Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Never In Nashville?

"Please tell me that they at least called you," my friend Willie J. said over the phone the day that the Nashville Scene's "Never In Nashville" article hit the street. "If they didn't call you, they didn't get the whole story," said Willie. Other calls and emails also came in, from people who knew about The Other Side Of Nashville project.

No, they didn't call me, not really. I had swapped emails with Scene music editor Tracy Moore, author of the rag's "Never In Nashville" story, but in the end she never called me back for my input. 'Tis a shame, too, because in talking primarily with Tom Wood, Kath Hansen and Ray Crabtree, she limited the perspective on an otherwise passable article -- not great, but it could have been worse, especially since the writer was probably in grade school when we were having all that fun some twenty years ago.

On the plus side, Moore did track down Rick Champion for the article, something I've yet been able to do, and she did include Andy McLenon and Kay Clary of Praxis (two great people who were there); Dave Willie, an upstanding fellow by any measure; and Jason Ringenberg, who did more, perhaps, to put Nashville rock on the map than anybody. Moore relied too much, perhaps, on Crabtree -- a publicist whose number one client is himself and the White Animals -- obviously without realizing the long-standing enmity between the band and much of the rest of the local scene. Now I love the White Animals, always have, and have written glowing things about them through the years, but let's be honest...the band has always felt that it never got the acclaim that it deserved and has always been jealous about the modicum of success enjoyed by Jason & the Nashville Scorchers.

As for Tom Wood and Kath Hansen, well, I mentioned both earlier, in the second part of my history of Nashville music zines. In my mind, they both overestimate their involvement in the local music scene, but maybe I'm overestimating my involvement in the scene. Moore's article says that the two "left The Metro in 1988 to form a snarky, contentious literary zine called the Fireplace Whiskey Journal..." after which she gives them credit for helping launch the Nashville Scene. Well, FWJ might have indeed been "snarky" but it was anything but literary. It seemed to me to be more of an attempt to keep getting into shows for free than to publish anything of substance. I give a lot more credit for the early success of the Scene to former Metro writer Brian Mansfield, who was the rag's music editor, and to editor Bruce Honick, who pursued the idea of an "alternative newsweekly" in Nashville and worked to make it happen...and yes, I also wrote for the Scene in those days.

In Moore's article, Wally Bangs made a comment that I liked about as much as being attacked by a pack of wild gerbils. Now I gave proper credit to Bangs in this blog for writing "Rick Champion Opened A Hot Dog Stand," a great look back at Nashville rock circa the '80s, but his memory of The Metro is somewhat flawed, in my obviously biased opinion. Pointing out, somewhat scornfully, that Jon Bon Jovi was on the cover of the first issue, Bangs tells the Scene that "some issues would totally suck...but then for a while, it was awesome. People like Kath Hansen and Tom Wood were writing for it, and suddenly it was pretty good."

Now I won't disagree with Wally that The Metro often sucked. Some of the Reverend's work sucked the hardest...I remember an article on Tears For Fears written from a bio when the notoriously whiny band refused to talk to us on the phone...whew, wotta smellbag! And how Jon Rich ever got any of his drivel on heavy metal published in the rag is beyond me...he must have lent Gus Palas some money or something. But let's be as honest as churchmice here, shall we people? In August 1985 when The Metro put Bon Jovi on the cover, few people outside of New Jersey had any idea who Jon or his Aquanet crew were. To claim that we "sold out" with that very first issue is a nifty little bit of historical revisionism. We were still a year away from Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet album dominating the charts so The Metro was...shall we say...actually on the cutting edge of musical coverage.

Besides, Palas never meant for The Metro to be an exclusively local music rag, even though we covered local artists that nobody, not even the Fireplace Whiskey Journal, would write about. We put LA's Screamin' Sirens on the cover of issue number two and other early issues featured cover stories on Afrikan Dreamland and R.E.M. and articles on local bands like Dessau, In Pursuit and, ahem, the White Animals. Although the Reverend often took issue with Palas back in the day, it was his rag after all, and I'm proud of the work that we did in The Metro through the years. To his credit, Gus pretty much gave this writer carte blanche to cover whatever wild-assed shit that I wanted to, and articles on Living Colour, Chagall Guevara, Widespread Panic, Suicidal Tendencies, Hispanic rapper Kid Frost and others brought the zine national attention and earned yours truly a solid (worldwide) reputation as a music journalist. I'm proud of what we did at The Metro and could once again point out that no other publication focused as much national attention on our local music scene, before or since....

