September 10, 2010

Lower Broadway Boogie-Woogie: A Nashville Meditation

An early July night on lower Broadway, Nashville, Tennessee

One Night, Many Versions.

Years ago I heard a commonplace that no Nashville local goes ‘below Eighth Avenue’ once they know better. Once you are no longer an undergraduate at one of the local universities, once you are established in town and all the novelty has worn off, downtown on a Friday night can seem overwhelming or pointless or exhausting. You take out-of-town visitors to the honkytonks and that is it; after a certain threshold, you must have a firm purpose in mind and an even firmer resolve to hold your own amid the cacophony. Recently my boyfriend and I plunged down into it to go on a photo safari: he taking photos, I taking notes, the night offering itself up to us, one night in many forms.

To go below Eighth Avenue on a Friday night is to dive into the hall of souls: weathered buskers and hollow-eyed ex-cons; chattering flocks of young women in party dresses; Japanese students with cameras; chubby and beleaguered Midwestern parents with their young in tow; beautiful gay boys; frat boys with a beery glaze over their eyes; bar girls in cutoffs and tube socks; grifters and drifters. You might meet a retired cowboy who had part of his ear shot off in a gun duel when he was a young man. You might meet a person who guarantees he can procure whores for you on Dickerson Road. You will see the most luscious juicey bounce-a-quarter-off-them young people and towhaired children eating icecream, mixed in amid hellion lost souls that make you wonder how many wrong turnings they took to arrive at this point in their life.

You see every dimension of beauty and horror, of cuteness and disgust.

One single night in Nashville is made up of so many experiences, even one part of Nashville, and even one part of the night. No one person possesses the totality of that night, but each streams through it, diving in and out of multiple various places on his own search for happiness, or dragging someone else along on that search. Everyone that night had a different story of it. One night is made up of those stories, running through it like ribbons of neon, like threads of light. The one dark night surrounds all of them.

We saw hundreds of people that night. I wonder how many of these people saw each other, over the course of a few hours? How many of their paths intersected, how many times did they cross through the fields of each other’s gazes? And each one of these people had as part of their story the sight of a red-headed man with a camera and a dark-haired woman with a notebook and backpack. We were part of their stories as well as they were part of ours.

And within those many versions, there are even different ways of seeing the night and all the people in it. Jeff through his photography saw it an existential David-Lynchian wasteland, warped by absurdity. It was, truly that. I don’t take the opposite view. It would be disingenuous or doctrinal to profess that the night was simply layers of beauty. It’weren’t. Many of the people we met were crazed and warped and melted with pain and by unfortunate decisions, ornery and ugly and wretched and hard to be around.

People are beautiful and loveable. People are horrible and disgusting. Both of these things can be true. Perhaps the key to understanding people is to acknowledge that they can be horrible, but to love them anyway. Perhaps this is the deeper wisdom.

The photo above is mine. You can see Jeff’s magnificent photos at his blog http://jefffrazier.wordpress.com/2010/08/29/nashvegas-on-friday-night/

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