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Monthly Archives: October 2015

Recharged

This blog is only a small amount of what I choose to write about my personal thoughts and ideas. The real fireworks occur in the more traditional longhand medium, which is a habit I had dabbled with in the past but only really picked up last year after a particularly egregious oversight by people I know. It proved to be a wonderful release until… Well, the reservoir wasn’t even close to dry, but it was starting to crumble under the dead weight of everything: My rapidly fading emotions, my draining will to keep writing, my general loneliness, boredom, and frustrations, and my suicidal contemplation being stronger than ever before. I randomly quit journaling, and when I finally decided to take it up again, it was more with the forced willingness of a blocked creator on a deadline than through any wont on my part. It reflected in my suddenly bare writing style.

It would take a hell of a spark to get me going again. I felt parts of it begin to light up as I visited Friendship Presbyterian Church to see… Well, friends in Chicago during my layover, and that night while watching the entire lunar eclipse from parts of Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. And I felt it as my bus glided through the vast expanse of the Nashville city limits and along the front of the skyline in the early hours of the morning.

Then came my first night in Nashville, with Christi meeting me on the West End after I had spent a fairly invigorating day wandering around the city.

“Did you get to the waterfront?” she asked.

“No, I didn’t make it down that far,” I said.

And so with that, Christi decided she had to show off the waterfront, 10 PM time and the fact that I was still fatigued from three or four different Greyhound rides be damned. Christi told me about the pedestrian walkway that crossed the Cumberland River, but confessed that she didn’t know where it began. We ended up parked a brisk ten-minute walk from it, with Christi saying we would simplify our activities because it was so late: Walk to the bridge, see if we could find the entrance, and return to the car. But it had been a good long time since the last time we had seen each other, and so at the start of our walk, everything that happened over the past years tumbled out. Christi is a spectacular ranter, and before the car was parked, her mouth was flying at such a high level that it was discovered and renamed by the Chinese space program. That got me going, and as we shared our dark thoughts on taboo subjects with each other, our quick 20-minute walk to find the trail to the pedestrian bridge morphed into a 120-minute walk across the bridge and a lap around the football stadium. My feet were throbbing by the time we got back to the car, but that didn’t matter to me.

Something about that moment had lit me right back up. One of the many reasons that Christi and I are friends is because Christi is about the most unshockable person I’ve ever known. She’s willing to take interest in and run with ideas that even the most open-minded people won’t let themselves so much as even think, and that frees me up to speak and act without the burdens of any of those ridiculous masks we force ourselves into when we need to function around even small crowds. The very idea of normality is something which drives us both into convulsions, especially if we’ve had to go past our limits pretending to be that way.

That was just the beginning. One of odd aspects of this mental recharge was that a lot of it also happened while I did the typical Western New York NHL playoffs routine: Outside on the front porch, screen door shut, drinking all the beer within reach while prattling on about the hockey playoff game blaring audibly in the background. Except, this being Tennessee and no one watches hockey in Tennessee, we replaced the hockey game with whatever random offering of music happened to be laying around in the CD case. We picked the music pretty much in round robin fashion, and I didn’t pass up a chance to listen to August and Everything After for the first time since, well, possibly ever.

After a couple of days, I finally felt that familiar urge to write again. When I did, my journal entries looked like they had the creativity and congealed energy and focus of my original journal entries. Words started coming easier, and instead of writing down handfuls of near-non-sentences about the daily sequence, I started writing down the same thoughts and feelings that I believed needed to be dug up by the local archeologist 500 years after I’ve been dead. I’m starting to wonder if I should take the time and effort to try to trick the archeologist who digs me up at that point into thinking I was some sort of cloned dinosaur, or maybe one of the world’s great superdictators.

Of course, the practical downside of everything is that I haven’t been able to just sit down and machine-gun blog entries the way I want to. That’s just the sort of shit that can happen when your computer craps out on you. (And let there be no mistake about it – it’s goddamn junk these days. It’s an iMac, but it’s an iMac from 2008, and an Apple from 2008 is practically ash by this point.) Hell, I wasn’t able to blog at all in Nashville. So now I have to sort through all of my newly-collected memories and decide how to consolidate them, or decide which ones I think are odd enough to jump from my journal page to whatever computer screen I happen to be staring at. No matter what happens, though, one thing about my writing will always be the same: I’m still at my very best whenever I take the Hemingway approach to my work.

