who did not live there, called it The Nations, because it was poor and integrated because of its poverty and it’s a knock on that diversity” and I can’t yet find any evidence of anyone saying “We, who lived there, called it The Nations.” At least, not at first.

But that’s my guess. Not that “integrated” meant that integrated. You could still find mostly black people east of 51st and mostly white people west, but there were Hispanics and Asians thrown in there, too.

Books, Stories, Fun

Yesterday, I sat around, ate Thai food, talked about book publishing stuff, and the Metallica-time travel story I’ve been working on. Then I got to tour Third Man!

It was awesome. The Butcher is right. I’ve been too in my head lately. I need to get out and do some stuff even if I feel like I’m too busy to do anything. I feel tremendously better.

I tried to convince the folks at Third Man, after seeing how into old equipment they are, that they should head over to the Masons’ Grand Lodge and see their stage set-up.

I told them they could drop my name if they wanted to, though they wouldn’t need to.

Then they asked me if I was a Mason, and, of course, being a woman and someone who likes hanging out with gay people, I am not. Illuminati all the way, here. But on my drive home, I got the giggles thinking about the fact that literally the only people in town who might be “Oh, Betsy Phillips sent you? Um, okay, sure, come on in.” are the Masons! And possibly the Tennessee State Library and Archives–though, again, obviously, anyone can already go there.

But also, I think that I’ve figured out my discomfort with the Metallica story. The plot of the story is “scientists invent time travel, immediately decide to make young Metallica fight old Metallica over old Metallica’s audacious plan to get old and change.” So, it would seem that the climax of the story would be when the Metallicas confront each other.

That should be where the emotional oomp is.

But I think the emotional oomp of the story comes right before that, when one scientist is remembering the first time he saw the video for “One.”

The plot-dictated climax isn’t the emotional climax. And, on the one hand, I think that’s fine, because it’s a story about nostalgia and how the past is and isn’t connected to the present. It’s supposed to kind of peter out just when you want a brawl.

But man, on the other hand, it feels weird to me every time I read it, like it’s just not shaped right.

The House from Which My House Came

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I don’t know what this is growing in the front meadow, but it is amazing. I don’t think this picture begins to do justice to it. If you could look beyond those tall trees, you’d seem my back yard. Once upon a time, my lot was a part of this house’s land. I don’t know anything about this house but I would guess that it’s probably built by some Stump or a Ewing.

Third Man Books

The Third Man Books first anniversary party was incredible. One thing I really admire about Chet’s ability to set a vibe in a room is that the vibe is “Let’s enjoy this.” No nitpicking, no cooler-than-thou ironic stances, no eye-rolling, just show up and be open to things.

I admit, that’s hard for me sometimes. My cousin, A., keeps lecturing me on what I think she sees as the barrier I put up between myself and genuine compliments, but it’s not just genuine compliments. I think I have a hard time openly enjoying things without also wanting to hide a little of myself from it. I’m trying to be better about it.

Rita Bullwinkel was there in the audience and I got to say “hi.” She does such good work. The Parnassus people were there and they’re so giddy about Stephen King coming that it made me happy for them. I got to say “hi” to Robert Gordon, who I haven’t seen in ages, so that was nice.

It was just such nice energy and it was invigorating to be sitting in a room full of really creative people all delighted to see what other creative people are up to.

It was also my first time in the Third Man building and it was very lovely. The women’s bathroom was cold as shit, though. It seemed like an aesthetic point, but I’m not sure what the point was. Again, maybe it was just the vibe of the night, but there was something nice about “oh, here is very cold.” “Oh, here is warm and toasty.” The building is definitely set up to make you feel like everything has been considered for the effect it will have.

Also, apparently, Third Man is going to start publishing some fantasy & science fiction. So, I slipped a note to Chet telling him to publish Bullwinkel, because, whoa, Christ, of course he should!

It is Happening!

I have all my squares done. I have begun piecing it together. And I think it does have the kind of hippie patchwork vibe I was hoping for. I think it’s going to be gorgeous.

I’m going to the Third Man Books party tonight. I’m a little nervous and excited. A couple of poets I really admire are going to be there.

All of a sudden Nashville has a literary scene or something.

Tiny Gloating

I keep forgetting that I wanted to make this point. So, Chris Stapleton remade George Jones’s “Tennessee Whiskey” (well, Jones made it famous, but anyway).

George:

I one-hundred percent recommend just watching George’s face through this whole performance. He just has such great expressions.

