Bruce in Nashville

May 5, 2011

Bruce is back home, but still writing up his journey. Here’s his account of Nashville, and his encounter with untamed music and the joys of Beale Street:

Our road trip has been completed. We have been home a month, having travelled 7,985 miles. There has been a lot to do to catch up and repair what went undone at home while we were travelling. Now that I have some time, I wish to return to my growing travelogue in order to fill in some of the gaps.

On our trip west, we hit Nashville on a Friday night. It would have been easy enough to drive around it, but I insisted we drive in. Ms Keogh was reluctant, tired, wanting to continue on until the next Hampton Inn where she could bathe and sleep, needing to recover from the long drive. I could not bear being so close to this iconic town and not venture nearer. Pleading with Ms Keogh, she acquiesced to allow me to just drive through. I was taking it one step at a time, hoping by inches that if she saw things first hand, it might spark her interest. The next step would be to convince her to park and visit a club, where I would drink and we could listen to live country music.

Nashville was not the town I imagined it would be. Several city blocks presented us with neon signs. It was like Times Square in miniature. We drove up and down those few blocks jam-packed with young people, boisterous and drunk, dressed like cowboys and cowgirls, and on the prowl for the kind of action that didn’t interest us. I remembered that county music was not my favorite. I re-evaluated my belief that the Nashville experience could broaden my musical interests, yet the city streets of Nashville on a Friday night felt like the wrong approach. This society was about partying and not an in-depth examination of a genre of music in its natural environment. Or maybe it was, yet we drove on. We avoided Nashville all together on the return trip.

Memphis was a different story. We passed through Memphis twice. On our way west it was in the afternoon. We paused in the city briefly, but didn’t stay. There was the Mississippi River beckoning us to cross. It was a desire for accomplishment, to enter the west half of the continent and feel we had travelled far and were truly someplace remote, nearly foreign. Although the South was somewhat foreign, thick with churches, slower in speech, the west had an altogether different landscape.

It was a completely different story coming back. We crossed the Big Muddy to return to “our” half of the continent and if felt like a homecoming. This time we stopped and that night, before going to bed, we took ourselves downtown. We walked along Beale Street, lined with bright clubs, their doors opened and live music flooding the mucky night. I picked B.B. King’s Blues Club, the original of what would become a chain of clubs, because B.B. King was the only visible name on Beale Street familiar to me.

What the live band performed that night was more rock ‘n’ roll than blues. While I was impressed with the skill of the musicians, the music hurt. Everything was amplified. In that small space there was no need for the volume, certainly not to the extent that it caused distortion. Even the brass section had microphones to make their instruments louder. There was no need, yet this practice is typical of clubs elsewhere and is the reason I don’t enjoy going to most clubs. I had put my “old-man” prejudices aside to experience the fashion and still could not get past my disappointment.

The disappointment extended to the menu. Ms Keogh and I split a rack of their ribs. They were okay. They should have been more than okay. I ordered BB’s Blues Brew. I was presented with a pint of murky beer, translucent but not transparent, yellow with a green hue. I managed only a few sips. I told the waiter that while I liked B.B. Kings music, I did not like his beer. The waiter was good enough to take it away and bring me a glass of reliable Yuengling, Pennsylvania’s own lager.

After finishing our meal, we didn’t stay for the band’s next set. We made our way back to our hotel and were that night a little sick.

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