January 25, 2010

STRANGERS IN THE "STRANGELY" LAND:

Why I can't stop lovin' country music: You don't have to be a big country and western fan before you visit Nashville. A weekend there will turn you into one (Viv Groskop, 1/24/10, The Observer)

The morning after the Bluebird, once we had gorged ourselves on Wild Bill's Cajun doughnuts, we headed with some trepidation to the city's must-see spot: the Country Music Hall of Fame. From the outside, the building looks vast but ordinary. Then you realise the windows have been designed to resemble the keys of a piano. From above the edifice is shaped like a bass clef and the front wall's slanted end is meant to be a late-50s Cadillac tail fin. It takes up a whole block. It's hardcore and insane. Step through the doors and hundreds of forgotten songs ring in your ears: Brenda Lee having big fun on the bayou, Reba McEntire belting out Mama's warnings to Fancy.

Here are state-of-the-art technology and lots of imaginative temporary exhibitions. There are audio booths everywhere. Vibrant archive video footage plays non-stop. The highlight of our visit? Elvis Presley's 1960 Cadillac 75 Limousine painted with crushed diamonds and fish scales, featuring a gold TV and a gold telephone. Maybe I loved this place because it caters well for non-fans. Or maybe it just turns you into a fan whether you want to be one or not.

By now completely brainwashed and on the verge of frenzied cowboy hat purchases, we headed to the east side of town to the Grand Ole Opry. The crowd outside was buzzing: fringing, rhinestones and false eyelashes galore. Every Saturday a live radio broadcast from this huge concert hall features old-style radio microphones and advertisements read by an on-stage announcer. ("And we'll be right back after this break.") It's wholesome family entertainment, with babies and grandparents in the audience, teens and veterans on stage.

Lyrical highlights included "I miss having your biscuits in my gravy pan", sung by an elegant old-timer with a rigid blue rinse. There was banter, there was glitter, there were sequinned chaps. There were many exhortations by the show's sponsors to support American troops serving in Eye-rack. It was exhausting, fascinating and strangely life-affirming.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 25, 2010 8:05 PM
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