Monday, May 1, 2023


Why do thousands of tourists flock to a statue of a fictional character that has for more than forty years represented the city of Philadelphia more avidly than a cheese-steak? Is it a fascination with cinema? With boxing? The NPR podcast “The Sculpture” purports to answer the question with mixed results. Avoiding the initial thesis and any deep-dive into movie trivia, the discussion meanders towards the more topical concerns like how the Rocky phenomenon (since 1976) affected communities of color. This seems like a stretch. Philadelphia has a rich boxing history (black and white) that Sylvester Stallone cleverly utilized in his franchise that includes nine films with Creed III now in theaters. The setting makes the connection to the city strong and it has certainly snowballed over the decades bringing nothing but goodwill to Philadelphia from keen global fans.

The sculpture itself turned up in Rocky III (1982) at the top of the already legendary Rocky Steps. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, never happy with the Hollywood association, sent the prop to the Spectrum Theater where the fight takes place in the movie. Bringing it back and placing it at the bottom of the steps was a compromise preceded by intense negotiations but was  a feat of public relations genius! Though, this uncanny placement of a fictional creature on the grounds of the Greco-Roman edifice full of fine art for aficionados still makes me wonder. Stallone himself said that running up the museum steps was a metaphor for breaking through to a higher place from which he was excluded. As a boxer? A filmmaker? Odder still is the mention of his middling 80’s-style neo-expressionist paintings! He may have finally broken through to the art world, at least, thanks to celebrity.

The podcast takes us to Joe Frazier’s rotting gym on Broad as evidence of racial neglect. Why is this not the site of pilgrimage? Hang on. Frazier is one of the most famous boxers in the world (he beat Ali) and has his own statue albeit not in Center City. He did not die destitute and alone. Sure, Rocky Balboa was white but his ultimate opponent was the powerful Apollo Creed (also fictional). None of this translates into systemic racism even if many details like punching carcasses in a warehouse are borrowed directly from Smokin’ Joe.

As the podcast drones on, I was surprised to hear the argument implying that the Rocky films work to the detriment of the Kensington section of the city. I ask again: have they seen Creed? In my view Kensington could use a makeover and less underdog sop. The illicit billion-dollar drug trade that scares people away is not mentioned. These are issues that have sent this vibrant city into another decline! Typical NPR.

The more explosive issue avoided in the podcast is cancel culture, my favorite. The fatuous argument is made over and over against sculpture for elites in a city rich in such monuments. Google The Fairmount Park Art Association. It is interesting to note that the entire debate (nation-wide) centers around old-fashioned and stuffy art. I’m not sure how this is addressed by filling historic gaps with equally “out-of-date” figurative but progressive sculpture. And if “equity” is achieved, why is there any reason to remove George Washington whose fine equestrian statue across the street from Rocky owes everything to Marcus Aurelius. Should we make statues of bag ladies instead of war heroes? Isn’t that a job for contemporary artists?

Iconoclasts are a drag. They now desire to pull the thread out of the nation’s narrative, good or bad. My antenna went up a few short years ago when “activists” threatened the statue of Columbus (now released from his box) and threw Leif Ericson in the Schylkill river. Progressive society had left me behind. I used to worry about the general lack of appreciation and understanding of modern art. It represented an anti-intellectual and incurious America that was all Reality TV, sports and Nascar. Now, my worry is deeper. Has ambivalence towards art gathered momentum by turning solely political? Monuments (toxic on not) still give a sense of history just as studying art history gives substance to our fanciful origin stories.

Back to the prop. Are we really meant to begrudge Sylvester Stallone for characterizing the Philadelphia underdog so well? Is the Rocky Statue next for cancellation? Philadelphians love Rocky because he completes their sense of inferiority and dispels it. And that is true for schlubs all over the world. As a transplant, I’ve always found this view self-defeating. It supports a myth that should have been discarded after the Phillies World Series win in 2008 and after the Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2017.

