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KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORS {pandemic edition} FEATURING: JON LATHAM AMANDA KAIL MEGAN TENBARGE BRETT WITHERS

MARCH | APRIL 2021 VOL. XI ISSUE 2

T dd

Snider

shows us the way with his new album

First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder

Remembering I’m Enough Just As I Am An essay by Lydia Luce He’s a legend around here Dave Olney made dreams that will never die The Big Purple Building Pandemic Playlist Elizabeth Cook & Aaron Lee Tasjan


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Boarding pass? Check. Mask? You know it. Let’s fly. Safely. For more about our COVID-19 safety measures, visit flynashville.com

flynashville.com 4

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Picasso. Figures features approximately 75 paintings, works on paper, and sculptures by one of the most celebrated figures in modern art. The exhibition offers an in-depth look at Pablo Picasso’s careerlong fascination with the human figure as a means of expressing a range of subjects and emotions. The Frist Art Museum is the only U.S. venue to host this incredible collection of his work. Advance timed tickets are required and can be reserved at FristArtMuseum.org/tickets.

THROUGH MAY 2

Downtown Nashville, 919 Broadway, Nashville, TN 37203 · FristArtMuseum.org · @FristArtMuseum · #TheFrist · #FristPicasso

Exhibition organized in partnership with Musée national Picasso-Paris. Hospitality sponsor

Platinum sponsor

Gold sponsors

Bronze sponsor

Lynn, Ken, and Lauren Melkus

Education and community engagement supporters

Supported in part by our Frist Patrons and Portrait of Dora Maar, 1937. Oil on canvas. Musée National Picasso-Paris, Gift of Pablo Picasso, 1979. MP166. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée National Picasso-Paris) / Mathieu Rabeau. © 2021 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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CONGRATULATIONS TO TA R A J O NE S FOR HE R PRO MOT I O N TO O U R O PE R AT IONS M A N AG ER.

C U S TOM FLOOR S/ FUR NITUR E/ FAC ADES AND N ASHVILLE’S C OOLES T LUMBER S TORE . WW W.GO ODWOODN ASHVILL E.COM | 1307 DIC KERSON PIKE, N ASHVILLE TN 37207 8

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theeastnashvillian.com Founder & Publisher Lisa McCauley

Creative Director

Chuck Allen

Layout & Design

Benjamin Rumble

Editor-in-Chief

Photo Editing

Chuck Allen

Travis Commeau

Randy Fox

Benjamin Rumble, Dean Tomasek, Tommy Womack

editor@theeastnashvillian.com Managing Editor

Illustrations

randy@theeastnashvillian.com Contributing Writers

James Haggerty, Leslie LeChance, Lydia Luce, Irakli Gabriel, Tommy Womack

Advertising sales@theeastnashvillian.com Ad Design

Benjamin Rumble

Distribution Manager

Whit Hubner

Contributing Photographers

Duende Vision

The East Nashvillian is a bimonthly magazine published by Kitchen Table Media. All editorial content and photographic materials contained herein are “works for hire” and are the exclusive property of Kitchen Table Media, LLC unless otherwise noted. This publication is offered freely, limited to one per reader. The removal of more than one copy by an individual from any of our distribution points constitutes theft and will be subject to prosecution. Reprints or any other usage without the express written permission of the publisher is a violation of copyright.

©2021 Kitchen Table Media P.O. Box 60157, Nashville, TN 37206

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Cover Story

Features

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Remembering I’m Enough Just As I Am By Lydia Luce

in the Trunk, Heart 28 Funk at the Wheel Todd Snider leads the way By Randy Fox

40 He’s a Legend Around Here

Dave Olney made dreams that will never die By Irakli Gabriel

Commentary

13 Ever get the felling you’ve been cheated? Editor’s Letter

By Chuck Allen

On the Cover The Reverend Todd Snider performs liturgy at the First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder Photograph by Chuck Allen

14 Here’s to the Roaring ’20s Astute Observations

By James “Hags” Haggerty

50 Jack the Bunny East Of Normal

By Tommy Womack

Big Purple Bldg. Pandemic Playlist

38 Cook In The House

Elizabeth Cook on her pandemic doings and copings and Aftermath By Tommy Womack

39 ALT! ALT! ALT!

Aaron Lee Tasjan serves up a plate of genre-bending yumminess with Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! By Randy Fox

Know Your Neighbors pa n d e m i c e d i t i o n

By Leslie LaChance

19 Intro + Tenbarge 20 Megan + Withers 21 Brett + Kail 22 Amanda + 24 Jon Latham March | April 2021 theeastnashvillian.com

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TODD SNIDER’S NEW ALBUM FIRST AGNOSTIC CHURCH OF HOPE AND WONDER

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“TODD SNIDER’S NEW CONCEPT ALBUM IS A FUNKY, FUNNY TRIBUTE TO RECENTLY DEPARTED FRIENDS.” ROLLING STONE Listen at toddsnider.net FIRST AGNOSTIC CHURCH OF HOPE AND WONDER AVAILABLE EVERYWHERE APRIL 23

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Editor’s

Letter

Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

S

ometimes I wonder if maybe I’m a member of a super-small minority of folks who give half a shit about history. I’m not talking Medieval British history, God forbid. That’s one deep well, a time when, among other things, being in the royal family didn’t spare one’s neck. Progress amongst the royals seems to be movement from the literal towards the metaphorical. No, this is much more recent, although what got me thinking about it did happen to involve the UK and, in a way, the royal family. At the end of his livestream this past Sunday, the subject of our cover story, Todd Snider, made the comment, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” It caught me off guard. I mean, Todd definitely has the blood of a punk rocker flowing through his veins, but I wasn’t expecting a Johnny Rotten quote. Do you even know who he is? Somewhere recently I read an article written by a denizen

of the mid-’70s London punk scene who now lectures on culture and history. In it, he expressed his amazement that, when he polled his students (aged in their early 20s) fewer than 10-percent of them had ever even heard of the Sex Pistols. So forgive me if I insulted your intelligence by asking whether or not you know who Johnny Rotten is. Much less who the Sex Pistols were. We’re going back a ways, for sure. 1976 was (gulp) 45 years ago. Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t a “Get off my lawn, ya damn kids” rant about “music was so much better back in the day.” Truth be told, what I hear these days blows me away. There’s so much astonishingly great music being made right now I can’t keep up with it. It’s more about the lived context of cultural history. For example, while Never Mind The Bullocks (that’d be the Sex Pistols only real album) is a great rock album with catchy songs, sing-a-long choruses, and tight production, you can’t really get it without understanding a bit of

the context in which it was made. When I first became aware of the album, Sid Vicious had been dead for three years and Johnny Rotten (now back to using his given name of John Lydon) was two albums into what would become a decades-long career with Public Image Ltd. But back then things moved a bit more slowly, culturally speaking. Nevertheless, the knowledge that sacred cows were meant to be slayed was out and seeping into dives in the US of A and the kids were alright. Bands began sprouting in a sweaty netherworld overlooked by commercial radio programmers and DIY became doable because seemingly all at once everyone was hip to the idea. The mid-’70s in the UK were generally much harder for the white working-class than in the States. It took a couple more decades for things to catch up over here, even though the seeds of desperation were planted around the same time. The taste-makers of the UK punk scene were stridently anti-fascist even as they dabbled in Nazi cosplay to piss off the

establishment. They were also skeptical of socialism — at least the UK’s post-WWII version of it. The UK punk movement went off the rails before it ever developed a good head of steam because revolution is difficult and money came knocking. Lydon became a vocal Trump supporter. A lot of the crazy we’re seeing on the right exists because a cultural mindset feels threatened. It’s the myth that the individual, untethered from his fellows and in possession of full agency, is the noble goal of Western democracies. Maybe, unraveling what it’s all about requires understanding the lived historical context that underpins this mindset. This isn’t letting anyone off the hook, mind you, or reaching across the aisle in the spirit of compromise. What I’m saying is we might have better success in avoiding that feeling of being cheated year after year if we approach the future with respect for the past. God Save the Queen. And Queen.

