Vincent van Gogh and the Nashville Players

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If no one ever died, Vincent van Gogh would be one-hundred sixty-five years-old today. That I just wrote about him yesterday is purely coincidental. I wasn’t aware it was his birthday eve. The fact is he looms large, year-round. His name arises nearly as frequently as Picasso’s. One thing I mentioned in my post yesterday is the obscurity van Gogh suffered–a strange reality given his enduring post-mortem fame and adulation. Will there be an opposite phenomenon in-place for certain artists who are famous in life right now, like Yayoi Kusama or Damien Hirst, where their names are lost at death while people we’ve never heard of make it into the Art History books? If I live to be a hundred-and-sixty-five, I guess I’ll know.

The art gods are fickle, conferring success on some and denying it to others, sometimes regardless of merit, and then often reversing those fates when artists die. It would seem cruel, if it weren’t that there was no one to blame. Those so-called art gods are really only projections of public taste, which is guided by markets and art criticism, among other factors. The whole business is quite subjective, i.e., subject to human whim, which can be negligent.

All of this makes for a slightly uninteresting blog post–kind of an “everybody knows this” type situation. But today being Vincent van Gogh’s birthday got me thinking about the unpredictability of fortune, how she shines on a few and ignores the vast millions. When I moved to Nashville in 2001, of course I knew that people came here with big dreams about the music business (I was one of them), but I was naive as to the extent of it. It wasn’t long, though, before I realized the city positively crawls with deserving musicians, and by deserving, I don’t simply mean there are lots of talented people here. What I mean is they’ve committed their lives to the pursuit of music–to the dream of making “it”–to the degree they deny themselves, sometimes their whole lives, the traditional avenues to fulfillment, like marriage or career or education or parenting. Their work ethics are unmatched, endlessly perfecting their craft, working crappy jobs in order to survive, developing every detail of performance and persona, for hours and hours, which soon become days, months, and years. Throw a rock into any joint in Nashville, and you’ll hit ten people who could feasibly pull off a full-time, professional music gig. Yes, they’re that densely concentrated here. But you’ll never know their names.

Alan D. Tucker, MA
Content Writer, Essayist, & Novelist

Goodbye, Nashville…Sort Of

The sun sets on the Belcourt.
The sun sets on the Belcourt.

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.

The sun disappears behind Sam's.
The sun disappears behind Sam’s.

 

*”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.