What does the rest of the world see in the Rocky Statue? Is it the universal rags-to-riches story? That’s bloody obvious. NPR’s cultural critics might have stuck to the original idea and delved into why movies are all super heroes and Viking Gods in tights. But that would take a less lazy approach. Everybody knows that popular culture has for some time now had an over-sized impact on society. That’s the elephant in the room that we ignore. At this rate, Darth Vader may soon be immortalized in bronze in front of the Franklin Institute.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Book Review: Story Grammar by Drew Zimmerman

It is not every book that attacks a specific social ill with such persistence as does Story Grammar. We follow our narrator, Philadelphia teacher Dex Matherson as he strains to impart the knowledge needed to read and write to urban poor kids who are admittedly not shown in their best light. Why can’t these kids write a thoughtful essay on Ellison’s Invisible Man? This is a thankless job and our protagonist suffers from the strain. His task is made more difficult by his own self-inflicted monomania and perhaps an over zealous commitment to the impossible task. Battling systemic ignorance he takes seriously. This teacher’s insistence of the importance of the English language (now called literary imperialism) throughout never lets up and the reader wonders if sentence structure is worth the trouble?

Dex suffers but he makes his students suffer as well, literally. He begins in a haze of zealous dedication to remove obstacles and is propelled to take action outside of class. These are uncomfortable moments. Curiously, the book makes demands on the reader in the same way the besieged teacher makes demands on the students when offering Dexter’s bonus points and demerits. Zimmerman’s powerful prose propels this novel and serves as a sort of proof of the thesis: language improves the mind. Literary echoes prevail in Story Grammar even as the canon diminishes. There is a whiff of Poe telling his tale and meting out punishment. There is a Raskolnikovian admittance to his senseless crime.

The visual clues about playing cards (the murderer's calling card) run through the book. It is intriguing to think one can apparently find a whole deck of cards one by one on the rough street of this city. A Philly thing? It may take a year to find them all and this implication of chance or randomness is never fully explained. Generation gaps are also on display here. Dex and his Foghorn Leghorn mug (full of sweet warm soda) make constant reference to them and this perhaps weakens his case. How does a cleverer-than-boots “Baby Boomer” possibly ever hope to connect with oppressed POC (the awful new acronym foisted on us) born in the Nineties. “Shah-ki-rah” and her friends have other fish to fry. Zimmerman’s hero is not afraid and pulls no punches. This is topical in an era where literary worth itself is under siege and subject to political trends and freakish ideology. We are asked to choose sides. Are we the banners of progressive material in elementary schools? Or the book burners, the ones who view classic literature as colonial onslaught? What’s a reader to do? Without Melville and Twain we are nothing!

Story Grammar is not a book for the squeamish or literary faint of heart. There is no mealy mouthed place to hide. Neither is there a wishy-washy reprieve for students regardless of their state of underclass-ed-ness. You can only get so far “code-switching.” Is it as simple as choosing “evil” Middle class values over Ghetto-culture? Some readers may feel Dex’s anger and frustration. Perhaps students should lose the “doo-rags” and don the occasional blue blazer? According to Dex, his students are free to improve themselves and they fall short.

Today, in our attempts to level playing fields, we make excuses for shortcomings across the board, ever increasing the lowest common denominator. Thank goodness Mr. Zimmerman sticks to his guns. With his amazing gift for satire, I suggest he write a sequel that attacks wider issues. Somebody has to warn of us of the woeful ignorance and close-mindedness that is swamping our boat and few are brave enough to try. Story Grammar is one brick in the wall!

Thursday, December 24, 2020


Every now and then I return to my musical pet peeves especially when I am witness to some horrendous episode of the Voice or the Grammys. I am comforted to know that this disdain of contemporary music is balanced with a smug understanding that the beloved golden age of Rock ‘n Roll (somewhere between 1966-76) was utterly amazing. Unfortunately, it’s over. The music is dated, over-played and lauded ad nauseum. The “best of” lists suck! Listening to the end of year countdown of greatest songs ever (on Philly’s WXPN where they are “vinyl at heart”) I am struck by the futility of quantifying two thousand and twenty (2020, get it?) tunes. Philadelphia’s “boomer” station is best described as “wet,” the British term perfect for bespoking a sentimental, unchallenged middlebrow taste. The top song ended up as “Thunder Road.” Fair enough, this is Philly and the Boss reigns.

