I went to Nashville, Tennessee and all I brought back was this divine spoon-rest. No, that's not quite true. That's an alternative fact. I also bought boots and a T-shirt. But, I digress. But not really. By alluding to the Trump presidency with the term 'alternative facts' I am introducing that I have been wading through my feelings about this new world order we find ourselves in. I've been struggling with how the heck to write lightly when I'm not feeling light. More to the point, how can I tell you about my epic visit to Tennessee earlier this month and express how I feel about the new American president?
Wait. I know. I'll just take care of the latter first. I think he's an idiot. The worst kind of idiot, an evil idiot.
The impending inauguration was everywhere when my travelling companion, Vanessa, and I went to Nashville a few weeks ago. We had carefully planned our trip so that we'd be in and out of the States while Obama was still in power. However, we were reminded on a few occassions that we were in a Red state. The most notable occasion during a performance of the Grand Ole Opry at the famous Ryman Auditorium. When one of the male performers introduced his last song, he mentioned he'd be playing it the following week at the inaugural ball. Wait for the cliché: The crowd went wild! They erupted in cheers. Being mild-mannered Canadians we had never been in a crowd of people cheering for an event celebrating a racist, bully, sexual predator. It was chilling. Then at the end of his song, he got a standing ovation. There were only about 100 of us left sitting in the 2000 seat Ryman. That's when Vanessa leaned over to me and commented that this was 'the cool slap of reality' to remind us that we were in the Deep South.
When I started this blog I wrote a bit about the infamous Canada or Bust Tour of 1987. Don't fret if you've not heard of it, the tour loomed large only in my own personal mythology and that of my intrepid friend Vanessa. You will not see it on Heritage Minutes. We did not publish widely about it. In fact, we did not publish at all. We kept a travel journal as we crossed Canada in Vanessa's mothers' Blue Chevy Horizon. We spoke at dinner parties and bars and other social engagements when allowed, but otherwise it was a chapter in Canadian history that has slipped slowly into the past. Thirty years past to be exact.
But Vanessa and I revived the 'Bust' experience when we pulled off our 'Nashville, Memphis or Bust' tour. We have been talking about this trip for years. We like the old country, see. I'm talking about the Carter Family, Cline, Cash, Lynn and all their descendants. We wanted to go the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame and go Honky 'Tonkin'. Check, check and check.
We also wanted to drive to Graceland so we could listen to Paul Simon's Graceland all the way there. Apparently we weren't the first ones to think of this. The all Elvis Sirius radio station played on the Graceland song too, catering to music pilgrims like us racing to Elvis Presley Boulevard.
That was all very weird. Graceland itself I mean. We hadn't discussed actually arriving at Graceland, it was all about getting the car and driving to Graceland. And stopping at Loretta's Lynn's ranch on the way, which to our dismay was closed or at least the museum on the ranch was closed.
When Vanessa called the ranch to ask if there was anything else to see and do there when the museum was closed the curt reply was:
Thankfully, Loretta saw fit to place Loretta's Kitchen right off the I-40 at the exit to the ranch. At her café and store we were able to secure the much coveted Loretta Lynn nail clippers that I knew must exist. There was also an excellent assortment of hunting knives, an unfortunate confederate flag section and even a handmade sign that said 'huntin' crafted from empty bullet shells.
By the time we made it to Graceland, it was lunch time. I'm here to tell you that Vanessa dined on Elvis's favourite snack, fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches (because how often can you order that off a menu?) I had something else fried. Lots of deep fried choices in Tennessee.
In fact, related story, on our way back to Nashville from Memphis we stopped at a McDonalds out of desperation for road food. When I ordered a Southwest Salad, I kid you not, the front staff and all visible kitchen staff stopped what they were doing and looked at me. It was clear no one had ordered the salad in quite some time. It actually came with fried chicken and had more calories than Vanessa's burger, but still its base was lettuce, and it seemed that was a radical choice at a McDonalds in Tennessee.
Back in Nashville the tagline at the Country Music Hall of Fame is 'Honor Thy Music.' Music is at the heart of Nashville. It is created, nurtured and honoured there in great quantities. All these years that I've longed to go down there and walk where those songwriters walked and listen in the same places where Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash used to sing, I felt like there was something I needed to hear. I listened as carefully as I could. And I did hear a sacred chord. I felt what I hoped I'd feel and not just because I found an awesome pair of red Justins.
I felt bursting full of gratitude to experience that place with Vanessa. The only person in the world who would appreciate going to the exact same places as me. I was received at Graceland, (just like Paul said I would be). I felt received at the end of the tour when I ended up in front of Elvis's grave. I'd forgotten that it was there, but there it was. (As was a wreath of birthday flowers from the Northern Ireland Elvis Presley Fan Club. Established in 2010 (huh?). I sat down on the cold, stone steps and looked around at Graceland and the terminus of Elvis's mortal journey and thought how bizarre it was that I was even there. I remembered being in the shag-carpeted, sunken living room of our house in Kamloops when I heard on the radio that Elvis Presley had died. I was just a kid, but everyone knew who Elvis was. Now here I was a lifetime later at his beloved Graceland.
Just the night before I had watched in awe at the Bluebird Café as a young singer-songwriter, Carly Pearce, announced her dream had come true that very day when she signed a recording contract with Scott Borchetta. He just happens to be the guy that discovered Taylor Swift at the Bluebird Café, and he just happened to be sitting next to us TEXTING TAYLOR SWIFT about Carly Pearce.
It was like I was seeing the whole spectrum of the recording industry up close in four days. From the Bluebird Café to Graceland to the small bands in the Honky Tonks to the Mother Church, the Ryman Auditorium. It was epic. I went to the birthplace of the music that I love and it did not disappoint. America has produced some of the world's most powerful music and some of my favourite musicians. Unfortunately, it also hosts an assortment of scary wackos that have power now. But listening to a good song can help. Honour thy music.