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Astute Observations

by James “Hags” Haggerty

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HERE’S TO THE ROARING ’20S here to begin, friends? If your experience in the last year has been anything like mine, you have felt flabbergasted, gob-smacked, exhausted, angry, sad, disgusted, disheartened, hungover, shocked, relieved and cautiously hopeful, sometimes all in the same day. I’ve always had a pretty firm grip on my emotions and what I thought was a decent understanding of my own psyche. Stoicism is a good trait for a self-employed musician, after all. COVID-19 turned that fragile bullshit on its ear. I hunkered down. I didn’t leave the house. I bleached everything in sight and peered through the blinds, on the lookout for the invisible creeping death. Fear of the mailbox, fear of the grocery store, each interaction an interlude with one’s mortality. Am I uptight? Yes, I am. And yet, in the midst of this morass of skyrocketing numbers, seemingly powered by an ever-revolving pedal tavern sprocket, connected to an endless wagon of gun toting, stars and bars waving, woo-hooing, chin masking, deadly morons, the absolute disappearance of my work as a musician, and an attempted civil war, I managed to find something joyful and nurturing to devote my jangly energy to, namely the art and science of sourdough bread baking. What started as a hobby in 2016 (Hey, i’m no baker come lately, you know!) became a lifesaver and a mortgage payer during the pandemic. Thanks to the Tennessee Cottage Kitchen laws and the addition of a home mill (a Christmas gift from Tania, my beautiful partner) and a lot of experimenting, I created a blend of fresh ground wheat and rye that goes into each loaf I bake. Folks got excited about it and they started showing up week after week. In short order, I went from 12 to 24 to 60 loaves per week and I had plenty of dough for the bills. ... I’ve made the bleary-eyed journey from night owl to morning person. After eight months of baking four loaves at a time in my home oven, a friend and customer, Chef John Stephenson of Hathorne (formerly of Fido and The Family Wash) offered his kitchen for me to work in. Now I can bake 20 or more loaves at once and the flour dust once covering my dining room table has been wiped clean. The ubiquitous pile of mail has been returned to its rightful spot.

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I am truly fortunate and grateful. As far as ways to make a living during a pandemic go, having flour delivered to your door, and folks willing to pick up bread from your front stoop rank pretty high on the list. Baking sourdough bread is quite similar to making music. It scratches the same itch. It takes dedication and repetition. It’s made by hand and takes hours of preparation to make something so seemingly simple. It makes people happy and gives them comfort in hard times. It makes people smile. Each loaf is like a gig. You put your heart into it and you make your money to get to the next gig. My Wednesday and Saturday bake and sale days have become my social life. Friends old and new, neighbors, strangers (thank you, social media) all stopping by to pick up their weekly bread. Oftentimes, we have a safely distant conversation on the front lawn. Some conversations last for a few minutes, some for an hour or more. Jack and Wendy Walker Silverman, Audley Freed, Jen Gunderman, Jabe Beyer, Tom, Alison, Lilah and Liam Petersson, The Hokes, Rolff Zwiep and CJ Hicks, Sadler and Candace Vaden, Steve Cropper, Phillip and Sam Creamer, John Brassil, Ron Eoff, Molly Secours, Joe and Marc Pisapia, Chris and Laura Donohue, Roy Agee, Brian Owings, Alan Messer, Chuck Allen, Robin Eaton, Hank and Ronda Helton, Michael Weintrob, Brad Jones, Allen and Christie Johnstone, Curt Perkins, Theresa Kereakes, Jamie and Michele Rubin, Adrian Bahan, Jillette Johnson, Whitaker Elledge, Sam Smith, Liz Hodder, Elaine Wood, Mike and Mindy Grimes, Jen Deaderick, Kai Welch, Jamie and Allie Dick, Eric Brace, Carter Little, Chark Kinsolving, Jim Herrington, William Tyler, Chuck Mead, Brenda Colladay, Judy Winters, Martin Lynds, Cowboy Keith Thompson, Peter Cooper, Pat Sansone. This isn’t the guestlist at The 5 Spot, or The Basement East, or the best party ever; it’s a partial list of the wonderful folks that have kept me sane with their conversation, fellowship, and their taste for naturally leavened baking. We couldn’t hang in our usual spots but I got to see and connect with my friends every week. I am blown away when I think of it. I’m one week away from my second Pfizer shot. I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I am hopeful for the future. I grieve for the many we’ve lost. I’m ready for the roaring ’20s. I hope to see you all healthy and soon!

Hags is a bass player, bread maker, and regular contributor to The East Nashvillian. His mood & outlook improved considerably with the inauguration of President Joe Biden, but he’s still flabbergasted.


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Catch Lydia’s songs & sound on her latest album, Dark River, which includes “All the Time” — a track written mid-pandemic, at lydialuce.com

Remembering I’m enough just as I am

H

An essay by Lydia Luce

aving grown up in South Florida, I am familiar with natural disasters. Hurricane Wilma came whipping through on my 16th birthday, but hurricanes give you time to prepare both mentally and physically. The March 3 tornado came in the middle of the night without warning and devastated my East Nashville neighborhood. The tornado also brought my first panic attack. I’ve experienced anxiety before but nothing like a panic attack. The month after the tornado my panic attacks would come in waves and always unexpectedly. Hearing the

wind pick up would bring back the emotions of that night. I was in the house with my roommate as the tornado passed over. There were pieces of someone’s roof flying around my bedroom where I was sleeping minutes before. It’s a pattern in my life to keep busy when I am struggling with something. The week of the tornado I volunteered to help with the cleanup, made about a hundred sandwiches, hosted and performed at a benefit show, and made countless decisions on when and how to repair my house. I kept myself quite busy. Pre-Tornado and post-Tornado I was and still am a busy lady. I run a community string organization called Lockeland Strings and I am a session violin and viola performer. Take all of that and mix it with the constant need to be hiking, running, spending time with people, and essentially just avoiding FOMO at all times. The last place my partner and I stayed before finally moving back into our house was a garage turned one bedroom apartment owned by a sweet woman who agreed to let us stay as

long as we needed. We were tired and grateful. This was also where we sheltered in place at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. So much came up for me when I began to slow down. To say questions came up in this stillness would be an understatement. It caused me to ask myself what is my purpose without all of my labels? Who am I without all of the things that I do? We have felt this collective grief whether we’ve lost loved ones to COVID, lost financial security, or feel the loss of the life we had pre-COVID. Whatever the reason is, we have all come face to face with grief at some point during this pandemic. I don’t think social media is the answer for genuine connection, even when we’re being told to stay home and stay away from our community. It means a great deal to get a call from a friend these days so it must mean a great deal to them if I also call and check in. I love Nashville because of my community. This is the community that showed up for each other after the tornado. I also love my Nashville community because it is filled with creatives. So many musicians have been out of work this year due to the pandemic but I have seen them continue to create and find ways to stay afloat. I’m grateful to have had a record to work on to keep me connected to people and connected to my creativity. My new record is called Dark River. It reflects on self-discoveries I’ve had when I’ve forced myself to be still and quiet. I started noticing I was being very critical of myself during the pandemic because I wasn’t filling my time with my usual busy schedule. I was simply stuck with myself and stuck with my feelings. The song, “All the Time,” was written mid-pandemic as a conversation with myself; a reminder to practice self-love and that I’m enough just as I am. It’s been one year since our first COVID lockdown and one year since the devastating tornado in Nashville. We’ve all experienced grief and loss, and had to sit with ourselves and ask a lot of questions. I’d like to believe that I’ve grown throughout this strange year and learned more about myself. Maybe you have too.

