Fame is an odd thing, and it’s an especially odd thing in Nashville, where some super-famous people come to escape L.A. and New York. Someone sees Taylor Swift in a restaurant, and there is one of two possible responses: 1) silence and quick glances, followed by “subtly” leaning in to a friend to say, “Don’t look now, but Taylor Swift is right over there,” after which the friend can’t help but look; or, 2) walking right up to her, un-self-consciously, in a wife-beater and no shoes, saying, “Hey, you’re that Taylor Swift, aintchyou?”
My favorite kind of Nashville fame is Hit-Songwriter Fame. It’s perfect, really. The hard-core fans can pick you out of a Bluebird Café lineup, but you can go get groceries without being stopped in the aisles. You get the money—often more money than the singer—but you’re not obnoxious about it, because who knows when the next hit will come along. Mornings at coffee shops, evenings in studios. Or vice versa. It’s your damn day and you get to choose.
I don’t have to worry about any of this, of course. Most of us don’t. But Nashville is this strange netherworld where brushes with fame are possible when and where you’d least expect them. And these encounters get the wheels spinning, even a little…what if? There is a kind of intense hope here that allows men and women to dream big, no matter what logic says. It’s beautiful and sad, destructive and harmless.
Here is a story of a harmless brush. Or perhaps my fantasy lovers were blinded by spotlights, and it was no brush at all. But there’s video evidence, on a PBS DVD compilation, so you get to decide. I am dancing in the audience, smiling broadly, remembering to clap on the two and the four, trying to appear at least a little cool in my ponytail and work clothes…
May. 2006. Belmont University.
I, a new grad student there, hadn’t heard that there would be some of my favorite bands performing a free evening show at the Mike Curb Theater on campus. That knowledge came from a friend of a friend of a husband—my first husband. The singer-songwriter with whom I would dance and sing this night with passion and zeal, only six weeks before the end.
We shared kind of a one-upmanship where music was concerned. Who owned the most obscure album? Who remembered the lyrics to that one song by that one guy nobody remembers? Whose iPod contained the most ecstatic experience?
We were about to get our socks knocked off.
This friend of a friend of a husband happened to be Lance Hoppen, from the band Orleans, and he had advertised the taping of a PBS My Music special. He wanted the seats to be full. My husband and I unanimously agreed that we had no choice but to be there. Orleans! Starband Vocal Band! Gary Wright! Andy Kim!!! I was afraid to be late, because surely the place would be packed.
There was no reason to be afraid.
We got to be in the front row, and there were only a few rows behind us that filled up. I still don’t know why the theater—the same place where the CMT Awards are filmed—wasn’t buzzing with rabid fans, but maybe PBS does things a little differently. Maybe they were afraid that in a crowd too large, there would have been a much greater chance that someone might rush the stage when Greg Brady came out to host.
I wanted to (Barry Williams was deliciously dapper), but didn’t. Instead, being so close to the stage, I played a game: I made eye contact with all the headliners, with the ultimate goal of having them make eye contact with me. Well, you guys, it worked. They could tell I was having a yummy time, I guess, plus I did some magic on them (Come to Butt-head…). What a thrill! Gary Wright sang right to me on “My Love Is Alive,” and Andy Kim totally winked at me!
See, I had imagined a scene like this in my pre-feminist youth. It involved Dan Fogelberg at the Ryman Auditorium. He would see me in the audience, decide he couldn’t live without me, then walk me back to my apartment a few blocks away. And you know what would happen after that. Then he’d whisk me away from my simple life as a department store bookkeeper and take me away to Colorado. The End.
My most recent brush was one I’ll never forget. I was rocking out at a Rodney Crowell concert a few weeks ago– a smallish one on the lawn of a museum – when Rodney brought out as his guest…*drumroll*…J-D-EFFING-SOUTHER!!! Yes, that J.D. Souther, from The Eagles, from the Joni Mitchell scene in California, from thirtysomething, from some magical land of perfect harmony vocals. Most importantly, from the duet with James Taylor, one of my favorite songs of all time, “Her Town Too.” Well, right then, my friend became famished, and we had to dart inside the museum for food, gals in sundresses passing near the stage, and I’m waving, I’m smiling, I’m looking like a loon, and he—J-D-EFFING-SOUTHER—calls me out, asks in front of a few hundred people, “Why are you leaving?” “For food,” I said, “but we’ll be right back because I LOVE you and you’re AWESOME!” “As long as you’re coming back,” he said.
Here below, you’ll see part of the lineup from the PBS night of fun, plus some extras. Then, further down, see why you should keep reading.
It’s easy to find humor in the reality TV phenomenon, but poignancy, humanity, and hope are harder to discover. Greg Belliveau manages to pluck all these strings in “No Damn Ice.” Sadness is there too, with the line “You were somebody once” boomeranging in my head until the end.
Janae Green makes me wonder what kinds of a deck of cards might be playing under my nose. Love is its own kind of fame, wishing for encounters, longing for contact. The poet Sandra McPherson first made me think of love this way—people being famous to each other, in small circles. “The Queen of Hearts” gets major points for being six degrees left of literature, of taking a moment, looking at it cockeyed, and making it grand.
Poetry is a two-for this week, but these poems belong with each other like gin and tonic, combining forces to become something bigger than the solo components could ever be alone. Lea Graham writes to a novelist and poet in “Dreaming Notes: To Robert Kroetsch” and “Notes To Kroetsch on the Mystery of the Vanishing Phoenician.” The Canadian (remember how I love Canadians?) died last year, and Graham keeps Kroetsch alive here in these striking tributes.
Photo by Todd Huffman