Last month, I decided I was ready to leave New York City, the “greatest city in the world,” and move to Nashville, the capitol of country music. As it happens, I got out at just the right time –- the little Tibetan kid in the apartment a few doors down just took up playing the recorder. And that’s never a good thing.
I’d lived in the city for 13 turbulent but wonderful years, long enough to feel like a “human trampoline” myself. “Thought I’d seen some ups and downs, til I come into New York Town.” My boss here at American Songwriter suggested I keep a blog of the music I listened to as I made my journey, and I’m happy to share it with you, if you’ve got the time. I didn’t realize I’d be arriving during the worst rain storms and flooding that Nashville had seen in 100 years, but that’s another story. Tomorrow I can swim to work.
So there I was, only a few nights ago, packing up my apartment, trying to re-alphabetize all my CDs, trying to reunite some of those widows with their cases. I think it was Shakespeare who said, packing is such sweet sorrow. What was I in the mood to listen to on my last night in town? I couldn’t decide.
Overwhelmed, I fired up Lala.com and landed on Simon and Garfunkel’s The Concert In Central Park, the 1981 record of the estranged duo’s historic reconciliation. I used to listen to it on tape all the time (a dubbed blank cassette I can still see in my mind’s eye) and it gave me a brand new life at age 15. Discovering bands like Pink Floyd and the Beatles was amazing enough, but Simon and Garfunkel had the songs, and a sound, that really spoke to me. Central Park was my introduction to their catalog (it took me a couple of years to realize “American Tune” wasn’t a Simon and Garfunkel song). I wasn’t a big fan back then, but on this night, “New York,” the only Garfunkel song in the set, really moved me: “New York/looking out on Central Park/where they say you should not wander after dark.” “I write my song to the city’s heart beat.” Great stuff.
I wasn’t going to seek out “The Only Living Boy In New York”; that would have been to maudlin (also too maudlin: Morrissey’s “Last Night On Maudlin Street.”) So instead I made it a double-header, and turned to Paul Simon’s Live In Central Park album. I’d actually caught the last half of the show live when I was seventeen, and was awed by it; the massive crowd, multicultural and jubilant; the smell of reefer smoke; Paul Simon sending us home with “The Sounds of Silence,” the music cascading off the buildings as we wandered home. Listening to the two albums back to back, I’ve got to say, I prefer the 1990s arrangements to the 1980s ones; even if that meant loosing one Art Garfunkel. Sorry, Artie.
Once packing was done, and the movers came and stole all my stuff, (p.s. don’t ever hire Countrywide Movers), I kissed my girl goodbye and hopped on a plane for sunny Florida, where my sister’s extra car was waiting for me to drive it to Nashville.
You can never be too prepared, or in my case, less prepared. I had my iPod with me, but that wasn’t going to do me much good in this particular car; I was warned that an iPod adapter just wouldn’t work well with it’s ancient radio, and I’d only brought one CD, Manu Chao’s Proxima Estacion: Esperanza, a brightly-colored disc which I’d rescued from a dark corner of my apartment somewhere at the last minute. If you’ve never heard it, I recommend you seek it out. I’d describe him as a sort of Spanish Bob Marley, except he also sings in French, English, Arabic and Portuguese. Dude travels by boat like some sort of gypsy-slash-pirate, and his concerts turn into massive parties for those in the know. On one standout track, “Mr. Bobby,” he sings over an infectious back beat, “Hey Bobby Marley/sing something good to me/This world’s gone crazy/It’s an emergency.” The album was released in the States in June 2001. Three months later, those words sounded more appropriate than ever.
I was apprehensive about having to listen to the radio — a few years of being forced to listen to Bush, Korn and Limp Bizkit marathons on New York’s horrid K-Rock at work had forever scarred me (today it’s a Top 40 station). As I was driving around Nashville looking at apartments a few weeks ago, I discovered Sirius satellite radio for the first time, and fell in love. No commercials plus always knowing what song and artist you were listening to plus the inclusion of E Street Radio made me a very happy man.
But now, I’d have to brave it. I happened to be driving up on a Friday, a day radio DJs get disproportionately excited about (“We’ve got your Friday rock block connection, coming to you live and hanging out all day long here at the greatest bar in the land, Tampa’s Big Chill Bar and Grill!”) The theme was “Super Hits from the ’70s,” which meant I got to reconnect with the Steve Miller Band’s “Take The Money and Run,” Billy Joel’s “Moving Out” (thank you for that, anonymous DJ), B-B-B-Benny and the Jets, and my new favorite song of all time, The Commodore’s “Brick House” (she’s a brick….HOUSE….Owww!). There’s something about that pause between the word “brick” and the word “house” that’s just the epitome of funky. I can’t help but sing along. Owww.
It all started with Jimmy Buffett’s “Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes,” which I can’t recall hearing before, but was able to guess correctly who had written it before the first chorus. Somehow I can’t imagine anyone else rhyming “I was hungry so I went out for a bite” with “ran into a chum with a bottle of rum and we wound up drinking all night” except Mr. “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”
Then a cool thing happened. I realized for the first time in basically 13 years, I could sing as loud as I wanted and no one could hear me. So I switched off the radio and started singing as much of Wilco’s Being There as I could remember (“Choo Choo Charlie had a plenty good band, but he couldn’t understand why no one would go”), accompanying myself on soda cup with ice and straw percussion. It was very liberating. Then I just started making stuff up:
well I been goin down the road, trying to get in my mode
i got nineteen women on my mind,
nine wanna hold me, ten wanna scold me,
and all of them got left behind
take it easy, take it easy
don’t let the sound of your own brain make you queasy
you may run, and you may win
but you may never grow old again
i wanna know if you’re my friend,
and if you’ll feed me…
Not really an improvement on the original, but not bad for something I made up on the fly.
What else? Somewhere near Gainesville, I was shocked to stumble on The Beatles‘ druggy, long-playing bizarre-o b-side “You Know My Name, Look Up The Number” hogging up the airwaves; it’s hardly what you’d call one of their more radio-friendly songs. For a second, I thought I must be listening to Sirius again. That was followed by Larry Groce’s “Junk Food Junkie” — the DJ was in a goofy mood. I would have bet my brake pedal that it was Arlo Guthrie singing that song; good thing I didn’t. I like how it’s so dated it mentions the Whole Earth Catalog.
Heading to Atlanta I sampled the wares of some Dirty South rappers (I’m not sure auto-tune’s dead yet), tracks like Ludacris’s “My Chick Bad,” and Trey Songz’ “Say Aah” (“I make ’em say aah just like I’m your doctor/all that I prescribe is cranberry and vodka.”) Omarion’s” “Get It In” cracks me up (“I get it in like parking spots/and they say money talks so don’t ask me why I talk a lot”), as the chorus sounds eerily like an ad for erectile dysfunction medication. Lil Wayne comes through with a trademark wacky boast: “Fresh out of my Buggati/Polo on my body/I’m jumpin’ in this s**t like pogo on a potty,” and it’s all good in the hood.
Atlanta’s got some fine radio stations, including one that serenaded me with great jazz and blues as I was stuck in morning traffic. Songs like Gil-Scott Heron’s latin-tinged, jazz-flute ode to the neighborhood “17th Street” and Buddy Guy’s mojo-dripping, feral-sounding “Out In The Woods” were well worth discovering.
So here I am now, finally, in Music City. I made it all the way from New York by way of FLA. Waiting for the movers to show up, waiting for the work to start. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, and his song “Talking New York Blues”:
So long, New York.
Howdy, East Nashville.