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IN

CHANGE LIVES.

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BENEFITING

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NATIONAL PARTNER

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A

KNOW

By Leslie LaChance Photographs by Chuck Allen

your NEIGHBOR

sk anyone what they have missed most in the past pandemic year, and a whole lot of people say “hugs.” Or genuine human contact of any sort. Especially for the millions of screenshocked folks spending the pandemic pushing cursors across laptops at their kitchen tables.

But for people compelled by their work to navigate the wider world on the day-to-day — retail workers, health care workers, educators, civil servants, and the like — the prospect of human contact became a risky business about this time last year. And yet, it remains inevitably part and parcel of their work, no way around it. We checked in with some East Nashvillians whose work, the very nature of it, requires regular, and sometimes close human contact. We wanted to know more about what they are doing (or not getting to do) while risking their own well-being for, well, you. Here’s what they had to say. For updates and information on Metro’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the latest on Davidson County’s vaccination program, visit COVID19.nashville.gov.

P A N D E M I C E D I T I O N

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“I’ m

hopeful,” Megan Tenbarge says. “Just even hearing Doctor Fauci say it’s nice for him to work for an organization that believes in science and is using the numbers and believing them makes me hopeful things are improving.” Tenbarge, a neurological/neurosurgery ICU nurse at one of the city’s major research hospitals regularly sees patients and hospital staff affected by COVID-19. “I think what’s hard is that nurses are seeing the worst things COVID can do, and there are still so many people refusing to believe it, or not wanting to wear a mask or even having the attitude ‘I don’t care if I get it,’ Tenbarge says. “Nurses see that it’s not just going to affect just you. It affects us, our work, other patients who need care, and nurses get sick too, so there are staffing problems, and it impacts the whole system. Some burnout in nursing typically does happen, because what we do is really hard just generally, but I think burnout happens at a quicker rate during a pandemic.” Tenbarge sees personal responsibility, respect for others, and empathy as keys to ending the pandemic. That translates to following COVID protocols like wearing a mask and getting vaccinated. As a healthcare worker, Tenbarge got her shots in the first rollout and was fully vaccinated by January. “I’m very thankful to have gotten the vaccine,” she says. That made me feel a sense of relief going to work, just knowing that I’m a little more protected. But I didn’t get the vaccine specifically for myself. I got the vaccine to protect my family members, friends, colleagues, my patients. I also wanted to lead by example, for my profession, just for everybody, just to be a part of the solution.” Tenbarge actually contracted COVID early in the pandemic before vaccines were available. She got it from an asymptomatic patient in the neuro-ICU whose first rapid test for COVID had come back negative. By the time the second PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test results arrived and Tenbarge was alerted, she’d been caring for the patient for most of her shift. Her own symptoms were not severe, thankfully. “I was in bed for three or four days and felt like crap. I definitely lost my sense of taste and smell,” she says. “The worst things were fatigue and a stuffy nose.” Tenbarge and her husband Spencer moved to Nashville straight out of college to begin their careers five years ago

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KNOW

your NEIGHBOR

Megan TENBARGE

(he’s a commercial real estate inspector). They bought a house and settled down in Inglewood two years ago. She started an in-person graduate program in 2019 at Belmont University to become a nurse practitioner. A semester later, she was attending classes via Zoom, thanks to the pandemic. “I chose Belmont for many reasons, but a big one is because it’s all in person, or was. So I loved the program, and that was really important to me to be in class learning,” she says. They’ve been on Zoom for a year now, she says, with really small, socially distanced groups in person for labs and clinicals. Tenbarge is hoping that as students and faculty get vaccinated, they’ll be able to move to fully in-person classes later this spring. We may be finally putting the pandemic behind us, says Tenbarge, but she wants to see COVID hospitalizations continue to decline and vaccination rates continue to rise. She wishes leadership at the state and federal levels would have been more proactive earlier on. “Just at least putting in a statewide mask mandate would make it look like you’re trying help things out,” she says. “A lot of people don’t understand how to have empathy. You should just try to put yourself in somebody else’s position. If everyone could just be respectful of other people, then this would be over sooner.”

“A lot of people don’t understand how to have empathy. You should just try to put yourself in somebody else’s position. If everyone could just be respectful of other people, then this would be over sooner.”


BRETT Withers

erving on Nashville’s Metropolitan Council has never been an easy job, but try doing it during a pandemic. Or how about during a pandemic that hits at about the same time a tornado has decimated your district along with several others? District 6 Councilman Brett Withers found himself in that unenviable position last March. “As the tornado recovery was going on and we had people out there doing volunteer work, which was great, we became concerned that the tornado recovery was going to become a super-spreader event itself,” he says. “I feel good that we were able to get to a good place in the recovery. We got a lot of debris picked up, buildings stabilized, tarps on roofs, got people into alternative housing, but then we had to call off the volunteer effort in late March.”. Things went downhill from there. “The main frustration in terms of governing here was that the federal response was not coordinated very well, and then our [Republican] governor has not been willing to coordinate resources at the state level, but it’s not an entirely partisan issue,” says Withers. He compares the response in Tennessee to his home state of Ohio, which is also led by a Republican governor. There the governor implemented a number of strict COVID protocols like closing bars and restaurants, as well as a mask mandate, and kept them in place for a long time. “He was following the science, the CDC,” observes Withers. “We didn’t have anything like that at the state level here, which would have helped everyone get stocked up with PPE and hand sanitizer, because for months we were scrambling to get that stuff. Governor Lee would not even do a statewide mask mandate which has been proven to be effective elsewhere at containing the spread.” Metro Council shifted to virtual meetings last spring, went back to in-person this fall, then went back to virtual as the infection rates began to go up around the holidays. They’ll likely be back in person after the end of March if rates go back down again, which seems likely with the vaccination rollout. Withers is glad about that because he feels in-person meetings facilitate governing. “It allows for more informal information sharing sometimes and relationship building. It helps when you know the person better; it helps to understand where they’re coming from or what their concerns might be or their constituents’ concerns, if you have more of that background. It sounds like a

“East Nashville’s economy is so heavily based on independent bars, restaurants and music venues, so the sooner it’s safe to go out and support your favorite restaurant and favorite live music venue, the better off we’ll all be.” little thing, but it’s not. We’re a 40-member body. That’s a lot of people, and if you only see each other on Zoom you become just a talking head to each other.” There is one advantage to Zoom, though, Withers observes. “It gives a means of doing the virtual hand raise, which is actually very helpful in conducting meetings because people kind of wait their turn to speak for the most part.” One issue the council is facing at the moment is the perception of equity around the vaccine rollout. State parameters have designated certain groups to receive priority based on age vulnerability and on profession. So of course the elderly are prioritized because they are the most vulnerable, and that makes sense. In the case of nurses and teachers, designated by the state for vaccination priority because of their work, the demographic of the professions, says Withers, trends young, white, and female. “It’s not like we’re out to vaccinate just young white women. We know that people of color tend to die from COVID more than other people for complicated reasons. The state has mandated these parameters. A lot of those social, racial, economic equity pieces have been a real challenge to implement in the vaccination rollout with such limited supply at first, but we’re working on it with the health department. It’s going to improve with a little bit of time and more rollout.” Withers, who himself had a mild case of COVID earlier this year, is eager to see East Nashville recover its economic health once more people are vaccinated. “East Nashville’s economy is so heavily based on independent bars, restaurants and music venues, so the sooner it’s safe to go out and support your favorite restaurant and favorite live music venue, the better off we’ll all be.”

