Miss Daisy King was annoyed. In Nashville, a restaurant that served only foods in the Bible should be going gangbusters. But that was not the case. The tables at her "What Would Jesus Eat?" Cafe were sitting empty in the space that once housed Planet Hollywood. The scattered, smothered and covered manna was going uneaten. The all-you-can-eat loaves and fishes were wilting on the steam table. Even the "Water Into Wine Happy Hour" was dead. She toyed with one of the menus and absently flicked the bobblehead Lot's Wife saltshaker.
As Miss Daisy studied herself in the stained-glass mirror behind the bar, she had a pretty good idea who deserved the blame: Robert Atkins. This Atkins low-carb craze was killing her. Bible foods meant lots of bread, which in turn meant lots of carbs. Lots of wine, too, but even that worked against her. If not for those merlot-loving Episcopalians, her WWJE Cafe bar would have shut down before Easter.
That bitch Kay West had been no help. The Scene restaurant critic probably thought she was being cute when she wrote that "Miss Daisy seems intent on serving us all our last supper." She pronounced the food "not fit for a camel," reserving special scorn for the myrrh-burger. So what if it reeked faintly of musk? Miss Daisy had retaliated the only way she could. She had the Scene rack hurled into a landfill, although the Scene's circulation-department goons quickly chained another to a nearby telephone pole.
As she sat in the empty dining room working that day's Jumble, Miss Daisy was hit with a revelation. The sad truth was, there wasn't any passage in the Bible where anyone, Pharisee or publican, bellied up to the table for a thick, juicy, Atkins-approved steak. And her one beef item on the menu, the Fatted Calf, wasn't selling. Who wanted to see the word "fatted" on a menu these days? If something didn't change soon, she would lose her shirt.
Miss Daisy King shook her fist at the gray skies over Lower Broadway. "As God is mah witness," she thundered, "I'll never serve frankincense grits again!"
Earlier that day, whispers passed through the city's corridors of power: Watauga was back in session. Watauga! The mysterious civic club had served as Nashville's shadow government in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s, its members drawn from leadership posts all over the city and sworn to silence. A contractor didn't lift a corncake at Jimmy Kelly's without Watauga's say-so. Now members had received a hurried summons to report to the Frist Center under cover of night, and to tell no one where they were going or why.
Some of the original Wataugans were there: Nelson Andrews, Ken Roberts, John Jay Hooker. But mostly the group was made up of new-breed movers and shakers. Near the hastily assembled reception table, Gordon Gee sipped his grape Faygo while Kenneth Schermerhorn, Deb Varallo and Pat Nolan picked at the Robert Orr Sysco quiches.
Standing silently nearby were the rest of the city's illuminati: Frank Sutherland, Mario Ramos, Butch Spyridon, Clyde the ticket-taker from the Green Hills theater, Larry Woods, David Swett Sr., Karlen Evins and WSMV weatherman Tim Ross. James Hefner couldn't make it, something about last-minute tickets to see the Lady Wolfpack play in Utah. But Miss Daisy King could. She packed herself a to-go container of her Roll Away the Stone Crab Soup and took a cab up Broadway.
"This gathering is light and feathery, with a hint of oak and pine," Frank Sutherland whispered to Hooker.
"Just give me a reason to sue you," Hooker responded.
Titans owner Bud Adams took the podium and the Wautaugans grew quiet.
"Thanks for coming tonight on such short notice," Adams began on an uncharacteristically gracious note. He then returned to form: "If that piss-ant mayor of yours won't take my millions to make the schools better here, maybe we can improve things another way," he said, his eyes raking the room from beneath his improbable hair.
"Now, what's the most famous work of art in the world?"
There was an awkward silence. "Michelangelo's 'David'?" somebody finally guessed. Adams grimaced. "Van Gogh's 'Starry Night'?" another brave soul said. Ventured another, timidly: " 'Musica'?"
