Here at Dust Nuggets Central, we’re on tenterhooks waiting for our film to be available. We wait and wait and wait and go stir crazy. What to do? Answer: Road trip. In this case, Nashville to Natchez. What an excursion!
First off, take a look at this benign-looking building. It’s in Alabama. It’s FAME studios where Aretha Franklin became Aretha. She recorded “I Never Loved a Man,” “Do Right Woman,” “Dr. Feelgood,” and the iconic “Respect” here. Yes folks, this is the fabulous Muscle Shoals recording studio. In a strip mall location. Sacrilege. Where’s the romance? Not sure what I was expecting. A glass building on a high promontory with God himself parting the clouds below to bestow blessings during sessions. Or something. What I got was Central Ave in Yonkers.
The house band at FAME eventually moved to Sheffield, next town over, and opened their own studio, calling it Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Sheffield is a bit more atmospheric; it’s got grub and grit. There’s a tattoo joint next door. Now we’re talking’.
Down the line from Alabam is Miss’sip. First stop: Tupelo. Elvis’ birthplace. Down the road from that is Oprah’s first home in Kosciusco. Then it was on to Natchez the old evil slave-trading, bordello-supporting, party town on the river. It’s a touristy-type place now, cashing in their street cred for upscale restaurants and historical tours etc. The great find here was the roadhouse where Jerry Lee Lewis first performed at the age of 12. Place is closed now of course. But then everything is these days.
Lots of exciting things happening down below Nashville. You ever get the feeling that things are happening somewhere else and you’re missing it? That’s how it feels going to Mississippi. I mean, it’s Mississippi. Who’d a thunk?
It’s not easy traveling under the Covid Pandemic. You have to follow a procedure for disinfecting rooms before you unpack. Once you do that, you can’t just go out and meet people in bars like you usually do; meals are delivered with no small talk underneath the face masks. It’s a good time for contemplation. The Southern hospitality is still there, but there’s a grim pall over the whole thing. Nobody parties with strangers anymore.
Meanwhile, the waiting game continues. We continue to make cheap, silly short films in the Skip Intro series while we wait for the big day of release. Check ’em out if you haven’t already done so.
And of course watch the Dust Nuggets trailer if you haven’t seen that yet either.
Update to this original post: I finally turned back north from Natchez and returned to Nashville for a night. I had stayed in extremely cheap hotels all the way down, but in Nashville, I opted for a choicier place downtown in the middle of Music Row. The trip was pretty much over and I was returning to life and so I splurged.
The vacation was beginning to feel like a metaphor for the American musical experience. The middle section of our country — Delta on up through Memphis to Chicago, and over to include the Appalachians is the heart of our musical tradition. Blues, bluegrass, country, rock ‘n roll were all incubated in this section. The forms were born of poverty, because of it or in spite of it, I don’t know. A musician that escaped that poverty invariably wound up in Nashville at some point. Nashville is where the money is. The celebrity, the “selling out,” the commerciality. There are entire buildings in Nashville housing such entities as BMI, SESAC, Peer Music (a music publisher), and tons of music studios. They’re big and shiny and seem like nothing representative of the music itself.
We’re glad for Nashville, sure; it brings music to the world. But the music is from somewhere else. Places with soul and mystery and spirituality.