Let's call this for what it was, and then let it rest like the stinking corpse that it is: there existed in Nashville during the '80s a small local group of elitist assholes that hung around The Metro and loitered in the local clubs and supported the bands that they alone could lay claim to. Their identity was based entirely on showing up at Cantrell's every night and hanging out with other members of the clique. Once the Scorchers got signed to EMI, their "scene" had become too commercial. The Metro had "sold out" because we didn't feature local bands exclusively and some people would bitch and moan whenever we wrote about somebody that this cultural troika disapproved of. Sometimes they were right -- the Whyte Lace article never should have seen the light of day, much less the cover. But far more often they were wrong. Tom Wood and Kath Hansen were a small part of The Metro's inglorious history, and when I think of the rag, I think of good writers like Andy Anderson, Bill Spicer, Brian Mansfield and Rebecca Luxford that earned The Metro respect everywhere but in its own back yard.

I have a few other minor complaints about Moore's Scene article. Cantrell's was never a "Big Boy" restaurant...I worked for Shoney's through high school and well into the '80s and, as a manager, was intimately familiar with the location of their restaurants. Cantrell's, if memory serves, was instead a "Burger Boy" knock-off of Shoney's. A minor cavil to be sure, but let's get it right. Also, how Moore could invest several thousand words on Nashville's rock scene in the '80s without mentioning Aashid Himons is beyond me. Aashid's Afrikan Dreamland was the biggest draw on the local music scene for much of the decade, bigger than the White Animals, bigger than the Scorchers. Aashid being the free-spirited kind of guy that he is, often befriended local rockers and would have them open up for Afrikan Dreamland in front of large audiences. Aashid did a lot to support the local rock scene and deserved to be mentioned.

Other local bands from the era that got short shrift in the Scene article, in my mind: Civic Duty, 69 Tribe, the Bunnies, Afterdark, Radio One, In Color, the Paper Dolls and, well, the list could go on and on. All had significant local followings and contributed to the music scene at a time when it was fresh, young and exciting. Musicians like Donna Frost, her brother Tony Frost, Randy Ford, Ed Fitzgerald, Richie Owens, John Sheridan, Lee Carr, Joey Blanton, Chuck Allen and many others built the framework that made bands like the Pink Spiders, Kings Of Leon and the Features possible.

No, I was not consulted for Tracy Moore's "Never In Nashville" article, and she never mentions my name once, even though she does mention some things published by The Metro that I wrote. It all depends on your perspective, I guess, and Moore's article is just one version of the story. The Other Side Of Nashville book will present the history of Nashville's rock underground from the Reverend's perspective and, hopefully, will be much more inclusive.

(BTW, Collin Wade Monk's '80s podcast featuring Nashville bands rocks with Biblical proportions, and yes the Reverend contributed music from the dusters, the Young Caucasians, Walk The West and more for Collin to use. Download and listen at your own risk, but DO IT!)

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The scene went downhill after I moved outta town. Coinkydink? I tink not. Seriously, hanging out was an art back then, MTSU shoulda given me a diploma in hanging out.

Anyways, thanks for the link. I could have farted out the article myself after a few Coke Zeros (I could easily have fabricated those quotes, where's the revelations?) Also, did anyone learn any lessons from those days? Is there any continuity besides a few die-hards like yourself?

I just picked up your feed recently after stumbling over it in a fit of probably misplaced nostalgia. Things were definitely less focused after 1985, after which I was lucky enough to experience different "scenes" of varying quality. Sometimes I am amazed that anyone still cares, but I still find not only Nashville stuff but all the other indie stuff irresistable to this day (and I have moved on to other types of music and art forms).

Think on this: What is a "scene", is it nothing but a stepping stone? I (and many others) believe it is an end in itself.

David M

8:51 PM  
Blogger Wally Bangs said...