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“K

Amanda KAIL

In many ways the pandemic laid bare the disparities in our school district. Even if they have the devices, they may not have internet access at home. 22

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ids have to trust you if they are going to learn from you,” Amanda Kail says, “and in order to build trust, you have to form some sort of authentic relationship with them. That’s really hard to do over a computer screen.” Kail is President of the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association, a local affiliate of both the Tennessee and National Education Associations, which serves teachers in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. She taught middle school English Learners (EL) for over a decade, first in Atlanta and then for five years at Margaret Allen Middle School in Antioch, until she was elected by her fellow educators to a two-year term as MNEA President in 2019. In her position she advocates for policies MNEA believes will empower public schools through community support. Teachers, says Kail, truly do want to resume in-person instruction, under the right circumstances. And that’s despite being roundly accused of cowardice, laziness, and insubordination by a school board member on


know YOUR neighbor

P A N D E M I C E D I T I O N

social media, as teachers advocated for safe working conditions before returning to the classroom. “Being able to be with our kids and their families and back in our buildings with our colleagues and all of our stuff, we all want that,” she says. “We just want it to be safe for everyone.” Though MNEA pushed for those safer working conditions, which include personal protective equipment, sanitizing solutions, improved ventilation, social distancing (i.e. smaller class size), and, ideally, teacher vaccinations, MNPS has not been able to satisfy all of those needs due to lack of funding. Teachers were being asked to go back to work in person anyway, but MNEA insisted that they at least receive COVID-19 vaccinations first. That’s finally happening, with teachers designated for priority in the vaccine rollout. Now during a phased re-opening, they are being asked to get back in the school buildings and prepare students for year-end standardized tests, which seems absurd to Kail. “Standardized tests are supposed to measure what was standard across the state. But nothing was standard across the state this year. We have people doing hybrid, we have people doing online, we have people coming in person, we had a lot of interruptions because there were so many teachers having to quarantine or were sick, and had so many students who were having to quarantine or were sick, missing two weeks of school at a time.” “In many ways the pandemic laid bare the disparities in our school district,” Kail points out, especially when it comes to availability of technology. “Not everyone has access to the necessary technology. Even if they have the devices, they may not have internet access at home.” That’s another reason teachers would love to get back to the traditional, in-person classroom, she says, if the district would provide needed safety measures. “People don’t realize this, but it’s actually more difficult to teach online, especially with EL students, who don’t have English as their first language. Try teaching students to login when they may not even understand an English language keyboard, and maybe, in some cases, haven’t ever been to school.” Kail, who lives in East Nashville, with its abundance of charter and magnet schools, has mixed feelings about these models of academic excellence. “MNEA supports all teachers in all public schools, of course,” she says. “But instead of affluent parents trying to find the ‘good schools,’ I wish we could all support all the schools in all the neighborhoods where we live, so that every school is a good school. Otherwise we’re going to just keep perpetuating systems of segregation based on

socio-economic status, and that doesn’t help anybody. It certainly doesn’t help kids,” Kail says. “In many cases, we’re their one shot at a good life, a better life. Why wouldn’t you invest in that?” she asks. “Having strong public schools is actually a benefit in a time of crises. If we would have already had well-funded schools, we would have had small class sizes, the technology

ready to roll, we would have had updated buildings with good ventilation systems and we would have been able to pivot more easily and to come back a lot sooner and would have been able to support our students and families a lot better than we did. I’m hoping people remember that, and that keeping our public schools strong is to the benefit of everyone, especially in a crises.”

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If

you’re a friend of Jon Latham’s and you run into him after the current pandemic is over, be prepared to be lavished in love. “I’ve told all my friends, I know when the time comes that they say I can and that it’s safe, the next time I see that person, there’s gonna be a prolonged hug, prolonged to the point of awkwardness,” he promises. “I’m a hugger by nature.” Most Eastsiders know Latham from the neighborhood music scene. A regular at The 5 Spot, The Basement East, and other venues, this Cafe Rooster recording artist and one of Brian Wright’s Sneakups desperately misses performing. But that’s stating the obvious. What’s less so is the fact that Latham has a side gig working retail, specifically as a clerk at a Walgreens on the south side of town. He’s been doing that since he arrived in Nashville in 2013, transferring from a Walgreens store in an Atlanta suburb where he’d worked for years before that. In fact, he’s done the Walgreens

JON Latham thing for 15 years. It’s what’s keeping him afloat financially right now. “All the folks at Cafe Rooster, we’d all kind of decided 2020 was going to be a really good transition year for me. We were going to update my online stuff, we were gonna find me a booking agent, we were gonna get me out on the road, and out on the road was where I was gonna be. Ironically that’s not what happened,” Latham says, laughing a little. He’s grateful for the Walgreens job, given the current circumstances. And the company started taking measures to keep people safe from the beginning of the pandemic — plexiglass shields for the cashiers, social distancing, a mask requirement. “There was a sense of extra dread going into work those first few months because everything was fresh and so scary. Nobody knew anything.”

LOCAL EYECARE. INDEPENDENT EYEWEAR.

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For many people now, pandemic behaviors have become routine, and the majority of customers at Walgreens mask up before entering says Latham. Still, not all shoppers wear face coverings, which can make for some uncomfortable confrontations. “It’s a living example of the polarity we have, even in Nashville,” he observes. “There are a lot of progressive thinkers out there, creators, people who follow the science, but if you’re out there working retail you encounter big groups of the population who either don’t believe the science or just don’t care.” Sometimes barefaced shoppers just shrug and say they forgot their mask. “No offense to people who sometimes forget things, but forgetting your mask a year into a pandemic? I don’t think there’s a reasonable excuse for it,” Latham says. At one point, early on when scarce COVID tests were administered only to people with symptoms, Latham learned he’d been exposed to the virus and had to quarantine. He was asymptomatic, so couldn’t get a test. Thankfully, he didn’t develop COVID. “At the time, Walgreens didn’t have any infrastructure in place for how to deal with COVID-based absences, so that time that I was off from work wasn’t covered by the company; it was covered by my PTO,” he says. He lost much of the year’s vacation time. The hardest thing for Latham, though, has been the isolation and accompanying depression that comes from not having regular contact with his tribe of musicians. He’s also not able to get around town, not just because of the pandemic, though. Latham doesn’t drive; he’s legally blind. “If I could just get in the car and go for a drive, get out in nature whenever I wanted, that would make things easier. But I can’t.” His roommates happen to be musicians, and that’s a help. But losing the opportunity to perform live, to gather with other musicians in studios, backstage, on the road, has been a heartbreaker. “I had nightmares that over the course of 2020, every venue in Nashville would close,” he says. “Thankfully that hasn’t happened. And maybe finally, with the vaccines, we’re beginning to see some light on the horizon.”


No offense to people who sometimes forget things, but forgetting your mask a year into a pandemic? I don’t think there’s a reasonable excuse for it.

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KNOW

your NEIGHBOR25

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Funk in the Trunk, Heart at the Wheel D Todd Snider leads the way Story Randy Fox Photography Chuck Allen

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rop the needle on Todd Snider’s new album, First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder, and over an unexpected funky backbeat the words, “Put your foot on the rock and push it till the good times roll,” is the first thing you’ll hear. It’s hard to think of a more appropriate statement of purpose after a year of freefall through an ocean of sorrow and absurdity where it often felt our country and civilization were going down for the third time. While it’s a well-worn cliché that hitting bottom means you can push for the surface, Snider’s made a career of subverting clichés, and sometimes there’s profoundness hidden in the trite, and wisdom in the profane. That’s a position Snider’s staked out in his songs, an ever-present philosophy maintained through one of the strangest years of his (and everyone’s) life. →


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“It

was the longest I’ve been home in about 30 years,” Snider says reflecting on the past 12 months spent as a stuck-at-home troubadour. “This is the first time I’ve ever got to see the same tree go through the cycle of a year. I made up songs a little faster because I didn’t have anything else to do. It’s driving me crazy, but making the record was really fun.” Cutting a new album wasn’t the only fun Snider’s enjoyed. When the lockdown hit in March of last year, Snider’s primary residence — the road — closed for the duration. With the kibosh on in-person live performances, he quickly formulated a new kind of gig — a weekly livestream from his favorite East Side stomping ground, the Purple Building. “We did the show on Sunday mornings just because I thought that’s when I’d be perfectly stoned and want to do it,” Snider says. “But once it got started, it was great. What a great wake and bake thing to do.” Even with the weekly shows, Snider found more free time on his hands. Searching for other paths to explore, he began searching for a new sound.

