Tag Archives: Detroit Working Writers

More Notes from Nashville: The Grand Ole Opry

30 Apr

One to-do that was a must-do during my inaugural trip to Nashville: the Grand Ole Opry. I’m not being hipster snarky ironic about this: for real and for true, I looked forward to it.

Grand Ole OpryThe Grand Ole Opry has broadcast a radio show on WSM 650 AM for the last 90 years. Now situated in a performance space next to a humongous shopping mall – which was fully rebuilt following the 2010 flood devastation – the Opry features country musicians of all types over four 30-minute sets. Programming is as devoted to tradition as Top 40, featuring old-guard Members as well as more recent Guest Artists doing two or three songs each, interspersed with comedians and commercial spots for Cracker Barrel. The back-up musicians are no slouches, either.

As much as I genuinely love lap pedal steel guitar (and I teared up when the square dancers hit the stage), this is far from being a museum piece. It’s a continuing celebration of all that Nashville represents.

I came to see Rhiannon Giddens. She is a phenomenal fiddler and banjo player with a thrilling, classically trained voice that can wrap around Piedmont folk songs and Bob Dylan lyrics with equal ease. A founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, she’s embarking on a solo career supported by T Bone Burnett, who fell for her fearlessness when she performed “Waterboy” as part of a star-studded concert prior to the release of Inside Llewyn Davis. Here she is, singing that song for David Letterman:

Midway through the evening, she strode onto the Opry stage, tall and barefoot in a twilight blue dress. She only did two numbers – the Patsy Cline song, “She’s Got You,” and Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s gospel tune, “Up Above My Head” – but that was all it took to turn my family into fans. It was a pity she didn’t play an instrument, too; maybe next time.

Chris Janson

As far as my younger daughter was concerned, though, the highlight of the evening was Chris Janson, a scrawny singer/songwriter in a motorcycle jacket whose teeth and hair made up half his body weight. Janson exemplifies what rock music typically lacks: a charming sense of humor. To wit, here’s a non-Opry version of the song that won my daughter’s heart:

Take it from me: you go to the Opry, you’ll enjoy yourself, even if you’re more a fan of Johnny Cash than Johnny Paycheck … and speaking of the Man in Black, Nashville’s Johnny Cash Museum is worth a visit, even if you just want a cup of Bongo Java coffee. More on that later.

See you on the flip side …

P.S. Just a few days remain to sign up for the 2015 Detroit Working Writers Conference, taking place May 16 in Troy, which includes a workshop about “Finding Your Writing Niche” led by yours truly. Hope to see you in a darkened conference room soon!


Check … Check … Name-Check …

19 May

Eric Church Springsteen KaraokeWe in metro Detroit are able to tune into CBC Radio 2 out of Windsor. It’s worth a listen despite my general lack of enthusiasm for Canadian rock music, mainly because you never know what you might hear next: jazz, world music, even a classic rock program hosted by Mr. “Takin’ Care of Business” himself, Randy Bachman.

Running errands last weekend, I heard the DJ recommend a Canadian singer/songwriter who is trying to snag the attention of her favorite rock star through a tribute song. The name of the song was enough to get me to check it out:

Now that I’ve listened to it all I can say is, I should not be so quick to take the advice of a Canadian DJ.

It’s nice and all but WWTPD? doesn’t live up to its title’s potential. It combines the Canuck tendency of being mildly amusing way too long with the infuriating pop country practice of name-checking a much better performer in an attempt to build credibility (or beg for a collaborator). And if this tune really does succeed in getting Mr. Petty’s professional attention, Ms. -Lee may be disappointed. As reported in Rolling Stone last year (with additional context from a nifty blog I just discovered, Saving Country Music), he’s got a major beef with bland pop country.

Don’t get me wrong. There are any number of terrific songs that mention other singers or groups – here are just a few:

  • Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music”
  • “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” and “Losing My Edge” by LCD Soundsystem
  • Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”
  • “Runnin’ Down a Dream” by Tom Petty (who mentions singing along with Del Shannon, perhaps because Tom Petty produced some of his later work … and/or because Tom felt guilty about stealing bassist Howie Epstein away from Del to join the Heartbreakers)
  • and one of my favorites, “Elvis is Everywhere” by Mojo Nixon (although he’d probably reassess his opinion of Michael J. Fox at this point):

Likewise, there are any number of terrible ones:

  • “Moves Like Jagger” by what’s his name from The Voice
  • ABC’s “When Smokey Sings”
  • “R-O-C-K in the U-S-A” by John Mellencamp
  • “Don Henley Must Die,” also by Mojo Nixon (whose career pretty much died with this song)
  • and one of my least favorites, Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (name-checking musicians is the least of the song’s problems)

Ms. -Lee’s tune falls somewhere in the middle of the list, yet for me it’s as much a cautionary tale as a mediocre song. These days, name-checking has gone far beyond shoring up your street cred. It’s bad enough that we trick ourselves into believing we know stars personally because every scrap of their life stories is available online. With the blinding success of Justin Bieber, a Canadian (!) discovered by Usher via YouTube,  we’re being led to believe that celebrities are just a tweet or video clip away from becoming our champions or even our friends. We expect them to reply to our Facebook posts or retweet our compliments or otherwise acknowledge our existence, with a certainty that borders on madness. Let’s face it, they appreciate “the fans” but can’t possibly be expected to appreciate each fan individually … especially when someone’s angling for a favor in the process.

Moral of the story: if you name-check a rock legend, you’d better 1) have a damn good reason and 2) have a damn good song. Of course, if you’re dropping the name of a Nineties’ television phenomenon, knock yourself out:

(True confession: I was such a fan of The X-Files back in the day that I plunked down a chunk of change on eBay for a grainy, seventh-generation copy of this on VHS. Don’t judge me …)

See you on the flip side …

P.S. On a writerly note, The Story Cartel is once again offering its online writing workshop/marketing seminar. I highly recommend it to those who are considering writing creatively and haven’t taken that first step: this could be that first step. Because of the Story Cartel Course I got a lot of practical advice on self-publishing and promotion, social media, and simply writing better … and I have a published novel and picked up a writing award to prove it! Register today and let them know I sent you.

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