At the holidays I wonder where the new additions to the holiday canon are, ones that don’t sound like cringe-making show-tunes for instagram and grate. I have attempted to fill the gap with one of my own because I noticed there was no song called “Secret Santa” written in Yuletide’s past. I wrote mine on an Android! Oddly enough the tune has not been claimed yet by any big star or song writing team. Gwen Stefani doesn’t count. She recorded a Secret Santa song recently that included bells and throw away ice cream chords aka 1959. The last big selling popular Christmas hit came out in 1994, Mariah Carey’s, “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” John Legend and Kelly Clarkson just can’t reach it. Carey’s song became a staple of the season and still spawns overblown TV Specials. This “middlebrow” taste thing comes up again. The song is sort of mindlessly hummable like all 90’s pop but does it stand up to “Run Rudolph, Run?” or James Brown’s “Christmas in the Ghetto?”  Come to think of it there were loads of great Christmas tunes (whole albums) by the Beach Boys. Good tunes not merely holiday songs.

My definition of a standard is something where we all know the words to the first verse aka “Jingle Bells.” This holds true for normal hits too. I even tried pinpoint where Pop last held sway singularly or had an edge. This created a big ball of wax, no pun. Prince comes to mind. I think of “Raspberry Beret.” His words are witty and there are hooks. White people like it! You may be on to the fact that I’m leaving any mention of Hamilton out of this argument. Well almost. Daveed Digs (half-Jewish) has penned a silly holiday song this year: “Puppy for Hannukah!” You can play it on your phone to your friends!

My parochial view is that the day of Rap (like Rock) itself has faded historically. Don’t be fooled by the meta-narratives. This certainly hasn’t stopped the trope being injected into every type of pop from Country down. Remember the fascinating, hypnotic samples and hilarious rhymes of early Hip-Hop. It was Post Modern, man! This was before it metastasized and was co-opted by sneaker companies, children and activists.

When I worked in retail for a couple years, I learned that each new pop hit had to include an eight bar bridge with a guest singer rapping. The formula was widespread promulgated by committees. Just before Thanksgiving the piped music switched over to Christmas and we were transported back to when holiday music evoked a sentiment long gone. The small town Christmas myth of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In the box store, the forms were jazz, pop and rock and they sat beside each other well. Elvis next to Bing Crosby next to Springsteen. I guess you could stick Run DMC (Christmas in Hollis) in there. But no Snoop Dogg. He is too obscene for kids and geriatrics like me! Come on Snoop, clean it up!

Ever since Simon Callow showed up with American Idol there is less distinction between TV personality-type singing and substance. I blame Reality TV, period. Winners and losers go on to share their over-dressed banal taste and vocal chords with the world. The Voice and America’s Got Talent continues this rein of mediocrity and melisma. Thank you, Whitney Houston! How easily we’ve adopted this booming as quality singing. I think of it as tune murdering. It’s as if everyone is soloing! Listen to anything sung by Gladys Knight for real singing. I was busy researching the holiday when a Carpenter’s Christmas song played on the car radio. I was caught off guard and there was snow on the ground! Never has so much sentiment and emotion been evoked by so few notes!

Monday, August 17, 2020




It was quite a shock leaving the Covid bubble recently to purchase a table from Craigslist NJ. This took us out across the Walt Whitman Bridge from Northeast Philly into the depths of South Jersey where it was even more humid. This was not the only difference. Gone were the prudent and intense mask wearers, Rainbow flags and BLM signs. Gone were the wilting “Bernie” signs and scorched “Hillary” bumper stickers.  Who were all those folks who ran for president recently?

We turned into a Blue Collar cul-de-sac to find every house festooned with Americans flags of all configurations, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN lawn signs and big posters with scary photos of the current Commander in Chief. Were we in the mid-West? The bullet-headed owner was sweating buckets and greeted us without much fanfare. Did we stand out as elite college-educated Liberals? Damn straight. Was my daughter in need of a safe-space? Yes, indeed.  All this made me feel particularly inadequate on the Middle Class Manly-Meter.