"No, no, no," Adams said. Jesus, he'd gotten better answers out of Eddie George's agent. " 'Mona Lisa,' " he said, putting on a sly, toothy smile. "By Mr. Leonardo da Vinci. And I won't bother asking you for guesses about what the second most famous work is. It's also by da Vinci: 'The Last Supper.'
"Now what would you say if I told you that that da Vinci painted a masterpiece that has been a secret for 500 years, a secret passed down through a tight society of artists? A masterpiece that combines elements from his two most famous works?"
Adams paused for effect. "A masterpiece that it is now time to reveal to the world. A masterpiece that I and my Texas cattle compadres are willing to ship here and show at this very museum in two weeks. What I have here tonight is a pale copy of the original, but you'll get the picture." The joke went over even better than he hoped, even though no one laughed. "Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: 'Mona Lisa's Last Supper'!"
With a flourish, Adams pulled the black velvet covering from an easel behind the podium. The assembled group sat goggle-eyed at the spectacle before them.
The painting had many features in common with 'The Last Supper.' At its center sat the figure of Christ, surrounded by other diners at a table. Instead of the apostle John at Christ's right hand, though, the familiar figure of the Mona Lisa sat primly eyeing the plate in front of her.
But Miss Daisy King noticed something else. Something that brought a smile to her face. Something that would bring crowds pouring into her "What Would Jesus Eat?" Cafe.
The table before Christ, the disciples and Mona Lisa was groaning with platters of meat.
"Is that...La Gioconda with a Porterhouse?" gasped Branstetter, clutching his chest. "What the hell is she doing at the Last Supper?"
"I can answer that."
Heads turned as the Frist's art historian, Dr. Melissa Milano, stepped to the podium beside Adams. "This painting represents two long-rumored stories dating from the time of Christ," she said. "One was that Mary Magdalene was actually married to Jesus and was present at the Last Supper. They may even have gone Dutch. The other is that, contrary to current Christian tradition, disciples at the last supper actually ate meat, not bread."
"So the Eucharist was originally meat and wine?" asked Clyde, tearing his cocktail napkin out of habit.
"That's right," Milano said. "If you think about it, it's obvious that animal flesh is much closer to what the bread of the Eucharist is supposed to representthe flesh of Jesus. Speculation is that the early Church hoarded its meat, which cost more, and accounts of the Last Supper were changed to make the body of Christ affordable to impoverished early followers.
"A secret society, of which da Vinci was a member, knew the truth. Da Vinci depicted that truth using a tableful of meat and the same model he used for 'Mona Lisa.' He had completed 'Mona Lisa'in 1503 and immediately began work on 'Mona Lisa's Last Supper,' which was completed in 1504exactly 500 years ago. The painting was protected and hidden, as Leonardo requested, for five centuries."
Suddenly, the shriek of squealing tires pierced the museum's quiet, followed by a deafening crash.
"What was that?" Adams snapped at Mike Pigott, his handler in the PR firm of McNeely Pigott & Fox. Whenever Adams was in Nashville, it was Pigott's job to convince people that Mr. Adams did not in fact say the words that he had just said. "I don't know," Pigott said, flinging open the door. The roomful of people ran down the main hallway toward the source of the sound. The first ones on the scene pulled up short.
A late-model white Infiniti SUV had somehow driven up the front steps of the museum, crashed through the front doors, and now lay on its side in the lobby. The right front tire rotated lazily in the air. Steam escaped from the radiator. Crawling out of the wrecked SUV was at-large Metro Council member Adam Dread.
"What happened?" Dread asked the dazed crowd. He slumped to the ground, muttering something about Brad Schrade and bunny slippers. "Call 9-1-1," somebody shouted, as cell phones were whipped from purses and pockets.
"Dammit, Pigott," Bud Adams fumed over the phone chatter. "You didn't tell me I was competing with some kind of monster-truck rally."
From his bed in Baptist Hospital the next day, Adam Dread gazed out the window at the Nashville skyline. He was surrounded by flowers and gifts. Mayor Purcell had delivered personally a fruit basket Patrick Willard picked up at the East Nashville Kroger. Metro finance director David Manning had contributed a can of prunes.