“We did the show on Sunday mornings just because I thought that’s when I’d be perfectly stoned and want to do it, but once it got started, it was great. What a great wake and bake thing to do.”

“I’ve never been someone who tried to make a new sound,” Snider says. “I was just trying to be a folk singer. I only started to get interested in it as I got older. If a 54-year-old guy comes up with an original sound in rock’n’roll it doesn’t matter, but why not try, if I feel like it? “I’d been studying funk,” Snider continues. “I was doing research, watching YouTube videos on funk drummers — [Clyde] Stubblefield and another guy, [Benard] Purdie. They invented this style called ‘fatback.’ I asked a ton of drummers if they knew fatback and they’d be like, ‘Is that a band?’ I knew Robbie Crowell. He played saxophone in [Snider’s band] Eastside Bulldogs, but I also knew he was a multi-instrumentalist and drummer. When I asked him what he knew about fatback, he said, ‘That’s the first thing I played. My first band did the James Brown thing.’” With Crowell as a collaborator, Snider began developing a sound he describes as “funk in the back and busking up front.” As Snider explains, “I told Robbie I wanted to lay down some rhythm tracks and everything about them was gonna scream, ‘Get horns!’ but we’re not gonna. We’re gonna get a banjo. And I was going to have girls to sing [the backup vocals], but I did a fake vocal track to show the girls what I wanted them to do, and I don’t know if I just hit the right bong or what, but it was the funniest thing ever, so I said, ‘Fuck it, I’m the girls!’” Recorded at The Big Purple Building in East Nashville, which had recently undergone a transformation from an off-and-on live venue to recording studio and rehearsal space, the majority of the songs began with a rhythm track, using classic funk beats as a foundation, as was the case with the album opener “Turn me Loose (I’ll Never Be the Same).” →

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Todd Snider, reflecting on the last John Prine show he saw and Prine’s showclosing dance around his guitar.

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“Young people dance for different reasons than old people do, and he illuminated that without saying a fucking word. He danced like it was the last thing he’d ever do.”


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“The beat came from a James Brown song,” Snider says. “We would spend all day working on the drum part, then I would start putting the melody over it and it would change it until you don’t recognize what you’re stealing anymore.” Snider’s vision of folk-funk wasn’t the only new aspect of the album. His weekly musical pulpit opened the door to a style of song narrative Snider never felt comfortable with before, as well as a unifying theme. “It was about a month into doing the shows, and I just loved them,” Snider says. “Everyone was calling it ‘church’ because it was on Sunday and they started calling me ‘The Reverend,’ and I am a Reverend.” [Snider was ordained in 2013 to preside over Amanda Shire and Jason Isbell’s wedding]. “Me and Neal Casal [guitarist for Snider’s side project band, Hard Working Americans] had a running joke where anytime a song would come on the radio on the bus that said, ‘You’ve got to ...’ or ‘C’mon on and ...’ or ‘You’ve got to know when to hold ’em ...’ Neal would say, ‘No I don’t. I do not need to know when to hold them. Stop bossing me around.’ So I thought, well I’m a preacher now. This opens me up to [writing bossy songs], topics I haven’t been able to touch before because no reasonable person would come to me for advice about anything. People’s reaction would have been like, ‘Who gives a shit. You know three chords and smoke more dope than anybody I know!’” The license to “boss” his listeners around led in many different directions from exhortations to enjoy life with a simple purpose in “Turn me Loose (I’ll Never Be the Same),” admonitions against the pitfalls of searching for, rather than living with, meaning in “The Get Together” and “Never Let a Day Go By,” and alter calls to exchange apathy for action in “That Great Pacific Garbage Patch” and “Battle Hymn of the Album.” All delivered with the usual Todd Snider mixture of bravado, wit, and stoner wisdom. The spiritual heart of the album lies in two songs: Snider’s tribute to his late friend Jeff Austin, “Sail On, My Friend,” written before the arrival of the coronavirus, and “Handsome John,” a truly reverent testament to the late John Prine, an early casualty of a pandemic writ large by willful apathy and ignorance. Snider’s friendship with Prine began in 1990 when Snider, in his mid-20s, was living in Memphis and

landed the enviable position of being a chauffeur to the already legendary singer-songwriter. “I met him and he came to one of my shows a day later,” Snider says. “He was making demos in Memphis for the Missing Years [album] and I drove him around town. He was kind to me, but I’d see he was that way to everybody.” While “Handsome John” is a specific tribute

to Prine — name checking Prine songs and incidents from his life — it’s also a beautiful, universal celebration of a life lived with dignity and kindness. As Snider explains, it was largely drawn from his memories of the last time he saw Prine perform. For much of his career, Prine would end his shows with his trademark song, “Paradise,” →

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set his guitar down, and walk off stage. For his 2018 tour, he put together a new show, ending his performances with the song “Lake Marie” from his 1995 album, Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings, which ends with the quote “We gotta go now” from the frat-rock classic, “Louie, Louie.” “He was a poet through and through,” Snider says. “His shows were like mini-movies. [That last show] he set his guitar down on the ground and started doing this little dance around it that turned into the most profound thing I ever saw. Young people dance for different reasons than old people do, and he illuminated that without saying a fucking word. He danced like it was the last thing he’d ever do. I was crying and laughing the whole time he was doing it. I don’t think he knew he was going to get corona, but I definitely think he knew he was getting to the end.” While “Handsome John” and “Sail On, My Friend” provide notes of grace for the album, the record’s closing trilogy — “Stoner Yodel Number One,” “Agnostic Preacher’s Lament,” and “The Resignation vs The Comeback Special” drive home the unifying concept of an end-times service with the Right Reverend of the First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder. “I got into this thing where I was this bullshit preacher, and I wrote the last three songs [to fit that theme],” Snider says. “‘The Stoner

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Yodel Number One’ was him passing the basket. ‘Agnostic Preacher’s Lament’ was him confessing that his whole church thing was a load of shit but he wants to get away with it. And then the very last song God has told him to do this Donald Trump thing and storm off, and it works — proving that God is hilarious.” It’s tempting to say that Snider’s vision of grift and grace is a darkly cynical view of the world, but of course, we live in a time where pussy-grabbin’ leches are re-cast as heavenly warriors, hurricanes change paths with the stroke of a sharpie, and the reality you inhabit is determined by which YouTube channel you stare into. It truly is an age of miracles, or perhaps just cosmic practical jokes. After all, being in on the joke doesn’t make the pie in the face any less painful, but it does help your attitude after the splat. As for Snider, the tonic for human struggle is always in the heart, as he says in a line from “Turn Me Loose (I’ll Never Be the Same)”: “I won’t be moved by more than sorrow or settle for less than love.” “The thing that’s crazy to me are the three questions everybody asks: ‘Where do we come from? Where are we going?’ and ‘What are we supposed to be doing?’” A worthy pondering from a man who finally witnessed the same tree go through the cycle of a year.

“Those three questions have a totally correct answer — ‘I don’t know.’ But man! The lengths people will go to, the clothes they will wear, the rituals they get excited about just because they don’t have another answer to those three fuckin’ questions.”

