The sun sets on the Belcourt. Three arched awnings slant-shade the ticket window. I sit inside what has always been my ideal coffee shop, Fido, and watch interesting people walk up and down the bricked path alongside 21st Avenue. In this neighborhood, Hillsboro Village, dusk embodies one of the best things about Nashville: an independent, artistic spirit that flies beyond the city’s rhinestoned and cornponed stereotypes. It’s never been about country music for me. Even when I gave it what I felt was a fair shot, it never quite fit. Too much of rock’s rebel fire flows in these veins. As a teenager, I was told that, one day, I would like country music. Perhaps that’s a foregone conclusion for some in my hometown in rural west Tennessee. But here I am, pushing thirty-nine, and I would take a fuzzed out, power-chord burst of disjointed indie rock any day.
This piece is not about music, however. Rock writing is excessive enough without my stubborn opinions. No, it’s about saying goodbye to the city I’ve called home since my mid-twenties. Goodbye to my coming-of-age, where I learned about the onstage rush that follows a good crowd response at a gig, only to feel the emptiness of realizing that most people have never heard of me or our band. It’s where I learned how to endure personal hardship, and about the value of friends and family. (Wow, this is beginning to sound a little too much like a country song.) Nashville is where I learned that the world is big in a way that statistics and demographics cannot teach. It’s where I learned that people are generally good, or at least good-hearted, barring the selfishness that afflicts us all. And here comes the cliche: it’s where I figured out who I am. I know it sounds sentimental, but there’s no better way to put it. When you find yourself alone in a city that is sixty times larger than the town in which you grew up, you tend to learn some hard lessons. You really learn them. Internalize them, move forward from them, grow with them. Nashville symbolizes all of this.
It’s true that we’re not moving very far–the opposite end of an adjacent county–but we are, in fact, moving. For the first time in a really long time, I will not have Davidson County tags on my license plate. A trip downtown will require a bit more planning. I will miss the easy access to places like Fido and the Red Door, or to the rock clubs on Elliston Place, or Centennial Park in the fall, when the TACA craft fair sets up its rows of tents. It’s not that I’ve been going to these places of late, but I’ve grown accustomed to knowing that they are there. That they are part of the city I’ve proudly called home for so many tumultuous and glorious years.
Anyway, a new chapter begins, and I’m actually warming to the notion of a quieter existence in a smaller setting, my growing family around me. Chances are, however, that when someone from another part of the country asks where I’m from, I’ll say Nashville. It’s close enough, right?
Rewind. Earlier I said that dusk embodies this so-called independent, artistic spirit, but I did not explain how. It’s not complicated. Dusk is magic, wherever you are–city, ocean, mountains, woods. Dusk is when, thirteen years ago, I recognized the genie-soul* of Hillsboro Village, and that essence extended to include all of Nashville in some way or other. I felt it then as I feel it now, watching the sun disappear behind Sam’s Sports Bar and Grill.
*”Genie-soul” is a Walker Percy-ism. He uses the term to indicate the general feeling of a place: “every place has [it] or else is not a place.” You really should read The Moviegoer.