golden years, wah wah wahp

music has such a spooky ability to throw me into full blown revelry of things past. sure, some folks say that smell is the real kicker, but for me, it's music. All i need to hear is the snare flam from the beginning of the REM song Sitting Still and i'm transported to a place and a particular moment that may never even have actually existed. i can feel warm tennessee summer night air on my face through a car window--that special kind of air when the humidity is blessedly low. i can hear cicadas buzzing, i can smell (ah, yes, smell) the soft white skin of my red-haired girlfriend, loraine. i can even get a little tangled inside my stomach--as i'm doing now, while i type this.

my friend, Kenneth Burns, sent me a mp3 of a song last night. Family Thing, by Raging Fire. there was no accompanying text in his email, just a download icon innocently named "track 1.mp3." it was sneaky of him. The track itself is what critics on autopilot would call "seminal." In this case, they would mean something vaguely unfinished, or, just as the word implies, the seed from which something much bigger--and unknown--will spring. The production of the song is beautifully questionable, and dated in a charming way; they have a flange effect on the vocal. the arrangement isn't quite there, but still contains just the right amount of ebullient surprise. you can hear the unfinished drywall in the drum sounds.

Raging fire was a rock band that existed back in the nashville rock and roll heyday--specifically 1978 to perhaps 1990. after listening to the track i went on a google binge. i googled "melora zaner", the name of the unbelievably cute lead singer of raging fire. i found her almost immediately. as testament, i guess, to the greatness of the band, she continues to distinguish herself even as a 40-something, evidently working for microsoft now. i found a whole lot of other stuff, too--about her, about raging fire, about this exact heyday of which i speak.

here's the deal: either there's a whole lot of people hopelessly lost in these remembrances, or those years really were special. It's both, or course. everyone, everywhere remembers their formative year like this--what with the smells and the summer air and the tight stomach and all that stuff--but the nashville rock and roll scene of those years truly was a special thing.

It was born of a nashville seeking an identity. nashville was still a small town in those days. even in 1985 i could drive downtown on a friday night and not meet another car on the interstate. we were--or more accurately they were, as i missed out on those first few truly formative years--looking for something that looked less like altman's sickening portrayal in his infamous movie (in 1976?), and more like what folks figured a bar in london was supposed to look like. i don't think the drinking age changed to 21 until around 1984--and that's probably why the whole scene lost a lot of its momentum a few years later: fewer interested, rebellious young people able to go to the clubs and keep things alive.

there's not much of a reason for me to continue with these recollections as they are just a google away--on a blog called soulfish stew, on tommy womack's website and in his book "the cheese chronicles," on a website for the White Animals. you can probably even google Phrank 'n Steins (the first nashville club to focus on (white people's) local rock and roll) and come up with a hundred links to the magic that was happening in those days. here. try this: google "jason and the nashville scorchers" and search for any piece of writing that doesn't contain a plethora of thousand dollar words like "incendiary," "transformative," or the oft misused "elegiac." It isn't bad writing--they were just that good.

the most profound sentence in the history of (again, "white") rock and roll is attributed to brian eno. he said: "only a thousand people bought the first velvet underground album, but all of them went out to form a band." i recognize, at this point in the post, it is my job to sum something up, to say something profound, to connect all this to something larger. i'm oddly blank. empty. lost. maybe that's because there really wasn't anything else deeper about this time in nashville's history. perhaps all that music was just one of a million other empty moments in cultural production. i don't think that's the case, though. i think i feel like this because i no longer have the accompanying teenage hormonal upheaval necessary to really know those moments. the best i can do now is just sort of experience these impossible-to-pin-down feelings in my stomach. i am, at once, forlorn and grateful.

one thing i do know: i'm gonna be more careful the next time i get a strange mp3 from mr. kenneth burns.


Kenneth said...

Look out: I've also got a blog post gestating about 80s Nashville rock.

Walter said...

yeah--don't wanna steal your thunder on this subject. i look foward to seeing it. hey! send me a mp3 of that movement song that was so popular.

Kenneth said...

I will do that once I get around to ripping the tracks off'n the vinyl.