First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder — the 18th album by Todd Snider, featuring 10 new tracks — drops on April 23, 2021 via Aimless Records/Thirty Tigers and will be available through toddsnider.net and fine, independent record stores. To view his weekly livestream and access archived shows, visit toddsniderlive.com. Recorded at The Big Purple Building in East Nashville Produced by Todd Snider


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Purple Building Panamdic PlayALT! ALT! list ALT!

O

Aaron Lee Tasjan serves up a plate of genre-bending yumminess

n Aaron Lee Tasjan’s new album, Tasjan Tasjan Tasjan, East Nashville’s favorite folk-pop-rock chameleon sheds the last scraps of the Americana overcoat that he’s uncomfortably worn since his 2015 release, In the Blazes. Opening with two wickedly delicious slices of pop-rock — “Sunday Women” and the “Computer of Love” — Tasjan stakes out his ground as a confident, heartfelt smarty-pants pop maestro. While the album clearly displays many of the personas that Tasjan has worn in the past — sardonic folkie, glam rock hipster, new wave popster, and more — Tasjan’s ability to integrate his varied musical influences and personalities into a satisfying whole reaches new heights. Just listen the new wave pulse of the “Up All Night,” a throbbing pop gem that invokes the infectious synth-rock charm of the Cars at their height. It’s followed by “Another Lonely Day,” a delicate, perfectly crafted pop ballad of love gone cold that would comfortably fit into ’70s AOR radio. Next up is “Don’t Overthink It,” a slab of Lou Reed-esque cool that drives the album forward with an incessant beat straight into the swirling pop confection of “Cartoon Music.” The effect is like a slice of first-rate, curated freeform radio — all held together by Tasjan’s sharply focused lyrics and trickster personality, built on the foundation of a genuine and heartfelt desire to connect — with friends, strangers, lovers, and ultimately his audience. Lyrics tumble from your speakers that grab your attention with a turn of phrase and moments of, “Did he just say?” Both Nick Lowe and Ray Davies would be proud. In a 2018 interview with The East Nashvillian, Tasjan said, “It’s a daunting task to be original, but that’s my goal.” With an album like Tasjan Tasjan Tasjan, it’s a task accomplished, and a goal achieved. —Randy Fox

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Cook in the House Elizabeth Cook on her pandemic doings and copings.

A

great attitude of gratitude is the jam to slam in a year that has kicked everyone in his and her metaphysical groin. Here’s Elizabeth Cook’s own unfortunate happenstance. In September her new release dropped. It’s called Aftermath and it’s a musical tour-de-force, a genre-busting fucking work of art. Don’t make me go search for adjectives and God forbid have to say it’s like “this artist meets this artist.” It’s its own thing and it ain’t the honky tonkin’ girl from all those years ago getting off the bus with a sprig of wheat in her mouth. It’s modern, it’s honest, it’s ethereal and then it rocks and then it soothes, and the live drummer takes the beat into hip hop land now and then, every song has something different to offer, sounds from the South, New York, Seattle, Austin, the West Coast. And it all works. It flows, it grooves, the lyrics as you would expect hit home and it’s always melodically or sonically interesting enough often enough to keep my attention, and I’m as jaded as a toll booth collector. So here she was, from the beginning of 2020 getting ready, planning the year out to go on tour in September, and promote it, and from the first day of 2020 she and her management got started early to get all her ducks in a row. And then all the ducks died. She hasn’t been able to tour the record and she’s missing touring in a big way. She’s a performer, “I’m missing that connection with people,” she muses with no aside to how it has to hurt to not be out there promoting what may be her best album to date. But here’s the good part, her garden this summer was kick-ass. Her soil and her loving attention brought forth prodigious amounts of large tomatoes, the lettuce came up good and other vegetables were involved as well. And she has no complaints. “My eyes are open now. I have a new perspective.” she says of this past year and all its many thousands of dashed dreams, lost loved ones, weeping and gnashing of teeth. “I gained a new impression how lucky I am.”

She’s thankfully employed in ways that don’t require touring. She continues offering up her witty elán on Sirius XM’s “Elizabeth Cook’s Apron Strings” on the Outlaw Country station midday from 11 to 3 Central Time. And she hosts a fishing show if you didn’t know that already. Upstream is on Circle, the Opry Network and available on a lot of platforms. In each episode she goes fishing with a guest. One week it’s Pam Tillis, the next week Shooter Jennings, and so on. Sort of an outdoorsy Americana take on “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” She’s also just completed taping of the first streaming concert she’s done. Release is pending. We part company in the autumn chill after a final question, the hoary old chestnut, “What do you see for the future?” “The future,” she considers, “we’re in the midst of an unprecedented world-wide communal experience right now, and when we get to the other side, things will be different. I don’t know how they’ll be different, but we’ll be changed people. It’s going to be a new age.” But the smart money is on that whatever age comes to pass, we’ll still need deejays with personality, and we’ll need fishing shows. But whatever the new world is, we’ll need the artistry of Elizabeth Cook and honest artists like her. The wit. The records that sound pointed but musical. The groundwork she laid for honest women singers like Kacey Musgraves, and her new platter, Aftermath. Check it out today. In the meantime, Elizabeth might be working on her cold-weather vegetable garden. Beets and shit like that. It’s that time. —Tommy Womack

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he’s a legend around here.

Photo taken in Anana & Irakli’s backyard “... a couple of days before David went on his final trip. We were going to play together in New Orleans at Folk Aliiance and needed a pic, so we did a quick selfie.” —Irakli Gabriel David Olney, Anana Kaye, & Irakli Gabriel mid-January 2020 Photo by Duende Vision

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A

David Olney made dreams that never die

nana and I moved to Nashville in the fall of 2017. We were staying in East Nashville, and the closest bar within walking distance was the Vinyl Tap, formerly The Family Wash. We’d walk over there often to meet new folks and hear some music. On one of those nights, David Olney was playing. I did not know who he was back then, but the second I heard him step up and sing, it felt like magic, an instant connection. I looked at Anana; she was right there with me, sharing the feeling. Stunning songs. A kindred spirit. Cole Slivka was hosting the evening, and I just had to ask: “Who is this?!” “It’s David Olney, he’s a legend around here! I kinda get nervous around him.” “You mean, David Olney, David Olney from the ‘Deeper Well!?!’ I knew the Emmylou Harris record Wrecking Ball, of course. “ Yes…” I was so moved that I had to say hello to him. He sang a song called “Love is an Accident,” delivered with a perfect mix of devastation and resignation and humor, which completely blew us away.

B Y

I R A K L I

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musiccityroots.com


L

ove is a joke in a second rate comedy/ Love is the sickness, Love is the remedy.”

‘Hey man. That song knocked me out — ‘Love is an Accident’! I had to say to hi. My wife and I just moved to town, what a pleasure to hear you in such a setting!” “Oh man! Thank you! You made my night — I was just working on that this evening!”

We had a beer together and talked a little more. I told him we were musicians, and we also made music videos for a living. He was interested in that: “I have an album coming out, I‘d like to

said and went to grab something. When he came back, he gave me a couple of his CDs. We talked about making some videos. “You know, my friend and I, we like to play chess, but we’re not very good at it, but we’re figuring it out and getting better ... Yes, I think we should get together and do some filming”. “An interesting invitation,” I thought, but after what I’d heard and seen, I was ready to go on any adventure with this man. “Anytime, anywhere. Let’s go for it.”

It took another month and a coffee meeting in East Nashville to decide we would work on a video for his song “Situation,” from the Don’t Try To Fight It album, which Anana and I both loved.

It was natural for David to enter another world and immerse himself in it. make some videos.” We exchanged phone numbers and said it’d be good to stay in touch.

A few days later, I wrote to him but didn’t receive a reply for a while. After a month or so, he left a voice message: “Hey man, I’m playing at Douglas Corner Café. Come by if you can. Let’s talk.” I’m there.

