Tuesday, December 29, 2009

From the Dept. of No, Really?: Nashville Still More Than a Country Town

Posted by on Tue, Dec 29, 2009 at 3:39 PM

click to enlarge curse1.jpg

Turns out the only thing worse than folks thinking we're just a country town are all the stories being written about how we swear we're not just a country town. For the latest example, see this NPR Christmas Eve piece, "Beyond Country: Not Your Father's Nashville."

Whaddya think it's about, kids?

OK, first off, I've written so much over the years about the Nashville curse and the reluctance for folks outside of Nashville to see us as anything but a country town that I've actually run out of new and fresh words to engage this subject. So allow me to just quote myself from a Sept. 2008 blog post:

If you've toiled in Nashville's rock scene for any amount of time, you've no doubt heard of the dreaded Nashville Curse. After Jason and the Nashville Scorchers were pressured to drop "Nashville" from their moniker to hit it big in the '80s, the skies darkened and Hank Williams Sr. wept, dooming all Nashville rock acts to sell less than a million records.

For decades since that dark day, many locals have believed that we'll always be wedded to the outside perception that Nashville can only do twang. Or that we're so infected by Music Row's polish that we're too busy looking at the bottom line to really focus on being bona fide artists. Or perhaps we're not influenced enough by formula and cliche, and our rock acts, no matter how talented, still can't pull a hot-shit hit out of their asses. Or maybe the problem is Nashville audiences, who've cursed our locals and touring bands with our indifference.

Of course, the rock scene has typically existed in opposition to Music Row, save for the few attempts at combination soul-selling by folks like Movement Nashville, so I don't know why that hit-factory standard is the one we're always held to. Why do we have to produce hitmakers, while other music scenes get breathlessly covered merely for having cool scuzzy-pop bands who are just really fucking good? That never happens to Minneapolis!

Nonetheless, I think we should add one more little caveat to this list of curse-worthy characteristics we Nashvillians seem to hold so dear: No matter what the heck-fire we do, accomplish, produce or export, and no matter who we entice to move here, we can't seem to change our script.

At least this latest piece is written by a writer who's actually aware of something other than country--Craig Havighurst rightly namechecks Grimey's, the Thirty Tigers folks upstairs, Jason Moon Wilkins' Next Big Nashville festival, Richard Florida's nod to Nashville as the Silicon Valley of music, Paramore, Jack White and Kings of Leon, and puts it all in perspective by pointing out that, while country CD sales fell this decade, the rock exports were on the uptick.

That's terrific. And, yes, we know this article is written for the industry or fan outside of Nashville and not us. But we have a little advice: One way to talk about Nashville as something other than a country town is to simply write about the other acts who aren't country as legitimate in their own right. You know, without invoking the old but-not-country clause as the main selling point.

Find someone other than Jack White or Kings of Leon making interesting music and feature them more often. Sure, we might cringe occasionally, because God knows whichever band gets anointed next will be the wrong one, but still. That's one story closer to writing about a good band, and one story further away from another hackneyed Nashville's-still-crying-in-its-beer-only-this-time-it's-PBR shtick. 'Preciate ya.

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