A quick note: as you know, we’re all about you getting to know us and us getting to know you on this blog. This is a community and a project; a diary of our lives and yours. I gave you my Nashville Five a bit back, and now am excited that my dear Emily is bringing you hers, below. We never try to veer away from the personal here (actually, we’re the opposite, as you probably now know the intimate likes, dislikes, emotions and habits of both Emily and I from reading the blog, and that’s how we like it – mostly because it’s hard for us not to use words to exercise our our neuroses. Or anything for that matter). As for Em – maybe you’ve seen her out at shows, said hi, bought her a whiskey. If you haven’t, you should. All I know is that this whole blog thing became a lot more fun, natural and meaningful once she came on board. She’s a great writer, a fellow former New Yorker and an invaluable part of Lockeland Springsteen. And she’s just plain cool. Now, without any further delay…Emily’s Nashville Five. – M.R.M
I don’t live in cities; I consume them. I ingest urban meccas like the fibers of a love affair, not meant to last, but meant to shape and contour my being. Some people get tattoos; I move. Paris was the most sensual, unbearably light relationship I’ve ever been in; it was the bright chandeliers and the not-so-serious youth of Rimbaud’s poem. Baltimore was tenuous and toxic, though remarkable in its grimy intensity, and a city for which I will always hold an eclectic kind of love. New York will forever be the first, although it depraved me with its anonymity.
Nashville came along in my life when I was ready for the kind of companionship that travels along subtle roads of passion, where forks and curves suddenly open up to unexplored territory. For me, an extroverted romanticist who could twist the most banal moment into a cinematic melodrama, Nashville is my perfect city-partner; it is a quiet lover, who blossoms slowly and carefully, revealing its depth in inspired increments.
This is my Nashville Five; the Five places that caused me to fall in love with Nashville.
1. The High Watt Balcony ::: There is something eerily beautiful about standing on this balcony a few hours before a show starts, when the sky is overcast with cracks of honey-suckle sunlight, and the wooden planks are not yet home to one hundred feet and their respective stomped-out cigarettes. A lone beer sits desolate and crushed underneath the train tracks just beyond my reach; life happens at night here, and introspection is the byproduct of daytime freight cars and band rehearsals. I realized this a few weeks ago, listening to the acoustics of a cello that funneled out to my smoker’s spot. It takes a lot to laugh; it takes a train to cry.
2. The Basement ::: During the few bitterly cold days of a Nashville winter, I suck up my refusal to don a winter coat, and head over to the Basement on a weekly basis. Sitting below the notorious Grimey’s, The Basement is my favorite venue for waxing in seasonal affectation disorder. Plus, on good nights, they’ll spike your coffee with Bailey’s.
Usually I arrive, and the bouncer asks me if I have a plus one. This is the stabbing, repetitive question that abounds as a music writer who gets to go to a lot of free shows, often times alone. I immediately high tail to the bar for the warmth and love of Jack; combined with the musical matrix, whiskey and Nashville are all I need.
I remember sitting at the shadowy Basement bar just after Valentine’s day, listening to Vancouver-natives Wake Owl. Their opening act was a frail looking Canadian songwriter, whose prose-poetry style rang almost as haunting as his Elliot Smith-meets-Buckley tone. Then came a lyric about waiting for love like a warm sunrise, illuminating the pools of solitude that swam into the dark space between my bar stool and the rest of the audience.
The Basement is the coziest venue in Nashville, for nights when the ambiguity between loneliness and solitude seem forefront in my mind. It’s musically respectful, with most conversations dulling when an act takes stage, and its intimate silence makes it the perfect reprieve to past anonymity.
3. Café Coco + Symmetry + Centennial Park ::: I appreciate small details when the weather gives way to springtime; barring the obscene allergies that plague our pollen-populated city, the Nashville spring scripts a calming, slow-paced kind of existence. By April, I can feel the episodic changes in life, like a tiny hand that thrusts seeds into fully bloomed lowers, introducing new people to a hibernated social life, and nudging latent creativity from its four-month sleep.
For me, a Café Coco + Symmetry + Centennial Park trinity is the most welcoming springtime ritual. The combination allows me to embrace my healthier side, drinking alkaline water and beet juice, with my obsessive collection of spiritual texts that will quell my wild, egoistic mind for as long as the sun is out. In the spirit of contradiction, I can then wash down any semblance of enlightenment with a triple-espresso and pack of cigarettes from the eclectic, neighboring Café, and continue along the road of paradox by taking a long walk in Centennial, pretending for a minute that I am as normal and healthy as the early-morning joggers that side-skirt my ambling observations with leashed dogs in tow. Daniel Ellsworth sings about what “Shoe Fits;” their shoes are certainly not ones I could ever fit into, but those which I sometimes long to wear.
4. Santa’s Pub ::: On the rare occasion that my northeastern compatriots visit me down south, Santa’s Pub is always our first stop. A functioning karaoke-pool bar created by two adjoined trailers offering $1.50 PBRs, Santa’s claims the southern kitsch that makes it so universally enjoyable. I’ve seen every type of person walk onto the wooden porch atop which Santa’s sits; post-forty Tennesseans relax in its lack of pretense, whereas my Yankee friends satisfy their need for a distinctly Nashville experience.
Cale Tyson, whose music and off-the-cuff demeanor define my two-year experience in Nashville, plays in Santa’s house band on Sunday nights. There is a sense of security inside the confines of Santa’s pub; it is the only place where, on a lazy evening, I can roll out of bed, throw on some clothes, and listen to one of my favorite local musicians, knowing that my face will be hidden behind a cloud of smoke. For me, the only way to survive the burden of Sundays is to relinquish expectations of what is to come; listening to steel-pedal renditions of Johnny Cash songs and Tyson’s crooning odes to outlaw country are the most immediate cure. It’s better to go home than to be buried all alone, Tyson sings. If ever I feel a crippling sense that I don’t belong, the hodgepodge that is Santa’s resurrects my love for this city.
5. Inside my car outside of the 5 Spot (usually on a Monday night) ::: As many of you know, I have an idiosyncratic obsession with my car. Half of my wardrobe lays crumpled in the trunk, and the seats pile high with promo albums, empty packs of cigarettes, coffee cups, and gas station receipts. It is absolutely disgusting, and I rarely let anyone in my car with me for this reason, alongside the fact that I am a horrific driver. But I like it this way. It is intimate. Certain people have strange obsessions with the privacy of their bathrooms; I have a compulsive longing to live alone, inside my car.
Most Mondays, I’ll drive out to East Nashville just before the 5 Spot begins its ascent into seventies soul, finding a tucked-away side street to haphazardly parallel park. I sit with my feet dangling out the window, blowing smoke out the sunroof, listening to whatever album is currently in rotation inside my car. (Currently, this is Hey Marseilles’ Lines We Trace, and probably will be for another month or so.) It calms me to edge myself right next to the sidewalks, looking out onto eclectic, periwinkle houses and untrimmed tufts that climb up the sides of mailboxes. There is something beautiful about East Nashville from this vantage point; I remain separated by the confines of leather and tinted windows, slunk down in my seat, but the airy eccentricity of the neighborhood buzzes in synchronicity with my radio. This is the only place I can truly listen to music, without worrying about its contents or composition. On the streets of East Nashville, buried inside my car, music is the most beautiful thing in the world.