I stand by my assertion that The Metro was at its finest when Kath and crew were around, but the Bon Jovi remark was just a simple historical fact - Palas did catch hell for having them on the cover. Their fame at the time doesn't seem too relevant to me although I suppose mixing the glam of hair metal with sub-Springsteen New Jerseyisms was fairly novel back then. Perhaps it was not that Bon Jovi were not local that got under the college rock crowd's skin so much as that they were mainstream. The Screaming Sirens were indeed on the second cover which seemed to please us all.

Now on to the White Animals and their feud and jealousy. I used to believe in it myself, but after numerous conversations with Ray I don't believe it. I tried to bait him into a screed against Jason and the whole "art posse" crowd and all I got were stories about how much he loved the Scorchers and their work. There was an article in The Metro written by Tom Wood where Kevin Gray was bitter about how things were turning out for the WA's during their last summer, but give the dude a break - he lived and breathed rock and roll for years touring all over the country playing every club, frat house, and teen center that would have his band and while others were getting the chance to get raped by record company accountants and lawyers the WA's went unsigned. Aashid and Afrikan Dreamland even put out records on the WA's label Dreadbeat. I don't harbor the illusion that the local scene was one harmonious hippie hashbowl, but I also, to my chagrin since I like controversy, no longer look at those days from a WA's versus Jason death match. I love Ecstasy and Fervor.
I would have liked more Raging Fire in Tracy's article and I don't recall seeing anything about Shadow 15.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Rev. Keith A. Gordon said...

I'm afraid that I'll just have to agree to disagree with Wally. The era after the infamous Tipper Gore interview remains my favorite time for The Metro. Lisa Hays did a good job of both editing and laying out the paper and Tim "Mercury" Shaw brought a professional graphic look to the pages. With writers like Andy Anderson, Bill Spicer, Brian Mansfield and..ahem...myself, it was the era of the paper that attracted the most attention from out-of-town readers and national press. That plus we had the opportunity to run articles on a lot of very cool local, national and international artists.

I find it interesting that so many people thought that The Metro was supposed to be an exclusively local music paper. Bernie Sheehan had introduced me to Palas months before the first issue ever hit the street, and if my feeble memory hasn't completely crapped out, I remember Gus wanting The Metro to be a national music rag with coverage of the fine talent we had in this region.

I find David M's comments intriguing, especially when he says "is there any continuity besides a few die-hards like yourself?" I'm not so sure that there is any continuity, considering that the current bands I've spoken with on the local scene has little or no concept of much of what came before. Perhaps a subject for a future entry?

I agree with Wally, however, that Shadow 15 should have received bigger play in the Nashville Scene article, and I should have mentioned them myself. Ditto for Chapel Of Roses. Scott and Barry have been very forthcoming for this project so I'll be giving them proper due in the book.

6:33 PM  
Blogger Tom Wood said...

Point one: I can't agree more re Aashid, a protean figure and mind-expanding influence on a generation of callow suburban youth such as myself. Peace be with him, wherever he is.

Point two: Re this:
>>As for Tom Wood and Kath Hansen... they both overestimate their involvement in the local music scene, but maybe I'm overestimating my involvement in the scene. Moore's article says that the two "left The Metro in 1988 to form a snarky, contentious literary zine called the Fireplace Whiskey Journal..." after which she gives them credit for helping launch the Nashville Scene. Well, FWJ might have indeed been "snarky" but it was anything but literary. It seemed to me to be more of an attempt to keep getting into shows for free than to publish anything of substance.<<

I have no interest in defending the reputation of The Fireplace Whiskey Journal. My one PR effort re Tracy's article was to lobby for inclusion of one or two of the late Lee Carr's twisted and entertaining cartoons with the story; alas, no luck there.

I do recall that we were rather cruel to the Rev. Keith, who wanted to write for us. I don't remember why we rejected his contribution, but I do recall that after being turned down, he wrote an angry letter in response. We printed it with a postscript in which we invited him to enjoy "a Pine-Sol enema."

I'm sure we felt we had a good reason, but I personally try to be more judicious in the choice of colonics I offer to my adversaries, now that I am an old man. If we bruised feelings back then, I apologize.