Dropping by for a visit, Dread's friend Dr. Frank Boehm had left a boxed set of his "Tear Trilogy": his first book,Doctors Cry, Too, and its sequelsDoctors Weep Their Asses Off and Doctors Blubber Like a Day-Care Tricycle Wreck. It was then that Dread learned about his accident, of which, mysteriously, he had no memory.
Luckily, Channel 4's Dennis Ferrier had been doing a live remote across from the Frist. For his WSMV sweeps segment "Get Your Swerve On," Ferrier and a camera crew had dispatched a career criminal to carjack as many vehicles as he could in two minutes. When Dread's SUV veered across Broadway, Ferrier abandoned his enthusiastic hijacker, who was throwing a terrified soccer mom and two children out of a Ford Aerostar. The camera crew charged across the street, even chasing the Watauga members to their cars. For missing the story, WTVF's Phil Williams was demoted to a new weekly feature, "Your Cat's Horoscope."
Soon the news traveled around the world. "Nashville to showcase 'lost' da Vinci" was the headline in The New York Times, echoed by the Post's "Leo Goes Country!" Artforum opined that New York would be a far better venue for such a significant art exhibition, adding that da Vinci was overrated anyway. The Wall Street Journal's front page enthused, " 'New' da Vinci seen as boon to steakhouses, meat markets."
Meanwhile, in the Tennessean newsroom, Frank Sutherland was overseeing a breaking Page One story about a Gallatin cat that had 15 kittens. After securing enough head shots of each kitten for the next two weeks, he rallied the troops in the newsroom.
"I want our coverage of this da Vinci thing to be light-bodied and to carry a hint of musk and cantaloupe," he said. "And it better have a clean finish with overtones of boxwood, hibiscus and blueberry Pop Tarts."
Music writer and historian Robert Oermann felt shaken as he walked toward the museum. He had received an emergency summons by police just as he was about to be interviewed for CMT's documentary The 100 Greatest Toby Keith Songs of All Time. He hated to pass up a chance for national exposure, but he was intrigued by what he had been told.
"This is the note we found in Adam Dread's pocket," Metro Detective Shepherd "Shep" Petersen said, handing it to Oermann. "We haven't been able to get in there to talk to him yettoo many VIPsbut we were hoping you might know why he was carrying this."
Oermann gazed at a scrap of paper that read: "Call Bob Oermann."
"I have no idea," the music writer said. "Adam and I would occasionally see each other when I worked for The Tennessean and he was a shameless self-promoter, but that was years ago."
The detective decided the frizzy-haired music scribe was telling the truth. It was time to take him deeper. "There's more," he said evenly. "We haven't released any of this to the media. We'd like to know what you think it might mean."
Petersen led Oermann into the main lobby of the Frist. Some liquid had bleached a pattern into the terrazzo floor of the lobby. Standing back, Oermann saw that the pattern formed a remarkably intricate representation of the double helix of DNA, adjacent to an arrow pointing to the wreckage of Dread's Infiniti.
"Must be some kind of code," Oermann said at last.
"Did someone call my name?"
The men looked up to see a statuesque African American woman stepping under the crime-scene tape.
"Hi, Jolene," said Petersen. "Bob, I want you to meet Jolene Apgar, Metro Police's code expert."
A recent graduate of Fisk University, Apgar had quickly established herself as one of the brightest minds at police headquartersbrighter, even, that that guy who kept showing his video of Steve McNair's DUI. Most of her work had involved deciphering gang graffiti on buildings or decoding Police Chief Ronal Serpas' odd baby talk. Now she gazed at the Frist's floor with professional interest.
Petersen checked his watch. Even though he was a detective, Chief Serpas was making everybody work traffic on the interstates two hours a day, and he was due in a radar car on I-65 in 15 minutes. "We'll have the crime-scene photos sent right over, Jolene," he said. "You and Bob can study them and see where it leads. We need answers."
"You'll have them," Apgar said. She sounded confident, but Oermann had no idea why.
