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!
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.
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).
I one-hundred percent recommend just watching George’s face through this whole performance. He just has such great expressions.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
I wrote about fur trading over at Pith. I might write some more about that Brown kid this evening. We’ll see.
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 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.
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.
Edited to add: Holy shit! Is there anything my bad math won’t ruin. Thirty yards is 90 feet, not 900.
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.
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.
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.
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.
But I think my casual writer’s retreat was a success. I retreated, anyway.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When I think about the fact that this poet lives in this city and works here, it takes my breath away. It makes me want to breathe in deeper, so that I can share in whatever might be floating in the ether that lets her learn to do this with words.
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.