And Chris:

Okay, you all know that I had a belief that Gretchen Wilson could have salvaged her career with an album of country standards (I, myself, was especially keen on her doing “I’m Going to Hire a Wino” which I think would have been brilliant).

I thought it was such a good idea I even pitched it to someone who was, at the time, in a position to rip the idea off from me and do something with it. I would not have minded! It would have been worth it just to have the album!

But, boy oh boy, did I get told what a stupid idea that was and that nobody wants to hear artists doing other people’s songs anymore. The fans don’t know old songs so they don’t care about them. Labels, in fact, have forbidden covers on albums unless you’re a “niche” artist.

Years go by. This happens. I laugh.

Paint Peeling

Yesterday I got to ride around with Josh Rothman showing him the Franklin sites. Fairvue’s gate was open, so we went right up to the front door. All the houses we looked at were in need of a paint job and I don’t remember them being that way when P. took me around, so I wonder if they got hail up there real bad recently or what.

But the two things I wanted to share that I did not know are 1. Ed Baptist’s name is pronounced ‘Baptist,’ like the church and he’s somewhat confused about how the ‘Baptiste’ pronunciation has caught on. 2. HOLY FUCK. John Armfield’s house in Hendersonville is still standing and you can get married there. Just let that sink the fuck in.I mean, though, hell, you can get married in Beersheba Springs and at the University of the South, too, but both of those do a good job of gliding over where the money to make them came from. The man’s house is the man’s house, you know?

Response

I had a bunch of errands to run and I got busy and neglected the old blog here, but also, I was kind of hiding from the thing I wanted to write about.

The response to my Napier piece has been overwhelming. In a good way, mind you. But, usually, when I write something, I feel like it’s me yelling across a canyon and not being sure if anyone heard it (especially since I’m not reading comments). Sometimes, people will email me and tell me that they liked something or tell me in person and that’s super great.

And I really like the Napier piece. Of course, like any writing, seeing it in print, I wish there were things I’d finessed better (like, did you notice one of the Napier kids vanishes? I say William Napier raised his five kids here, but then I only account for four of them? I could have just explicitly said that the fifth kid died.) and things I wish I’d been able to do–like get into the Napier collection at Fisk.

But it seems to me like a pretty okay piece. Not my best, but pretty okay. I’m proud of it.

I would not have guessed at the flood of emotion the piece brought forth in people. I didn’t anticipate how it would move them or how much it means to them.

I’m not sure how to feel about it. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m deeply honored and grateful. But I wonder, if I had known ahead of time how much this meant to people, if I would have written it differently.

It’s hard to talk about the ways that being white makes you kind of oblivious to the meaning and implications of your actions. From my perspective, there’s just a lot of history out there, a lot of sources, a lot of ways to finagle some kind of understanding about people’s lives.

And, from my perspective, there are a lot of stories of a lot of people that don’t get told, that we have a tradition of overlooking. As big a feminist as I am, if someone came along and told me that we really don’t understand Nashville history because we don’t understand how, say, Charlotte Robertson was really running the show, I wouldn’t be surprised, and I’d be excited to hear how. I’d want this new perspective.

But the truth is that I don’t feel robbed when I discover something about white women or white people that was heretofore unknown to me. I mostly feel like “Oh, those dumbasses trying so hard to sell the future a lie.”

It’s very easy for me to not have to know how black people in Nashville didn’t even get a lie. They got deliberately erased, every step of the way.

I kind of hate the term “privilege” for many reasons, but it is a privilege to assume that your history just lies to you. The truth isn’t gone, just covered up.

Because a lot of history is gone and deliberately so.

I failed to appreciate how powerful saying “Look, here, none of this stuff is lost” would then be.

So, as proud as I am of the piece, I also am kind of embarrassed about that failure.

The Napiers

My cover story on William Napier.And my Pith addendum on Solomon Napier.

I’m also hoping I have time to go to the TSLA and investigate a little further into the attacks on Elias Napier. He mentions one in his will and I saw that there was some court case over another. I’m curious about that.

I found, and still find, Solomon’s story deeply, viscerally upsetting. Trick of the imagination or the past pressing too close, but when I think of him, especially of him coming back to Nashville, the last place he knew to look for his mother, I feel this sadness on her behalf that overwhelms me.

As if her sorrow is still soaked in the streets, just waiting for someone to know of it so that it can come up into a body and work itself out.

And since I know of it, it works through me.

Solomon Napier

I found out more about him. More than I think anyone left knows.