The members of the Nashville Area Steak House Association (NASH-ASS) could hardly contain themselves. If Christians worldwide accepted the "lost Leonardo," it would upend 2,000 years of religious assumptions. Most importantly, it would sanction the eating of steaks, chops and other meat from the highest authority. According to Leonardo, the Savior spent his last meal chowing down like a Chicago cattle baron.
This year's president of NASH-ASS was none other than Miss Daisy King. Although her WWJE Cafe was technically not a steakhouse, membership was open for any restaurant with beef on the menu. With representatives from Jimmy Kelly's, Ruth's Chris, Outback, Logan's, Western Sizzlin', and others all giving her their rapt attention, she called the meeting to order.
"The first thing we're going to do is replace the Jesus fish on all our cars with a new Jesus symbol," she said. She held up a beef bone of the sort that had until now been known as a T-bone, but with a curve at the bottom.
"Behold the J-bone!" she said. "I want these to be on every car in this county. We're going to start giving these out to church groups." Amid scattered "Hear, hears," the other members nodded and downed their heart medication. She had another card up her sleeve, but she wasn't ready to talk about it yet.
"I've got a marketing surprise for the big unveiling," Miss Daisy told the group. "But I don't want to jinx it." That night, she would place the call.
The inimitable voice, made rough by decades of smoking and touring, came over the line: "Mizzz Dayzzzz-eee?"
"Bob! So good to talk to you!" Miss Daisy said. She plugged her other ear to hear over the grinding of pepper in the WWJE Cafe.
"I hear Jakob came by to see you when the Wallflowers came through Nashville earlier this year."
"He's all grown up since those days on the farm in Saugerties," she responded. Oh, those heady days of electric anthems, civil unrest and chess pies. "So, Bob, I know you got my message. Can I count on you?"
"My bootheels will be wand'rin' down to Nashville," Dylan said. "Anything for more of those three-cheese grits. And I'll have those songs worked up like you wanted."
That was all Miss Daisy wanted to hear. But someone else heard it too, on the other line.
The City Paper broke the news on its front page: "When I Paint My Masterpiece: Bob Dylan to play da Vinci event." Not to be outdone, The Tennessean ran a story titled "Dylan revisits Nashville skyline" near a large kitten photo. When Miss Daisy came into her WWJE Cafe that morning, she beamed. This kind of PR couldn't be bought. Suffer the carnivores to come unto me, she thought.
By day's end, though, her triumph had been soured by a sidebar item: a report about a Metro Police investigation into the unsolved Dread accident. It seemed that a mysterious code had been discovered at the scene. That night, the code was the lead on all the TV news broadcasts, complete with a police photo of the DNA helix in the lobby. "Looks like Pedro Garcia's got some answering to do," WSMV's Larry Brinton told viewers for absolutely no reason.
Savvy reporters looked everywhere for Jolene Apgar, but she wasn't answering her cell phone. Nobody knew where she was. Well, almost nobody.
"Jolene," said Bob Oermann, sitting in Metro's secret code-breaking laboratory at Howard School, "I just don't know what to do. I'm not used to deciphering anything harder to understand than Charlie Robison."
She gave him a patient look. The chief work of a code-breaker was to hold something up and look at it from different angles until something clicked into place. Sometimes finding the key was almost unconscious, something that came into the brain while it was consciously thinking about other things.
"Bob, I assume the person who put that code there wanted it broken, but not by the Watauga people. They must have thought you would have some special knowledge that would help break it. So what do we have? In the Frist lobby, DNA and an arrow pointing to Dread's Infiniti SUV."
She wrote on the board: DNA, Lobby, Dread, Frist museum, Infiniti. As was often the case when he was concentrating on some problem, a song was working its way through Oermann's mind. For a moment he couldn't quite place the words that drifted in from his unconscious:
Inside the museum infinity goes up on trial
Then he had it. "Listen," he said. "On Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde album, which was recorded in Nashville in 1966, there's a song called 'Visions of Johanna,' and it has a line in it: "Inside the museum infinity goes up on trial."