Anana couldn’t make it that night, unfortunately, but what a mind-blowing experience it was for me — about two hours of music, a packed club, a kick ass band, and David delivering each line, each word, each syllable so perfectly, while supplementing beautiful guitar and harmonica. It was theatrical in the best sense of the word; he exuded style and panache, presenting a master class in songwriting and performance.

“I have to get this man’s records immediately!” I said to myself. I waited ‘till the crowd thinned out and said hello. I told him what the gig meant to me. “Running From Love” had me in tears. He seemed genuinely pleased and joined me at the bar, sipping his gin and tonic. “Hang on. I think I did all right tonight,” he

The project was a truly “homemade” affair. David wanted to play a watchman at an old factory, and we thought it’d be good to do it in a kind of Buster Keaton style. He took us to his friend Sherby’s warehouse — a huge place full of unused doors, windows, and all kind of other things. “Sherby is a good guy, a real friend. He helped me out and gave me a job when I was really down and out.” We packed David’s Scion full of everything we thought we needed for the video (and could fit in the car) and drove back to his house to build a set and make a video.

S

ome time later, rather nervously, I called him up to tell him that Anana and I were playing a round at a place called The Crying Wolf. I did not think he’d show up, but he did.

“Anana, Olney is here. I can’t believe we’re playing our songs in front of David Olney. What the…”

As we played our set, I could see him in the audience. He left once we were done. “Well, that’s that,” I self consciously thought to myself. However, I walked out of the ‘live room’ to the bar and, much to my surprise, saw him sitting there with a drink.

“Hey man!” he said. “That was great! Wow. ‘When dreams come true they die.’ Did you write that?” David Olney had just quoted a line from one of our songs. “Ummm, yes, I guess I did! But they do die when they come true. It wrote itself.”

We had a laugh, and I joined him at the bar. We ordered one more round, and I had to ask him about “Jerusalem Tomorrow.” “Something must’ve happened back then ... it must have,” he said.

David went on: “Hey, I’m getting together with John Hadley to write some songs on Thursday. He’s back in town. Do you and Anana wanna join?” “Of course. I would love to!“ I said while thinking, “Okay, this is serious. We just got to Nashville. This is David Olney. What could I possibly have to offer?!”

John Hadley was a friend of David’s, and they wrote probably hundreds of songs together. John’s songs have been recorded by Dean Martin, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood (the list goes on), though Anana and I didn’t know anything about that until we saw the memorabilia on the walls of his house, which was just around the corner from our own. He also had John Hartford’s chair. Hartford was a close friend of Hadley’s and wrote “Gentle on my Mind” — one of my favorite songs on Elvis’s country music compilation record that I’d listened to non-stop years and years ago.

However, none of that came into play when we got together. It was just two men — who had done so much great work and who were older than our parents — and Anana and I, “fresh off the boat” in Nashville. What a journey it had been for us, born and raised in Georgia (not across the border from Tennessee, but across the ocean) now in a different world altogether. Still, we knew our American music: Dylan, Kristofferson, Hank Williams ... .

John put out some cookies and offered us Dr. Pepper from his fridge which we took him up on. It took minutes before we exchanged ideas. I played some chords and hummed melodies. Anana elaborated on those, made them legible, and came up with new ones in addition. David got his notebook. Hadley had his on the table and gave us some paper and pencils with his name on them. It didn’t take long for the songs to start coming to life. I always loved Traveling Wilburys — the idea of bunch → March | April 2021 theeastnashvillian.com

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of like-minded people hanging out, strumming guitars, tossing out lyrics, and picking out what felt right. We had a great time and ended up with two or three songs in one session.

John Hadley went back home to Oklahoma, but David, Anana, and I kept at it. Over the course of the next two years, phone calls and voice messages from David that began “Hey man! Wanna get together?” became a constancy in my life — well, up until January 18, 2020.

the string overdubs easier. “No, no — I need to do it without a click, alone with the piano,” Anana insisted until we reluctantly agreed. “Why don’t you guys go out and get me some whiskey too,” she said with a smile. David looked at me. “Wanna come for a ride?”

“OK, let’s go.” I figured I’d google a nearby liquor store — we were on the outskirts of Franklin, and I didn’t know the area very well. “Don’t bother,” said David. “I think at this point

in my life a liquor store knows how to find me.” We drove around for a while, got to talking about New England — he was from Rhode Island originally, and I had spent four years at Amherst College in Massachusetts. He was telling me about his school days at Exeter, and I shared some stories from my college experiences. Although we did enjoy some of it and probably learned a thing or two, it sounded like we both felt like fish out of water in our respective, esteemed institutions.  →

D

uring those two years of closely working together, we developed a very strong bond as humans and as artists. The themes for the songs, the melodies, and the lyrics presented themselves to us naturally — that is to say as a result of our conversations about art, politics, history, religion, and sharing stories about our lives. David’s previous record, the gorgeous This Side or the Other, touched heavily on immigration, on being “a stranger in a strange land.” These themes were very close, perhaps even too close for us.

Mary Gauthier referred to David as “the master of perspective,” which is really on point. He wrote his song “Titanic” from the view of the iceberg and “Brays” from the point of view of the donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem. Those are just two examples, but they speak volumes about his compassion, empathy, and imagination.

While hanging out and working with him, Dr. Zhivago came up frequently. It was natural for David to enter another world and immerse himself in it. He really related to our stories about growing up during a revolution and civil war ... as well as its consequences. It felt like he lived them with us and, too, experienced the physical and psychological ruin, the division between people, the division within peoples’ hearts and souls. That was not imaginary for us — being forced away from your home, your family ... people and places that once felt inseparable  from you; that is something  very real, something we lived through and, in many ways, continue to live through. At times, Anana and I would look at each other — “Is this really happening, are we digging in that deep? Too deep?” The unspoken answer was of course: yes — but alternatively what’s the point of songwriting, if we don’t go? There, where it hurts, where it’s too personal and touch what may feel too precious to touch?

During one of the recording sessions, when we were cutting the title track “Whispers and Sighs,“ Anana was not fully pleased with the performance, even though David, Brett Ryan Stewart, and I thought it was very good. We recorded it to a click, which would have made

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Then David said, ”Well, there was this one guy teacher who was always nice to me even though I kept getting into trouble ... Werner Brandes ... .” “Wait, Brandes?”

“Yeah, I remember he also had a beautiful young wife ... can’t remember her name” “Hang on ... Ute!?!”

“Yes! How did you know?!”

“Ute Brandes was my advisor some decades later at Amherst, and she was also always kind to me, especially when I went off the rails a bit.” “No kidding!”

We kept driving in silence. Go figure. What a coincidence — or, perhaps, cosmic synergy?

Soon enough the liquor store appeared. We grabbed a bottle of Four Roses and drove back to the studio to hear Anana’s fresh new take. She was right; it was better without a

click. Meanwhile, David and I got to make an important connection while looking for whiskey.

W

e had about 15 songs written; we felt they were good enough to record, to see if they would add up to an album. Lyrically, a common thread naturally developed through the songs. They seemed tied together.