Point three: Re this:

>>I give a lot more credit for the early success of the Scene to former Metro writer Brian Mansfield, who was the rag's music editor, and to editor Bruce Honick, who pursued the idea of an "alternative newsweekly" in Nashville and worked to make it happen...and yes, I also wrote for the Scene in those days.<<

Memory has played a trick on the Rev. here. Honick was on the job back when the Scene was a "shopper," in media parlance -- an advertising vehicle with no real pretense to editorial significance, distributed by being flung into the driveways of uninterested residents of 37215 and 37205. He may have briefly been a carryover after Bruce Dobie and Albie Del Favero took over the Scene in April or May 1989, but if so he wasn't there for long. Mansfield was a carryover, but as I recall his tenure was brief under the new regime. Neither played a significant role in bringing alt-weekly journalism to Nashville.

(Aside: When Bruce and Albie asked me to meet them at Brown's Diner one day in late 1988 about their project, it was going to be a start-up called Nashville CityPress. One might note that the Scene's publishing company is (or was, last I checked) known as CityPress Publishing Inc. I have long heard, though cannot confirm, that Gus Palas of the Metro got wind of their plans and took out a state trademark or name reservation with the Tennessee Sec. of State in order to interfere with the project.)

As to Tracy Moore's mention of the FWJ as a precursor to the Scene, here are a few names to consider:

* Jim Ridley, a Murfreesboro record store employee who wrote video reviews for FWJ, has become in my view the foremost film critic in the southeast at the Scene. He was its second salaried writer.

* Clark Parsons, pseudonymous author of the FWJ's gimlet-eyed news review "An American in Nashville" from mid-1988 until the FWJ's demise in October 1988, took the column under that name to the Scene in June 1989. He became the Scene's first staff writer a year or two later.

* Nicki Pendleton, then an FWJ scribe and now my wife, became the Scene's food writer in the early 1990s before she became the restaurant reviewer and food editor at the Nashville Banner.

* Regina Gee, a principal in FWJ's anarchosyndicalist commune, was an early arts columnist for the Scene. She has gone on to a tenured professorship in art history and a Fulbright fellowship in Italy.

* Alonso Duralde, FWJ's main film critic, may or may not have done some work for the early Scene -- I can't recall -- but you need only google his name to see that he has become a nationally known film writer, especially in gay circles, with The Advocate.

* I wrote scores of stories for the Scene between 1989 and 1993, when I joined The Tennessean, as well as a few in more recent years. I believe I wrote five cover stories, and I had a history column for a year at one point.

I could go on, and I'm probably leaving out good examples. Kath Hansen, Michael McCall, Randy Fox, John Atkins and others come to mind.

1:00 AM  
Blogger Rev. Keith A. Gordon said...

Perhaps my memory isn't as faulty as Tom may believe. Yes, the Nashville Scene was a "shopper" tabloid when Bruce Honick took over, but it was he who convinced the eventual successful ownership of the paper (i.e. Dobie, Del Favero)that an "alternative newsweekly" would work in Nashville. Honick did publish significant editorial content in the Scene, including, I believe, Brian Mansfield, Rebecca Luxford and myself. I also wrote for Bruce Dobie's Scene, too, through the years.

As for the Fireplace Whiskey Journal being a precursor to the Scene, the same could be said for The Metro since Clark Parsons, Regina Gee, Jim Ridley, Mike McCall, Tom Wood, Kath Hansen and Randy Fox...as well as Brian Mansfield...all also wrote for Gus Palas before the Dobie/Del Favero version of the Scene ever came to be. All this means is that there were a number of dedicated writers sharing space in a handful of local publications at the time. Truth is, Thom King was the guy who first thought of bringing "alt-weekly journalism" to Nashville with his Take One Magazine, published a good 15 years before Dobie and Del Favero. Thom never had the money to really make the publication a success, potential investors proved to be flaky (at best) and Nashville never really seemed ready to support the rag. Perhaps Thom was a little before his time....

I would be remiss if I didn't make further mention of Rebecca Luxford's contributions to The Metro. Looking over some old copies of the rag that I borrowed from friend Greg Walker, I remembered that Rebecca had the unenviable position of trying to revive a shitty paper after the departure of Wood, Hansen, et al. Rebecca was instrumental in bringing quality writers like Bill Spicer, Andy Anderson and Clyde Crawley into the fold. Rebecca put out several "non-sucky" issues of the rag with very little in the way of budget or staff support, a chore that -- from the issues I've recently scanned -- also took her away from writing, which was a shame. Kudos, Rebecca! Did you ever get that classic BMW you wanted?

2:46 PM  

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