"Bob Dylan?" Jolene asked. "That guy in the Victoria's Secret ads? Wait a second." She grabbed a piece of paper and wrote, "DNAlobby." "What do you see?" she asked Oermann. He shrugged. She then took each of the letters and rearranged them. Oermann couldn't believe his eyes. The words now read, "Bob Dylan."
"We've got a reference to Dylan and an arrow pointing to an Infiniti in a museum," the code expert said excitedly. "'Inside the museum, infinity goes up on trial,'" she mused aloud. "What does that even mean?"
"It's Dylan, so nobody knows," Oermann said. "He was either really, really profound or really, really stoned. But the general view is, a museum is a place to house the past, infinity is the limitless future, and the line says the future is always putting the past on trial." What sort of lunatic would go to this trouble?
A thin young waiter with pasty skin and jet-black hair anxiously held the telephone across town at the WWJE Cafe. His nametag read Bobby Lee Japes, but he dismissed that angrily as his "slaughterhouse name." He preferred to call himself the Neon Madman. At age 7 he led his first "Milk Is Murder" protest, and he lost his previous job at Maggie Moo's when police fingered him as a "lactose terrorist." Unbeknownst to Miss Daisy, beneath his hairshirt workvest beat the heart of a militant vegan.
When he wasn't taking orders from Miss Daisy, or bellowing "Cheese hurts the cow!" through a bullhorn at Bobbie's Dairy Dip, his latest project had been to visit bookstores and hide copies of Atkins diet books. He would put them somewhere browsers would never look, such as behind a dusty stack of books by Dr. Frank Boehm. His logic was simple: If people couldn't read about the Atkins diet, they wouldn't know to eat steaks like Pringles.
By extension, if people couldn't see a painting that seemed to give God's endorsement to eating the flesh of other animals, more would turn to veganism. That's why, on the night of the Watauga meeting, Japes drugged Adam Dread with a spiked Zima and rammed his SUV into the Frist Center. He had been trying to smoke out the secret society and their corrupt plans.
Now, as Miss Daisy and Bob Dylan discussed the singer's appearance at the unveiling, Japes listened in horror. How could the man who wrote "Wiggle Wiggle" sell out? As he carefully replaced the extension-line receiver at the WWJE Cafe, he knew he had to stop the concert. The question was: how?
When Bob Oermann and Jolene Apgar knocked on Adam Dread's door, they were surprised to see that he already had a visitor: Frist art historian Melissa Milano. "Melissa was going over what I missed the other night," Dread explained. "I guess not much of it is a secret now."
"Do you remember what happened?" Oermann asked.
"Not a thing. It's like I was drugged or something and then my SUV was pointed at the Frist. There was a brick on the accelerator. The cops are looking into it, but..." His voice trailed away.
Oermann reached in his pocket and pulled out a copy of the note that was found in Dread's pocket in the wreckage that night: "Call Bob Oermann."
"You had this in your pocket. Any idea why?"
Dread looked at the sheet.
"Yeah, I wanted to talk about setting up contacts at CMT. I've got some pretty edgy show ideas: Adam Dread's Linedance Lapdance, Adam Dread's Tunica Showdown. I'll need a fallback after my mayoral term, knock wood."
Apgar stared at him. "You mean, you didn't mean for Bob to be called to the museum?" she asked. "No DNA in the lobby? No Bob Dylan? No 'Visions of Johanna'?"
"That's funny," Dread said. "I was talking to Miss Daisy today and she's got something going on with Dylan for the opening tomorrow. Some surprise. Hey, Bob, about those CMT shows...."
"Wait a second," Milano said. "Doesn't 'Visions of Johanna' have some kind of line about Mona Lisa?"
Oermann's eyes grew wide.
"I can't believe I didn't remember it," he said, quoting from memory: "Mona Lisa must've had the highway blues/You can tell by the way she smiles."
"How does all this fit together?" Dread asked, addled by all this new information.
"Remember, the knowledge of this painting passed down through a secret society of artists," Milano said. "Dylan was obviously part of that group, and he put a coded reference to it in this song. He's known about the lost da Vinci all along."