I was thinking about the word “Americana,” “folk songs” and being a “folk Singer” — that’s serious stuff. When I hear those words, I think of John Prine, Bob Dylan, people like that. I think of David Olney. People who’ve lived and breathed America, traveled in every corner, interacted with the locals — people who understand the flesh and the spirit that make up the fabric of this land. I cannot even begin to pretend that I’m there yet ... it would feel like I was being an impostor if I started to make records like that, trying to write those types of songs. I can only tell my own truth, my experiences, the world I’ve lived in, the world I’ve left, and the world I’ve embraced — and where that leaves me spiritually and mentally. That includes growing up in a place that would be hard to call “free” in any way. A place where, though things were getting better when I was growing up (compared to my parents or grandparents generations), fear still guided people’s lives. Both in the pre and post World War II reality and in the war itself, you had to watch your speech, what you said and where you said it, for you never knew who’d report you to authorities. That certainly could have meant the end of your life and your family’s back in the ’30s. It could have caused serious problems later on — like losing a job or privileges, however small they were. Then came the late ’80s: the revival of sorts, the rebellion, the revolution. Hopes and dreams and large protests. It all eventually turned very violent, and the dream turned into a nightmare — civil war, frivolousness, bandits running the country. Even stepping outside and going grocery shopping was dangerous. Everything was. Still, people lived through it and learned to adapt. Leaving that world behind, through a twist of fate, seemed like a relief, and it was; but after a while, being stranger in a strange land, learning different languages, different customs and rules, took its toll too, emotionally, psychologically. Who am I? Where do I belong? What is a home? Where am I supposed to be? Not fully accepted anywhere. An alien. The songs we were writing with David had all of that in them.

The question was how to record them: What instrumentation? What approach will reflect the mood? How do we stay true to the songs and hopefully elevate up?

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Anana and I had worked together with Brett Ryan Stewart on one of our songs, “Blueberry Fireworks,” before and were really happy with the experience and the result. David liked it too and expressed interest in meeting Brett, who was thrilled about an opportunity to work on this album — as he had already heard some of the demos that Anana, David, and I had made and was also a fan of David. Upon hearing the demos, Brett immediately suggested a string section on a number songs,

specifically a cello. David was thrilled about the idea and so was Anana, who had already done some arrangements on a keyboard. Initially, I think I was a bit hesitant, wanting to make more use of guitars and pedal steel, but they had a point, and the songs called for it. David was also thinking of it as a “European” record — I think independently of Anana’s and my background or maybe secretly because of it — replete with classical music influences and a sense of drama. Cinematic vibes.

David’s longtime bass player, Dan Seymour, along with Chris Donohue (who plays in Anana’s and my band as well as with Emmylou Harris and Buddy Miller) shared bass duties, while Chris Benelli (also from our band) handled the drums. We figured we’d save Justin Amaral from David’s band for the next record. We debated on what to do about guitars — what a luxury it is to live in a town like Nashville, full of amazing guitar players with whom we had worked or knew — Sergio Webb, Dave Coleman, Charlie Chamberlain, Tim Carroll, Chris Tench — the list is endless. Plus there were musicians I would love to have on the record, if possible, like Reeves Gabrels.

After some thinking David suggested, “Why don’t just you and I do the guitars, we can handle it. It might not be as virtuosic as some of those guys, but it’ll be authentic and will be us.” Boom. Decision made. In fact, one of my favorite moments is “Lie To Me, Angel.” That’s David playing the screaming lead — on an acoustic! Brett had the brilliant idea to put distortion on it, and it worked great. We felt it sounded just like what the song needed. For me personally, there was a moment of insecurity while writing and recording. “Is this good? What are we doing? Maybe we should do it differently? Is this gonna measure up to David’s massive catalogue?” A typical moment of doubt for an artist. I shared those sentiments with David privately. “Fuck yeah, this is good,” he said. “I think it’s great and real and incredibly fulfilling. I’m as proud of it as anything I’ve done and want to keep doing it with you guys. Do YOU like it?”

“Man, you got something out of us that I didn’t think we could touch. I’m very grateful beyond words,” I said.

Rilke’s words in “Letters to a Young Poet” reverberated in my head. “Go inside yourself ... dig down into yourself for a deep answer. If, as a result of this turning inward, of this sinking into your own world, poetry should emerge, you will not think to ask someone whether it is good poetry. And you will not try to interest publishers of magazines in these works. For you will hear in them your own voice; you will see in them a piece of your life, a natural possession of yours. A piece of art is good if it is born of necessity. This, its source, is its criterion; there is no other.”

Truer words have never been spoken. To hell with fear and damn the doubt. As far as David and we were concerned, mission accomplished. We made a record — a record of a beautiful moment in time that we were lucky enough to share with him. 48

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JACK THE BUNNY

J

ack was a little bunny. He had a white fluffy tail, soft, colorful fur, and long fuzzy ears. He liked carrots and lettuce. He wrinkled his nose, hid in tall grass, and skipped across lawns in neighborhoods. That’s right. Skipped! You see, Jack was different from most all bunnies in one special way: Jack couldn’t hop. Oh, he’d tried. He saw all the other bunnies hopping here and there, leaping through the air, with their back feet springing in perfectly matched pairs. But when Jack tried to hop, it didn’t feel right. He was meant to be a skipper. But no one ever told him that was okay. The other little bunnies laughed at him, and this made Jack sad. He tried really hard to learn to hop. It didn’t feel natural. But Jack wanted to be like the other bunnies. After lots and lots of practice, Jack could almost hop like the other bunnies. He would stiffly hop as best he could to where other bunnies were munching in gardens or hiding in marshes. But while the other bunnies didn’t laugh at him anymore, they were no nicer to him either. So, one day Jack decided to just stop trying to hop like all the other bunnies. He feared the other bunnies would make fun of him again, but he decided it was worth the risk. So, Jack began skipping again, and he felt so relieved. One day, several little bunnies had to cross through a backyard where some older rabbits were eating. One by one, the little bunnies hopped from one grove of bushes to another. “Oooh, look!” the older rabbits cried, “baby bunnies!” They stopped their eating to watch them. Because he skipped, Jack was a little slower than the other little bunnies. He came across the yard last.

And when he did, all the older rabbits laughed. But, Jack realized, the laughter didn’t sound hurtful — like when the little bunnies laughed at him. It sounded delighted. The older rabbits wrinkled their noses and wiggled their furry tails in delight. “Look at that bunny!” they cheered. “He’s different. He doesn’t hop like all the rest!” Like all bunnies do when they’re startled, Jack froze and pretended to be invisible. “Look, he’s scared! Poor little guy!” a wise old hare with glasses said. “I like this bunny! I’m going to give him a treat.” Then he said, “Don’t be nervous, little bunny! Come here. I have something just for you.” Jack skipped toward him cautiously. The wise old hare presented Jack with a big, fat orange carrot. It was the biggest, fattest carrot Jack had ever seen, with long green leaves coming out its top. “This is for you, bunny! Because you’re special,” the hare said, and then added, “We want to watch you skip some more. And if you come by every day, we’ll give you treats.” Jack teared up. He didn’t know what to say. While the other little bunnies, still off in the bushes, watched jealously, Jack bit into the carrot and began munching. But the carrot was too big for Jack to eat all at once. So, he decided to take it with him. He picked the carrot up by its leaves and skipped towards the bushes with it — his feet going back and forth, his little back end waving side to side, the carrot flinging back and forth along with him. When Jack made it to the bushes, he laid the carrot down in front of the other little bunnies. “Have some,” he said. The little bunnies looked at him in astonishment. “It feels nice to share,” he said. He watched all the other little bunnies munch on the big, fat orange carrot he’d given them, “Wow!” he thought. “It really is okay to be myself !” Happier than he’d ever been, Jack began skipping merrily around the entire yard, to the delight of all the rabbits—young and old. After that day, none of the bunnies ever laughed at him, and Jack never tried to hop like all the other bunnies again either. “It’s okay to be myself,” he thought, “I’m special the way I am.” The End

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EAST OF NOR MAL by Tommy Womack

Tommy Womack is a musician & writer and a regular contributor to The East Nashvillian. Tune in to “Tommy Womack’s Happiness Hour” Monday mornings from 9-10 on WXNA 101.5FM.


marketplace Misty Waters Petak M.S., CFP ®, CLU® Financial Advisor (615) 479-6415 mistypetak.nm.com

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The East Nashvillian 11.2 March-April 2021  

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The East Nashvillian 11.2 March-April 2021  

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