Does anyone else remember when the Nashville Scene’s annual “Best Of” issue used to include a category that went something like, 'Best Place that Makes You Feel Like You’re Not in Nashville’?
At the time, it was meant to make you ponder places that were hipper than O’Charley’s. Places like the patio at Sunset Grill, or Mirror when it opened on 12South.
It was an easy category to vote in, not just because there were so few “hip” options to vote for, but because it felt so possible to know every bar or restaurant in Nashville. There just weren’t that many of them. It was impossible for something new to open and not know about it.
I was reminded of that category when I saw the winner of the Scene’s “You’re So Nashville If” contest this year, which nailed the zeitgeist right between the bloodshot eyes of the tourists on pedal taverns: “Nashville is canceled. Also, the TV show was not renewed.”
If it’s true that the It City has jumped the shark, it might be time to start a new category: the place that makes you feel like you’re actually in Nashville. This is no attempt to romanticize the past. But there was something admirable about a city that not too long ago still had a soul and was striving to become something better.
Two new books bring home the theme. The first is People Only Die of Love in Movies, a collection of the late Scene film reviewer and editor Jim Ridley’s writing, expertly curated by Steve Haruch, a former Scene staffer and dear friend of Ridley's.
In his introduction, Haruch quotes former Scene publisher Albie Del Favero describing the Nashville of 1989 as “basically a downscale market where the favorite leisure activities were Bible/devotional reading and entering sweepstakes.” So again, no romanticizing the past, but the book harkens back to more interesting times, when Ridley and others saved the Belcourt theater, when a Black Film Festival was just getting started, when Nashvillians were excited to bring edgy movies to town to shake things up. To read this book is to catch a wave well before it begins to crest.
The second book is Frye Gaillard’s A Hard Rain: America in the 1960s, our Decade of Hope, Possibility and Innocence Lost. This is a gorgeous, sweeping narrative that tells the story of a turbulent and larger-than-life decade through a very personal lens. This is not a book about Nashville, but Gaillard, a celebrated Southern writer, attended Vanderbilt in the '60s and weaves several Nashville stories into the mix.
In his preface, Gaillard writes that he has set out to capture competing story arcs of tragedy and hope. “There was in those years the sense of a steady unfolding of time, as if history were on a forced march, and the changes spread to every corner of our lives. As future generations debate the meaning, I hope to offer a sense of how it felt.”
Gaillard checks in on everyone from Robert F. Kennedy to Malcolm X to Johnny Cash; makes stops in Vietnam, Muscle Shoals and Memorial Gym. Everything, even pop culture, was supercharged with real meaning, and we feel it on the page.