"A religious secretthe meat of the matter, as it werehidden for centuries in a work of art?" Dread said. "That's the dumbest thing I ever heard. You guys belong on Channel 3. By the way, can somebody give me a lift to the body shop? They pretty much keep a mechanic for me on stand-by."
The next day was the big day. Crowds from all over the world spilled across Broadway down side streets in every direction. The throng made a Titans game look like a weeknight Belcourt showing of an Iranian movie.
The world press descended on Nashville to cover the unveiling. Satellite trucks sprouted by the hundreds on all sides of the Frist. Bomb-sniffing dogs worked the crowd, turning up only the last Lee Ann Womack record. Practically everyone held a metal "J-bone," courtesy of NASH-ASS, which had contracted a Mexican sweatshop to meet demand.
"Mona Lisa's Last Supper" arrived in Nashville that morning on Bud Adams' plane. Tempers flared when the portrait got stuck in traffic behind a "TDOT construction project," which turned out to be one guy digging a hole on I-40. Within hours, though, the giant canvas, as big as four garage doors, stood on the Frist's steps under a giant tarp.
"This better not be any more of that nasty art," said Council member Carolyn Baldwin Tucker, peering anxiously among the assembled dignitaries. "I don't like naked men, I don't like naked women, and I don't like naked men and naked women together. I don't like art with breasts, nipples, cleavage, vaginas, penises, testicles, genitalia of any kind, or buttocks, or even implied butt cheeks."
Oermann, Agpar and Milano stood warily near Broadway. "Hey, Bob," Oermann heard, and turned to see Shep Petersen, who was working crowd control. "Wanna hear something funny?" he said, nodding toward the Frist. "We got back the lab analysis on that liquid that bleached out the floor in there. Doggondest thing. It was soupstone crab soup. The tomato base took the color right off of those tiles."
Milano thought back. Something was buried in her memory. Then she had it: Miss Daisy had been there, calmly holding her take-out bowl of soup.
It came to Milano in a flash. Miss Daisy had to be the author of the mysterious Nashville Code. She had drawn the double helix on the floor in the confusion over Dread's wreck. She had seen to it that coverage of the lost Leonardo was at a fever pitch. She had brought Bob Dylan back to Nashville, where he had originally buried clues about "Mona Lisa's Last Supper" in a song. And now she had a worldwide audience to boost her latest venture.
"Damn!" Milano said. "Miss Daisy King is good."
The Neon Madman circled the block behind the Frist. He had cased this out for days, and he knew an access corridor had been set up for deliveries to the backstage area. He checked his watch. It was almost time.
At 2 p.m. Bud Adams, who had insisted on acting as emcee, stepped to the podium. After introducing a few of the celebrity guestsformer Presidents Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton, Billy Graham, Jamie Wyeth, Tanya TuckerAdams leaned into the microphone, looked into the main camera feeding the event around the world, and shouted, "And now, I'm proud to unveil, for the first time in 500 years...Mr. Leonardo da Vinci's 'Mona Lisa's Last Supper.' "
Adams tugged the golden rope to the left of the podium, and the heavy tarp slipped down on one side. A couple of disciples and what looked like a London broil peeked through. But something was wrong. The top right corner was snagged. An annoyed look crossed Adams' face. He gave the rope another yank, this time harder.
The corner of the stuck covering pulled forward and brought "Mona Lisa's Last Supper" with it. The enormous canvas teetered for a moment, then plunged with a resounding thwack into the crowd. It fell so hard that the heads of several spectators ripped through the centuries-old canvas. Carolyn Baldwin Tucker's head poked right through Jesus. Mayoral aide John Bridges, who had been standing nearby, neatly filled the position of Mona Lisa. Their startled faces, appearing in a tableau like an old carnival cutout, graced the front page of the next day's USA Today.
"And now," Adams shouted over the screams of the crowd, which was fleeing in all directions from the crashing canvas, "Introducing a new song written just for this occasion...Mr. Bob Dylan!"
He pronounced it Dye-lan.
