So Bored in Nashville
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So Bored in Nashville

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Bars and booze and lacquer and glass and smoke and tv and tourists and shots, and pit-stop at Randall’s to chop up a Xanax, to snort then smoke then back to the bars. In this city, through the bars, we wind up packed in a room full of ads. Living ads, that is, sexy and skimpy young women ads. New England or Oklahoma transplants, wannabe country stars clad in fishnets and bra tops, hot pants and logos, who proffer shots of some dye-injected Extreme Liquor product. A temp job, they swear, they serve you straight out of their mouths, out of their navels, wherever, no problem. For ten bucks a pop they make ten bucks an hour, while your lips suckle shots off of their amazing young stomachs. And they’re dying to sing, will do anything to demo. (All of this action in a Vandy sports bar, not an airport strip club, let alone a music industry hang.) And tomorrow I leave, for Forts Jackson then Benning. Signed the contract when the Army offered me 11B, Option 4: Airborne Infantry. I am twenty-six and terrified. Yet I felt compelled to follow through after the recruiters told me how difficult it was to secure this assignment. How rare it is these days to earn Option 4, Airborne, war on and all.

Hoo-ah! they barked. You tha man, man!

Randall and I depart that bar, we drive on. He says zero about my deployment. We pay cover and squeeze into an East Nashville venue, find another Brooklynesque band, another huddle of white hipsters in white V-neck t-shirts whose everything is constructed by camouflaging their incomes, by folding tattooed arms across their chests, and/or nodding and/or spying at their phones. Superb denim, everywhere. We drive off. Drop twenty bucks to park on bustling and hyper-sold Second Avenue: Hard Rock Cafe, Coyote Ugly, chain, chain, etc., etc. At a pseudo-upscale music hall, stuffed with pseudo-upscale music industry fakes, reclaimed wood and iron, taxidermy mounts, Randall yanks me into a hallway and flask-feeds me bourbon. Tells me he can’t get away from unknowns who want to write songs with him—Hey, man, let’s write; Hey, Randall, let’s write—everywhere he goes, because they know that their chances of landing their first album cut are stronger with his name on as cowriter. (A couple years back, Randall wrote a chestnut called “Urban Cowgirl,” a one-off departure from his non-paying folk songs. After the tune was cut by a cosmetic cowboy, it topped the Top 40 and made Randall a universe of cash. Now nobody artsy and literate and frustrated will hang out with him. He is and forever will be the “Urban Cowgirl” sellout.)

Randall hates this process, this creative suck-off, yet he does the same thing to more established songwriters: calls them to cowrite, wedges into their conversations at industry gatherings, pumping gossip like heartbeats, desperate to book a session, to redefine himself. I do not call him out on this. We are all chasing better narratives. Besides, truth is, I only want to be called out by him. I am desperate for his protest, or his permission to deploy. Because Randall and I have been each other’s go-to forever, over a thousand nights of dive bar and misquoted verse and booze-drenched guitar pull . . . and through his mother’s Distal MD, and the [End Page 73] guilt he had over avoiding her, her withered, alien forearms and brittle legs . . . and through the time we dragged his pa onto his back porch the instant the sun tickled the frozen January horizon, cranked J. J. Cale while slugging a bottle of Pappy, then woke up as two of Nashville’s Finest draped us in Mylar emergency blankets, and . . . yet he does not seem to care about my military aptitude score, or the fallout with my job, or about what happened with her, how she never even called me back to tell me goodbye, or about my need to prove to her and my dad...