Robyn Hitchcock has successfully flown under my radar for 33 years.
How I have missed this Wonder is beyond me. He’s a Dylan/Lennon fistfight on mushrooms who has mastered the art of using his sinuses as reverb chambers. Familiar, but feeling like I’ve discovered the next great British export. Good Jesus, I’m tripping out on his lyrics and immediately dissecting song structure, knowing this is the beginning of something big for me. Outlaw Radio’s Buddy & Jim, Miller & Lauderdale, have Hitchcock talking above their bird-chirp soundscape. A new resident of East Nashville and now, collaborator through an impromptu recording session with Welch and Rawlings. No sooner do I eject the duo’s 2011 release from my player, Hitchcock’s British accent lends a matter-of-fact tone to their metaphysical connection with the possibility that they were once the same entity. Together in the ether for who knows how long. I subscribe considering my first impression of The Harrow & The Harvest.
Between Hitchcock album cuts and live-off-the-floor performances, he praises the duo’s hands-on-approach to their studio renovation in Nashville’s east side. The history of the building. The location. The education I should have received months ago realizing its proximity to my place in the city, walking across its parking lot daily. The enchantment of the community.
The Mexican Buffet lost its stronghold on my hunger hours ago and late evening grits, bacon and hashbrown casserole would accompany a thirty minute reading break quite well. With Jason’s advice to enjoy the trip, I make my last stop at the first Cracker Barrel upon crossing the state line. I can safely say I’ve never had anything off their menu other than breakfast options – I quit reading A Prayer for Owen Meany following my return, so I packed it and pick up from where I left off.
In and out in under twenty minutes and I’m soon taking my Cleveland street exit. Christian and Marshall filled my old room upon my departure and a New Year’s Eve phone call let me know that ‘the new guy’ didn’t work out. With intent to revisit and continue writing “The Quest For Real Country Music’s” second instalment, it helps recall to arrange my air mattress, guitar case and duffle bag as if I never moved out. I pull the van up to our beside our psychedelic garage. My key with the ruby headstock has remained with the fob but I give the locked door a couple solid raps. Unanswered, I let myself in, inflate and sleep. It’s nice to be home.
And sleep. Snooze. Sleep.
My conditioning to sleeping in is attached to guilt. And whether it’s performing until 2:30 am or a twenty-seven hour drive, I find it hard to get past the fact that my brother has been feeding cattle since 7:00 am and I’m not outside helping him. Fifteen years and its only slightly dissipated – kept on the level by the occasional early morning phone call missed while he bounces along with the bale processor. This morning is no different so I get to it. The legal pad, boxed bullets in front of groceries, clean van, organize room, and write. The other boys in the house do a mighty good job at restful self-care but my bashing around signals my return. Aw bro we missed you man. Shirtless, hand-clasp half-hugs – I lock my chin down on a shoulder to tighten it up. Marshall still working away for Nielsen data collection and Hunter living the twenty year old dream. Solid wake-and-bake, audio engineering class and drumming. He moved in to fill the last room a week before I left – our connection quick. Christian remains on the road with his band for the next four days.
The gentrification of Nashville’s east side is impetuous. My predominantly black neighbourhood has humble low-income homesteads counting down the days before they are torn down or built up. Tree removal as part of the process, an uncongenial transformation. Lives continue on the front steps. From my kitchen window a middle-aged man in a wheelchair puts his hours in, a bouquet of plastic flowers in his front yard intuit a memorial. He’s been there since September, every morning, wheeled out until wheeled back in. The Truevine Missionary Baptist Church, the roof bowed inward as if God himself is trying to get to the congregation but can’t quite break through the rafters. It shares the lot with a tin sided mobil home. Next, a brown bungalow, jury-rigged porch covering, shingles torn and weather worn, smallest lot. Finally, a double lot, pristine quadplex, designer combination of pastel blues and yellows, rock and cedar shake siding, two stories, Land Rovers and Minivans. SOLD.
Black and White.
I walk through the thick of it before Main Street becomes Gallatin Avenue. Across Gillian and David’s parking lot, through the Five Points intersection and up to Bongo Java’s east location. Still a little hot on my discovery of Robyn Hitchcock, I worry that if the universe lines us up together at our communal work spot, my professionalism may get set to the side and I disrespect Nashville’s “let be” code. Then again, there always a way around that one.
Finally, I begin to write. For as hip as it may be, a black coffee, my lap top and the creative buzz has The Muse pulling up a chair without my invoking. She just sits there and feeds me, occasionally going outside for a cigarette, quick to return. I pick up where I left off – The Kickin’ It on the Creek festival in the Appalachian Mountains outside of Irvine, Kentucky. Tyler Childers finishing up his set and my musings on the origination of Country Music. My typing speed starting to find the imbalance of the table. I fold a corrugated insulation paper cup sleeve in half and wedge it between the base and the floor.
A steady stream of Creatives, business meetings and hook-ups. I eavesdrop on who sounds like Tim McGraw’s backstage event manager planning a charity event. The productivity in the room is infectious and gentle.
I assume the short multicoloured wisps of paint on the lap of a man’s jeans as a fashion statement but he returns with an easel, it’s practical. He sets his pop up studio in the corner to create in a much more prevalent way than myself. What looks like an image inspired from the view of the Hubble Space Telescope, Hendrix is soon to appear in its foreground.
The window table to my left is occupied by another newcomer. Without surprise, recognized.
Leeroy Stagger’s 2009 release, Everything is Real began my pursuit of producer John Ellis and initiated me into the mind of its creator. I soon held Stagger as my distant mentor, unbeknownst to him. A perpetual touring schedule with material impertinent on its mashing of genres. Rock and Roll at its core, I would flip the influence and put Haggard ahead of his Steve Earle. Providing a place of rest upon his Regina performances, we bonded over black coffees. My own efforts to dig deeper into his catalogue. Stagger’s collaborative and opportunistic spirit followed him north to Alaska in cahoots with Anchorage’s Even Phillips and Nashville transplant, Tim Easton to create and release under their acronym, ESP.
The “E”, Tim, in all his ruggedness, commandeering the empty spot beside me.
I disclose our Lethbridge connection and he shifts seat in my direction. As Hendrix appears more towards completion, Easton and I tackle the obvious in our appreciation for Stagger. I stumble through the backstory from last fall’s journey to my currant positioning at Bongo East, still looking for the warriors in today’s fight for Real Country Music, I pull options from Easton. He humbly informs of his performance with Rueben Bidez and Rayvon Pettis at The Basement tonight before insisting I see Joshua Hedley on Saturday. I’ve dedicated to casting the word ‘maybe’ from my vocabulary and give my verbal commitment to both.
I grab the pop-up artist’s contact on my way to the washroom before packing up my workplace. Olasubomi Aka-Bashorun and I will connect again during my stay. A substantial drop in temperature into the late afternoon and I retrace my walk home, through the Five Points Intersection and across the studio parking lot.
Quick on hopefulness but bombarded by their existence, I catch the eye of whom I conclude to be David Rawlings. Of course I do. Standing close enough to the glass door at studio entrance, the full figure drinks from a coffee cup and turns away from my distant reflection. As approaching Easton was friendly, my thoughts now are in betrayal of the code. I process for minutes. Between pacing, pondering and pretending a phone call (strangely) – I continue home, turn around and walk towards the studio door only to find it locked.
Through the tint sits a woman. About to regret the embarrassing moment as I squint through my mirroring, she walks towards me just before I would have decided to wave and vacate. Like an apparition she comes into view and unlocks, introducing herself as if expecting me.
Hi, I’m Gillian.