Friday, April 11, 2008

Fame up close

I look back fondly on my adolescence in 1980s Nashville, in no small part because the city's alternative music scene was smokin', and I was privileged to play a small part in it. The Nashville Scene, an alt-weekly, ran a fine article about the milieu sometime back, and I've written a little about it, and my esteemed colleague from those days Walter also once wrote a fine remembrance.

The alternative music scene isn't the only thing I remember fondly, however. After all, in Nashville alternative music wasn't an alternative only to the Starships and the Tiffanys of the day. There also was mainstream Nashville country, which I had a love-hate relationship with. The hate had to do with the fact that as a teenager living comfortably in suburbia, I just didn't get country music on some basic level. I think that's because country traditionally dealt with, and to some extent still deals with, vivid adult themes like addiction, loss, infidelity, class resentment. I had to grow up a little to understand all that.

But what was appealing then about mainstream Nashville music -- and I think this has changed -- is that the stars were very accessible, much more so than the celebs on the coasts. I remember once running into Randy Travis, who was pumping his own gasoline near Music Row. I was like, hi. Then there was the time I encountered the Oak Ridge Boys' Duane Allen buying a toilet plunger at a hardware store, and the time I saw the Oak Ridge Boys' Joe Bonsall at a screening of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (I was forever running into Oak Ridge Boys.) Yes, the stars were out and about, in humble ways. And Nashvillians, being polite Southerners, left them alone.

The music business formalized this intimacy with something called Fan Fair, which let music lovers meet their favorite artists in person. The event still occurs, though it moved downtown from the trashy fairgrounds and now is the slicker CMA Music Festival. I remember Fan Fair as a strange, even grand summer rite, a reminder that we lived amid giants.

And speaking of giants, this picture captures Fan Fair and 1980s Nashville very well, about as well as anything I can imagine. The supremely accommodating David Allan Coe is giving a little of himself to that sweating, shirtless Fan Fair fan, because that's what Nashville stars did.

The picture comes from a great coffee table book I found at the library, Nashville: Music City USA, by John Lomax III (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1985). It pleases me to find my memories in convenient coffee table book form.

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