Dylan stepped to the microphone with his guitar and began strumming an intro known to anyone in the crowd over 40. But when he opened his mouth, the words were anything but familiar:
Come gather 'round people who are hungry for beef
And know that soon you'll have some relief
The grill's fired up and the forks are unsheathed
And the A-1 sauce will be drizzlin'
The vegans will be feelin' nothin' but grief
For the steaks, they are a-sizzlin'
As an estimated billion viewers watched, a vehicle neared the Frist Center. At first viewers thought an ambulance was arriving to aid the injured. But the vehicle heading toward the stage was apparently some sort of maintenance truck. To everyone's horror, it was gaining speed.
Behind the wheel, Bobby Lee Japes, the Neon Madman, the outraged radical vegan, was determined to stop Dylan's vile endorsement of flesh-eating. As the stage came into view, he smiled and mashed the accelerator to the floor.
The speeding truck was seconds from impact when the crowd parted and another vehicle roared into the backstage area. The careening Infiniti SUV knocked the maintenance truck sideways, and the two vehicles skidded to a stop in a cloud of dust and burning rubber only inches from the stage supports. Bobby Lee Japes leapt from the truck and somehow ran directly into the driver of the Infiniti, who had also leapt from his vehicle: Adam Dread.
Dread held Japes until security people could handcuff him. "You O.K., Councilman?" one of the officers asked. "You just saved Bob Dylan's life."
"I'm fine," Dread said. "Get the body shop on speed dial."
On the stage, blissfully unaware of the drama below, Dylan launched another song composed at Miss Daisy's request: "Tangled Up in Veal."
In the aftermath, the international press used the inept destruction of a lost Leonardo by a helmet-haired NFL owner as evidence that Nashville had no business hosting a major art event. But the Wataugans dismissed such carping as sour grapes.
"We've made Nashville the talk of the world," Butch Spyridon said, putting on the game face he'd practiced for years claiming the Thermal Plant as a major tourist destination. "People will come here in droves to see the place where the da Vinci was sort-of unveiled and Bob Dylan didn't get killed."
The performance by Dylan was credited with reviving his career, by some counts the ninth such revival since 1962. A month later, the Billboard charts were still topped by his rush-released single, "Gotta Serve Somebody (With A-1 Sauce)."
Bobby Lee Japes was convicted of reckless endangerment, attempted murder and vegan mischief. Unfortunately for him, he drew a judge on record as the world's only fan of Knocked Out Loaded. He was sentenced to 25-to-life in the Tennessee State Penitentiary, where he barters away his Salisbury steak nightly for protection.
As for Miss Daisy King, her What Would Jesus Eat? Cafe has just opened new branches in Brentwood and Bellevue. A black-velvet "Last Supper" graces the main walls, and those who look closely can see the apostle Paul passing a plate of ham biscuits. Miss Daisy scarcely noticed when Kay West described her new "Salmon on the Mount" entree as "the eighth deadly sin." She casually tossed the paper aside on the industrial-tile floor, which bears a single striking detail: a DNA double helix that winds toward the rest rooms.
"Oh well," Miss Daisy said gaily. "Tomorrow is another day."
When life gives you rain, mud wrestle.
At least that was the prevailing attitude last weekend at the third annual Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester, Tenn., where the crowd's spirit was about the only thing that wasn't dampened after several hours of steady rain and lightning on Saturday evening, then more on Sunday evening.
Soon after the initial storm hit Saturday, a mud-wrestling exhibition evolved, drawing a large crowd of onlookers, many of whom were dragged into the action. Though there was no shortage of faces being pushed into the muck, the action in the quagmire, often coed and occasionally unclad, remained friendly and good-spirited.
The weather sent very few of the more than 90,000 festival-goers packing, and some resourceful folks used it to their advantage. With bathing facilities in short supply, Keith, a thirtysomething truck driver from Chicago, let rainwater collect in his canoe to create a combination swimming pool/bath tub. By Sunday afternoon, the water's cleansing properties appeared suspect, but any relief from the 90-degree heat was welcome. Keith and his entourage had set up their campsite around his 1990 Econoline bus, sans air-conditioning, converted into a camper for just such occasions. "The heat's not too bad," Keith said, "as long as you're moving. When you're stuck in traffic, it's a bitch."
