Tag Archives: Chuck Klosterman

Notes from Nashville

20 Apr

At last, I have made the pilgrimage to Nashville, and I’m still basking in the barbecue-basted afterglow.

Nashville string bandThis city is teeming with talent, since this is where musicians and songwriters from all over the world come to make their fortunes. In the meantime, they have to make a living, keep their chops up and be ready for the next gig that could be the big break. So no matter where you go, music squirts out of every doorway and windowsill and pours out of bars and burger joints, and it’s almost always crazy great.

Want bonafide old-timey music with a side of sleeve tattoos? You got it outside of the Boot Country store on Broadway (see above). Want to hear Stevie Ray Vaughan’s take on “Little Wing” even though he’s moved on to the Great Beyond? Order some sweet potato fries at Paradise Park Trailer Resort and give a listen to the house band at 3:00 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon. Need to unwind after a long day of driving? Go to your hotel lobby and hear a gal do a credible acoustic version of “Angel from Montgomery” as you take in the exhibition of works by painter/musician Ray Stephenson that includes a portrait of John Prine.

Rock came up from country music of all stripes – gospel, Texas swing, hill music, blues – and that bloodline is being celebrated now at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum in their current exhibit, “Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats.” The logo and other poster art was commissioned from Jon Langford, a musician with the punk band the Mekons:

Nashville Cats artwork

Even without this terrific exhibit – showcasing the time in the 1960s and early 1970s when Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash came to Nashville to record, followed by Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Linda Ronstadt and many others – I would have gotten a kick out of the place. I grew up in the early 1970s watching The Porter Wagoner Show and Hee Haw. Plus, my brother lived the Urban Cowboy life in the early 1980s when he worked in Houston, and I spent a lot of time with that film’s soundtrack. The fiddles and banjos, the wigs and rhinestones, the Qiana and the cowboy boots: it’s part of my childhood. (Sadly, the volume on the Hee Haw video clips at the Hall of Fame was so low, my daughter could not fully appreciate the comic stylings of the Hee Haw Honeys.)Hee Haw Honeys

Still, I sped up once I got to the displays featuring stars of the 1990s and beyond. I have no time for Garth Brooks or Brad Paisley or the other Top 40 country guys. Also, no matter how many articles I read about how Taylor Swift is a critical favorite as well as great person on and off stage, I just can’t bring myself to give her music a listen. Just considering it makes my neck stiffen.

Clearly I am one of those insufferable snobs Chuck Klosterman called out in “Toby over Moby,” a 2003 essay in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs:

[T]hey’ve managed to figure out the most rudimentary rule of pop sociology; they know that hipsters gauge the coolness of others by their espoused taste in sound and they know that hipsters hate modern country music. And they hate it because it speaks to normal people in a tangible, rational manner.

Klosterman goes on to call alternative country “the most popular musical genre of the last twenty-five years that’s managed to remain completely unpopular.” (I have at least half of the albums featured in the Hall of Fame’s alt-country display … ahem.)

But the sincerity of pop country gets dulled by bro country‘s formulaic songwriting and singers Auto-tuned into sameness. There is so much better stuff available. Classic material from Hank Williams and Willie Nelson hasn’t lost its luster, and 21st century musicians – the Punch Brothers, the Old Crow Medicine Show, and Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, to name a few – are reclaiming and reinterpreting the old-time catchiness of roots music without being precious about it. Plus, musicians on the rock-and-roll side of the spectrum like Jack White and Dan Auerbach make Nashville their home, soaking up the traditions and giving a platform to lesser known yet absurdly talented locals.

And on top of all this is the Grand Ole Opry, still exemplifying the best in country and roots music after 90 years on the air. More on that to follow.

See you on the flip side …


Losing My Edge

23 Jul

James Murphy facing the day following his final concert as LCD Soundsystem

In February 2011, the popular and critically acclaimed electronica dance band LCD Soundsystem made it known via its website that they would play their last show ever at Madison Square Garden that April. There were no creative differences. There was no drug-fueled tailspin. Bandleader James Murphy simply wanted out, even as the band was still going strong and picking up fame and fans. And so it was coming to an end.

Documentarians had the presence of mind to follow Murphy around a few days before and after the “funeral.” The result was Shut Up and Play the Hits, which played for one night only (!) in theaters across America on July 18 following a successful screening at Sundance.

James Murphy looks nothing like a rock star. He looks like a guy who’d wake up at two in the afternoon, eat some Trix and not realize they’re Cheetos until he’s drained the milk from the bowl. In the film he slept in the tuxedo he performed in then wore it the entire next day (okay, that was typical rock star) as he tooled around the house and ran errands with his French bulldog, Petunia, in tow.

In a way, his schlubbiness makes his decision to quit without a next project in mind even more shocking. One would think that if you had had the good fortune to look like that and get famous anyway through sheer talent, you’d keep it going as long as possible.

He gets that. His song, “Losing My Edge,” is a huge hipster joke (“I was there in 1968” sings a guy who was born in 1970). It’s also an acknowledgement of the hipster’s dread fear that all of that carefully curated superiority has an expiration date.

Our days of relevance are numbered. We need a Plan B.

In his interview with Chuck Klosterman, recorded a week before the final concert and used as narration throughout the film, Murphy says that he was 38 then he “blinked” and was 41. He didn’t want to blink again and find that he’s 50 and still in the band without having lived the life he wanted: having kids, for example. Shortly thereafter, he bursts into tears when he goes to the warehouse where his equipment is being stored until it can be sold off.  He’s worried he made the biggest mistake of his life, leaving it all behind.

Murphy’s Plan B is to be more like us parents sitting in the Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, grateful that we could get away to see a movie on a Wednesday night … while our Plan B is to sell out Madison Square Garden, looking as we do and saying what we want, being the artists we all dream we are destined to be just given the chance.

I wish us all luck.

See you on the flip side …

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