So, now my city of Nashville is better known as the soap opera Nashville.
The new TV show Nashville, which just premiered on ABC, is not an embarrassment for the town, as the last Nashville TV show was, but, please, y’all, it’s just a soap opera. And it’s a soap opera that has incidental music that is pretty much phoning it in as supposed country music. Soap operas are fine as an opiate for the masses. But as genuine programming for a music listener? Not so much. An aside: J.D. Souther is genuine as a real singer-songwriter — albeit one who comes from the Southern California section of Nashville.
Nashville is now the city of food trucks and of the trendy new shops and eateries in East Nashville and in the Gulch. It’s also the home of the Imogene & Willie $250 jeans and $650 cap-toe short boots — but I myself would hold out for the $700 or so Peter Nappi handmade boots at his downtown workshop if I were throwing around that kind of money.
And it’s the town of the $100 prix fixe dinner at the Catbird Seat or the $48 Cracked Peppercorn Dry Aged Strip Steak at the Southern Steak & Oyster or the $19 shrimp and grits at the Urban Grub Fish Pit and Southern Cantina or the double-digit upscale drinks at the Patterson House. That’s all good and well, but that’s more for visiting travel writers from the right coast magazines to write all those “Isn’t the New Nashville Amazing” articles, than it is for the hoi polloi foot soldiers who don’t have a generous expense account.
Say hello to the new Nashville, the flashy, glossy side of town, where there are no old or ugly country singers. Part of Nashville’s plot, of course, revolves around the veteran woman singer being threatened by the slutty up and coming young diva. But the veteran singer, played by Connie Britton, looks to be no older than her late 30s. Remember Dolly Parton? Remember Loretta Lynn? They are not teenagers. And have not been for many, many years. Connie is old?
Connie Britton is, however, the real star of this show. She is a magnetic and credible actor and singer who brings a real life and a zing to this show. And she is a reason for this show to continue.
On the other hand, the upstart young female singer seems to be a sort of Taylor Swift, but the real Taylor Swift didn’t need any other singer’s tour to build from. Taylor simply created her own audience of teenage girls who had not previously been country music fans. But, in this Nashville script, that simple story line would eliminate the dramatic tension between Nashville’s supposed old guard and its young upstart. Hayden Panitteriere as the young upstart is about as exciting as any Idol or Voice contestant might be. Additionally, the side stories about Nashville politics are predictable and stale.
What was the real Nashville Music Row is now largely a little ghost town of marginal businesses. The big labels have largely gone. Sony/BMG is still on the fringes of the old Row in a building that once housed the Little Sisters of the Poor. The giant UMG/EMI combine is now in a glass tower downtown. Warner Music still holds on in its Row building. Curb Records maintains its Little House on the Prairie building on the Row. Billboard magazine’s Row offices are long gone. Its tiny Nashville staff now works out of their homes.
Years ago, when I started to work at Billboard magazine and I rolled in one morning to find a BMW convertible with California license plates parked in my assigned parking place in our garage, I called the office to have the Cali-Beamer towed. And I have never regretted doing that. That was an early symbol of the hucksters rolling into town, who were ready to try to take over. Many of those hustlers are still coming into Nashville and who want to take advantage of its success seem to still have the finders-keepers mentality of the star-f**ker machinery. And they’re still coming.
Not too long ago, when I began hearing about the new TV show Nashville, I went back and watched the original 1975 Robert Altman movie of the same name. I now think that Altman captured the true essence of both the town and of the music industry here better than anyone else ever has. The music in that movie was almost primitive, but it was genuine.
Best two quotes from the new Nashville show:
1. “Who listens to this crap?”
2. “Thank God for auto-tune.”
But, new Nashville, where is the music? (P.S.: Give us some real songs for Connie Britton to sing.)
Coming soon: Nashville, the theme park! Hear the music! Dance the dances! Drink the drinks! Eat the food! Buy the garb and the trinkets! View the natives in their natural habitat!
Chet Flippo is Editorial Director of CMT and CMT.com and the author of the NASHVILLE SKYLINE column above, which first appeared on CMT.com.