Though many of those assembled fit the hippie-fest archetypesyoung white women and men with dreadlocks, preppie guys with baseball hats on backwards, hygienically challenged barefoot kidsthere were plenty of exceptions, and by and large, attendees were well-behaved.
There was surely no shortage of colorful characters. Guy Stratton, a 79-year-old World War II veteran who served with the Marines and survived Iwo Jima, came despite having suffered a motorcycle spill just a week before. Visibly bruised, his arm in a sling, Stratton was perched on the back of his motor home, which, in addition to living facilities, had room to store two of his eight Harley Davidsons. "This was my first motorcycle wreck since 1947," Stratton boasted. "Not bad, huh?"
Judging from the license plates, probably less than 10 percent of the attendees were from Tennessee, and as such, commodities were in demand. Every jam-band festival has an area concertgoers call "Shakedown Street"in reference to a Grateful Dead tunewhere enterprising music lovers fund their travels, and some even make their livings, by peddling a variety of wares (legal and otherwise). Linda Ferranti, a warm-spirited fiftysomething Binghamton, N.Y., resident, had two careers, one with a school district, one with a bar association, before retiring last year to travel to festivals with her dog, Bear, and sell her wares, which include various stickers, glass pipes, sage (to burn for aroma and healing powers) and a variety of jellies and jams she makes on her 50-acre farm. "My whole philosophy is to take something I grow on my farm," Ferranti said, "and turn it into a gift for someone else. I particularly like to try to bring a bit of nature to people who live in an urban environment."
Kay, an artist and retired attorney from Shenandoah Valley, Va., travels to music festivals with her husband and two children, ages 12 and 14. Kay declined to share what year she first started following bands around. Asked if it was in the 1970s, she replied with a smile, "Yeah, that'll work."
As I sat under the media tent Saturday night, waiting out the rain, a woman approached the man sitting next to me, who was a complete stranger to her, and exclaimed, "Wow, you have a great aura." Then she sat on his lap. The woman, who could have come from Central Casting's "hippie chick" talent pool, introduced herself as Star, and soon dug through her purse looking for a pipe and some pot. She pulled out a condom and held it deliberately for him to see as she continued her search. (Can you say, "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll"?)
Davidson County city planners would do well to offer a consulting contract to Superfly Productions, the New Orleans-based production company that stages Bonnaroo. An event of this sizeBonnaroo is generally recognized as the most ambitious such undertaking in this countryis always a potential train wreck, and the logistics are mind-boggling: 80 bands, a million pounds of ice, 1,250 portable toilets, 39 miles of electrical cable, to name a few. Yet everything, save the weather, went smoothly. There was enough food, water and facilities, and lines were reasonable.
Other things were plentiful, toomost notably, marijuana, psilocybin mushrooms and nitrous oxide (laughing gas, served up in balloons filled from 5-foot-tall tanks). It's safe to say that most people at Bonnaroo were under the influence of something John Ashcroft would strongly disapprove of. Though such activities might in the long term be deleterious to the GNP, there's little doubt that this was a much safer environment than your typical Titans game. There were virtually no altercations, and people left their campsites unattended and cars unlocked with little fear that they'd be burgled.
Perhaps Bonnaroo's most admirable accomplishment was the breadth of musical styles represented and, in turn, the fan open-mindedness. This was best exemplified by the festival's final concert, Sunday night's performance by the one of the most revered living performers in the jam-band sphere, Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio. The first half of the show consisted entirely of Anastasio conducting and playing with the Nashville Chamber Orchestra, Nashville's premier classical music outfit, as they performed works he had orchestrated. When Anastasio thanked and praised the NCO's efforts and had them take a bow, the mud-covered crowd of 90,000 roared with approval, an ovation the likes of which these classical musicians will never hear again. One violinist walked offstage beaming, saying "Wow. "That was cool."
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