Tuesday 27 November 2007

First days in Nashville

The first place I landed in the United States, the first time I came here, in 2001, was Nashville, Tennessee. It was, and probably still is, one of the strangest places I have ever been, though that trip took in a lot of strangeness in Memphis, New Orleans, St. Louis, Chicago and New York city too.

Nashville was actually a good introduction to what's going on in America. Because what's going on in New York isn't it. What's really happening in America is actually what ISN'T happening here.

So in Nashville you could see the general trends of American civic planning (such as the concept can loosely be applied): stripmalls, sucked out downtown, suburban sprawl, car dependency, highways leading to picket fenced enclaves, hives of wooden houses, spaciously laid out, that looked like multiple zippers from the airplane. The house I stayed in for four days was one of the spokes off of one of those zippers.

I had come to Nashville in an act of pursuing the truth of things. The truth bit got sorted out pretty fast. In the airport, in fact.

I had fallen in love with a man I had met in Dublin while he was on tour, playing in Vicar Street, the large music venue where I worked in the evenings as an usher. I showed him a bit around Dublin, we laughed our arses off through the streets, and continued to stay in touch for another nine months after that. He had been based in Chicago, was a very successful sideman drummer, and then he got a woman pregnant kind of randomly, and she lived in Nashville, so he moved there. Left his life and the fundaments of his career in Chicago, and walked into some kind of a void where his son lived. He had no relationship with the mother of his son, except that she lived in a little town called Lebanon, outside of Nashville, and so they travelled over and back from Lebanon to Nashville, sharing the care of their son.

He lived on McGavock Pike, must have been thirty miles from downtown, with nothing but a Dollar General store, a Subway sandwich shop and a gas station nearby. And that was a LOT! He had the bottom floor of a house that he shared with the owners, who nominally lived upstairs, but who were regularly on tour, so they only touched base at home for a couple of months a year.

This was the house where he was falling in love with his child, and pouring his energy and vision into this small developing human. He was finding the music scene in Nashville a struggle: it's heavily studio based, and cliquey, and definitely un-idiosyncratic. His vibe was more live-led, making records to tour behind, and even after he moved to Nashville he found that his main source of income was going on the road. He was already finding it a struggle to be away from his child, even for short periods of time. So it was all new, and he was still trying to work it all out, when I arrived at Nashville airport, one afternoon in June, 2001.

A bit over nine months after the birth of his son, after daily emails and the occasional phone call, I had come to find out. As soon as I saw him in the airport, however, I found out. My heart sank. Why it sank, we can debate or wonder about, or guess at, but it will only be guessing. I don't really know the answer to most why questions, though sometimes I have strong hunches. This one was just a question of different realities unable to meet. I suppose I wasn't ready for the life of a Nashville housewife, and that was the position available in that particular household, however much fun this particular dude could be, to hang out with.

I didn't want to hang out with him, though. At all. The practical facts: we literally couldn't communicate, about the simplest things; he lived in the middle of stripmall-land out in the sticks of suburban Nashville; I couldn't drive; his days were spent in childcare. Four days of that and on the fourth day I moved into the Drake Inn Motel, on the Murfreesboro road, that had a big neon sign out the front saying, Where The Stars Stay.

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