He got married in Cincinnati to an Ariel Mitchell, whose family had come from Virginia. He then went to war. He was a private in the 100th infantry, Company E.

He fought here in Nashville. He battled up John Overton’s hill, through his peach orchard.

You can give a boy five hundred dollars and a new family. He will not forget the mother he left here, enslaved.

The Overtons knew the Napiers. Well. They mingled money. They bought a horse together.

Solomon Napier was armed within sight of Traveller’s Rest. Within sight of his father/uncle’s friends. Killing the kinds of men who stole his mother from him.

He lived through the War. He had three daughters that I could find.

In 1870, he lived in Arkansas with his family. He was a farmer. It was a good time to be a black man in Arkansas. By 1875, though, it wasn’t.

His widow and his children are in Minneapolis with her people by 1880.

I find no record of what happened to him. No grave with his name on it.

It could just be shoddy record-keeping, one last indignity, one last effort to erase a person from history.

But you lose a man, a black man who fought for the Union, in Arkansas in the middle of the ’70s with no trace, you start to think you’re looking at the last faint echoes of something really, really bad.

It’s a Good Thing I’m Having Some Success

I’m really struggling with this Napier piece, in part because I hadn’t really realized before I got started how much of J.C. Napier’s personal philosophy was driven by the whole “it’s not race, it’s class” with an underlying “so, let me be upper class with you, ritzy white people, so that I can rightfully be better than low class whites and blacks.”

Well, yuck.

It’s also, though, still obvious that Napier did a lot of good and important things for the city and the nation.

I’m just having a hard time balancing my personal distaste for the family’s snobbiness with my belief that the city should know and remember them in the same way we know the Brileys and other political families.

And Pilot Knob? What of It?

As far as I can tell, all Sumner County school children are taught that Pilot Knob is so called because riverboat pilots used it as a guide on the Cumberland.

Pilot Knob isn’t on the Cumberland. It used to be taller, before it was quarried, so possibly, it used to be visible, but, even if that’s the case, there’s a bigger problem with this explanation.

Pilot Knob was called Pilot Knob long before there were riverboats on the Cumberland.

Thanks to Google Books, we now have a plausible explanation.

From The Historic Blue Grass Line:

From this camp Station Camp Creek got its name [Mansker, Bledsoe, Drake, Gillespie, Cage, and Franklin had a semi-permanent hunting camp here], and Pilot Knob, on the north, was so called because it guided the hunters through the wilderness to and from their main headquarters, or station camp. (Note.–Pilot Knob is mentioned in a road-making order on the minutes of the Davidson County Court, 1786, p. 109.)

Now, this seems right to me. You want to be able to find the same dry place year after year, you find one near a great big hill standing alone visible from the old animal trace you’re using to get into the area. You want to easily be able to get back to your base camp after a long day of hunting? Again, put your camp near the big lone hill.

But, like I told C., I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there was a sailor among the long hunters, hence the reason we’re seeing these ship terms.

Why is Shackle Island Called Shackle Island?

The folk etymology suggests that there used to be an island in Drake’s Creek where slaves were kept shackled or where there was a shack where people used to drink even when it was illegal.

The problem with both of these theories is that Shackle Island was called that almost as soon as white people got to Sumner County, back before there was any real slave trading or before it was illegal to drink.

I have another theory.

A shackle in old-timey boat parlance was a length of cable fifteen fathoms long–about thirty yards.

Shackle Island is visible on the LOC map. You can see it up Drake’s Creek where Long Hollow Pike crosses it. It is conveniently labeled. Though the island no longer exists, I did my best to roughly sketch in the eastern boundary of the island.

The distance from the eastern side of the island to the western side of the island would have been almost 900 feet.

Thirty yards.

One shackle.

Edited to add: Holy shit! Is there anything my bad math won’t ruin. Thirty yards is 90 feet, not 900.

Storms

I just need the storms tomorrow to hold off as long as possible so that I can get up to Sumner county and see what there is to see.

Please, please, please.

Also, no tornadoes.

Nashville and Race

On our walk this morning, I was thinking that there’s something really screwed up about the fact that there are people alive in this city who know who bombed Looby’s house. They have never come forward. We are more likely to live in a city that has forgotten who Looby is and what he did for us than we are to live in a city that knows who tried to kill him.

To my way of thinking, this is a good measure of whether we have racial justice in this city. Are we still choosing to protect the white people who tried to kill black Nashvillians? I’m not even talking about prosecuting anyone. I’m just talking about being wholly honest about what happened.

Every day, we choose this. People know. They choose not to say.

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