While watching an episode of the Ken Burns documentary “Country Music,” I realized I was watching the official memorial service in old Nashville that I love so much.
Our city, as well as our musical genre, is in transition. While I understand that change is not only necessary but inevitable, I feel like the progression leaves behind some of the soul and heart of the city.
We have lost the personal connections and time that made life worth living and music worth listening to. I crave one more Wednesday afternoon at the bar at Maude’s Courtyard, when it seemed like the bang would last forever. We were in no rush to be anywhere else. After all, what better place than a room full of songwriters and the people who love them?
“Country Music” by Ken Burns: Your guide to eight episodes, 16 hours, and hundreds of songs documenting the genre
All this technology, what for?
But now efficiency is taking its toll. Why visit when you can call, especially given how busy we are? Why call when you can text? Why text just one person when we can post for everyone on social media? Why listen, read or watch for ourselves when we can read a review online?
We build a life without human contact. Yes, we’re more productive than ever, but is it a life worth living? Downtime is filled with emails and work, so we’re never really away. Technology designed to improve our lives ruins it instead. We don’t do better, only more.
We also lose what made Nashville special.
Country is a genre that has provided a voice for the voiceless, a recorder and interpreter of the nation’s saddest hearts and lowest moments. With everything going on in the country, why aren’t we hearing more of their stories in country music? There’s so much to say, to say, and yet all we hear about is beer, trucks and boots. Is this what we want to portray in a documentary in 50 years?
Nashville’s prosperity drives out the workers on whose backs the city was built. While we were preoccupied with proclaiming to the world that Nashville is the “it city”, we forgot to take care of the people and the problems at home.
Like the superficial veneer projected in today’s social media, it is often glossier than substance, fiction and fantasy rather than reality. Don’t get me wrong: we were broken then and we are now. Human nature has not changed. What has changed is that there is no longer an escape from the pressure. We all hurt behind our happy Facebook photos, but no one says a word. There is noise everywhere, and it drowns out the poetry of our music and our lives.
PODCAST COUNTRY MILE: Two artists, two stools and improvised stories of the stars who lived them
Bigger is not always better
In Nashville, the lonely stillness of Sunday mornings was shattered by the piercing wooos of visiting weekend warriors. I don’t know about you, but I hate it. The new Nashville lacks dignity, class and respect.
We’ve earned a reputation as a weekend town for a generation that can love us and leave us behind, crumpled up like the plastic cups that still reek of leftover watered-down drinks that caused the puddles of vomit. left for others to remove without a second thought. Perhaps that is an apt metaphor because we are increasingly left to clean up the mess of recent economic prosperity.
That doesn’t mean the creative spirit is dead and gone. I attended the Nashville Songwriter Awards last month, and was reassured that the common thread of legends like Kris Kristofferson and Cindy Walker continues to vibrate in the veins of songwriters today. Much like Willie and Loretta, budding young singers arrive in Nashville every day with big dreams.
Whether delivered via turntable or download, the effects of a song on a heart have not changed. We still need music, and the world still needs to hear what Nashville has to say.
But as the next generation takes the microphone, it’s up to us to shape the city that welcomes it, supports it and loves it. As a city and a gender, are we who we want to be? Are we losing what makes Nashville great and separates it from Charlotte, Cincinnati and Birmingham? Let’s get together and decide what we want to be before our friends feel like they have to leave town to appease their souls.
Beverly Keel is a veteran journalist and chair of the Recording Industry Department at Middle Tennessee State University.