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The Nashville Sound

The Nashville Sound

Johnny Cash became a superstar in Nashville. He’s technically considered a country singer, which means music aficionados are likely to file him under the “YEE-HAW!!!” compartments of their brains right along with John Wayne’s dead brand of American patriotism and Terry Bradshaw. Cash, though, had a powerful flair for lyrics. He spoke to the darkest corners of the soul; the areas we’re forced to deny the existence of whenever we put on our brave faces because social protocol demands we suck it up and move on. He made a career of expressing in music and lyric form the ways we’ve all felt at our loneliest and most helpless, and in doing so he turned into a transcendent singer whose work was felt by everyone, whether or not they hated country music.

Nashville itself, of course, has a long and storied history in music. Elvis Presley is such a popular figure there that his favorite sandwich can be bought at Johnny Cash’s museum. It’s even nicknamed The Music City! With a nick and a reputation like that, you would expect an explosive variety of music to be available on the local radio stations, with a load of country stations leading the charge. But when I turned on my small shortwave radio in my first morning in Nashville and started channel surfing, it was very surprising and a little disturbing to find station after station of those great dregs of music: Christian music. Constant clicking of that whacked-out, balls-to-the-wall, fire and brimstone variety of preaching. God is good; heaven will be awesome; you’re all going to hell; the end times are here and the atheists are all going to have the planet to themselves after we all get raptured.

No wonder everyone makes fun of country music. There are so many Christian radio stations in Nashville that some bigshot travel writer probably listened to all the Christian stations, mistook the music for country, and launched a satirical stereotype worthy of Mencken or Twain. Staying as a guest in the home of my good friend Christi, the first thing I asked her that morning – besides “How the hell does this coffee machine work?” – was about whether or not there were any radio stations in Nashville that weren’t screaming about the holy light and the greatness of Jay-zuz! in orgasmic overtones. She told me that she noticed that too, and that a lot of those Christian stations were going to either tread on eggshells or scare the fear of the Christian God into you.

Mindboggling is the word for this. To listen to radio in Nashville is to conclude that residents are either all crackers or religious fanatics and that no one in the city could possibly be a fan of jazz, blues, hip hop, or classic rock. The Law of Averages alone means the demographics of Nashville probably include people who like all those things. And don’t misread me here – they’ll definitely include people who love Christian music and country music too, but probably not 12 goddamned stations of it.

It’s weird to think there are 12 different demographics of people who would listen to Christian music at all. We like to toss things into broadly generalized categories and lament about how they’re all the same. This sentiment, however, doesn’t actually hold true. All those similar products are specifically made to appeal to that general audience in a different way. But, little obedient Christian as I once was, I really have never detected a difference in Christian-based mass media. All of the Christian music I’ve heard boils down to the same watered-down message: God loves you so much that he killed his own kid in order to undo a nefarious plan enacted by his arch-foe centuries in the past. They all emphasize the same Bible stories and the fact that this God character loves us and wants us to be happy without the use of beer. It’s a very straightforward message, always told in an equally straightforward manner. So how are 12 Christian music stations able to divvy up a fanbase in a city as large and diverse as Nashville and still be in business? Especially when they have to compete against all the real country music stations?

This is just… Odd. I had heard all the stories about what things were like in the South, along the Bible Belt, of course. Hell, this isn’t even my first time traveling through the South. I had traveled to St. Louis – and I am, in fact, in St. Louis again, writing this post from the Illinois side – and been to the very tip of the South, New Orleans, on the Gulf Coast. But there are people who could build a case against me ever visiting the South at all with a travel itinerary that looks like that – St. Louis is only arguably a Southern city, and New Orleans is an odd little hotbed of hedonism which is also the headquarters of New France and a dominantly Catholic city in Southern Baptist Jesusland. While Nashville fits all possible descriptions of a large city, it also fits all possible descriptions of being a Southern city. Right down to a glorification of Nathan Bedford Forest, the Confederate General who also just happened to be the founder of the Ku Klux Klan once the Civil War was over. And yes, that oh-so-slight little blotch on Forest’s resume is under gloss so thick that it gets buried altogether.

So there I was, having rejected Christianity in nearly as complete a way as can be done, being told by weird voices in my radio that I can go to hell. And there I also was, thinking the same thing about that as I’ve now been thinking for the last ten years. I don’t know whether to laugh at the absurdity of this whole situation or cry about being in it. I don’t know if I should be bemused or disturbed. I can, however, say this: Nashville was otherwise such a fun place to be that it wasn’t able to get into my head.