As we paid and said thanks, I looked down and noticed a small figurine in the garden. It was one of those “black” lantern-carrying characters. No irony here! Political correctness does not get a mention. I looked around for a Confederate flag or an imposing statue of Jefferson Davis.  The recent “Statue” controversy had prompted me to re-vamp my “Doc Holliday” southern accent. I have Val Kilmer of Tombstone to thank for that. My drawl is pretty good if not always appropriate for parties in Mt. Airy.

We loaded the table and backed out through the vintage F150’s and above ground pools. One house was intriguing. A ghostly bungalow, overgrown and uninhabited except for maybe a few dead bodies in the basement. I quipped, “There’s a cheap one for sale.” This idea was quickly shot down by my daughter and navigator. “Not funny. Turn left.” We then drove half-way across the State to find the nearest up-market coffee place. It was worth it for a refreshing Frappucino! We found a great one in the fancy suburbs and they sold records. My kinda place. Sitting outside we had a wonderful moment of connection that is rare these days. The seven months of 2020 came into view and gained some perspective. Schadenfreude with caffeine. My kid wryly refers to our present dilemma as the “End of Times.” If she can handle it then so can I! Back over the Ben Franklin Bridge, we breathed a sigh of relief. Hint: Never should you tackle both bridges in a single afternoon.

After this ordeal, I needed a lager and an early evening Corona-stroll. I have been pinching books from the little home libraries in our neighborhood, wooden boxes on poles.  It is interesting to note what people read then discard. Literacy meets affluence. I prefer History to the latest craze in how-to books on being a better Caucasian. On a nearby street of cozy historic houses I paused to read a new lawn sign with a short pun. It said simply, “BYE DON.” It took me a second to catch the drift. “Oh yeah, a new way to spell Biden! I was so taken with it I bumped into the new BMW out front.

Friday, January 31, 2020


Gilbert was staring at his new MacIntosh drinking an espresso. He had just finished a query letter to publishers describing his barely finished book, Death of an American Tourist. It was a comedy and had taken six years to write. A local editor had given him some free tips and he was ready to embark on the sad and lonely trip to public discovery. Sally Morton seemed to like his novel but was not so keen on Gilbert. He was grateful for the assistance but wondered why a renowned editor would be working with him at “Retail Barn” in Norristown, PA. Together they folded towels and dealt with unruly customers. Slowly, after several months she began telling him her story and giving him some encouragement. They were both English Majors after all.
Sally used to work in publishing in New York. She did well but relocated to Philadelphia after a messy divorce. Lots of “Barn” workers turn up that way. Together, they spoke about their dreams and near misses and had to endure the store’s ghastly muzak, Top 40 for teenage girls. The worst was the British band, Coldplay. So sickly, saccharine and devoid of hooks. Gilbert asked Sally if she minded hearing the song “Yellow” six times a day? Luckily, she preferred Tom Petty. Gilbert agreed, “He’d hate working here.”
Death of an American Tourist had gone through several stages. Some early portions still had telltale earmarks of the Reed College graduate. Twelve years working in advertising had not watered down the over zealous forms that reminded the reader of Beat Poets. When his career imploded he decided to tell the story. He was certain he had the skills but was unprepared for the curious arena that was authorship. It had taken two years simply studying other writers and researching material ­– mostly about one-off novelists – and writers with similar bones to pick and stories to tell.
Gilbert could never work out how notority was achieved. “How did Joan Didion waltz into a high profile career after college?” Gilbert did not travel in those circles. He had no circles. “It really is about who you know,” he figured. Same for Sylvia Plath. infamous poet. She went to Amherst to soak up Emily Dickenson, right? Then to NYC to work as an editor. Then a breakdown. Then she writes book, The Bell Jar (OK novel) about her experience. There was great acclaim before putting her head in an oven. Or was that afterwards? Of course, she married Ted Hughes, Great British Poet and lousy husband. There’s another one-off, the critically acclaimed, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Again, suicide follows. Leads to even more acclaim. Gilbert wanted to avoid the early death part but considered a fake one. “How would I pull that off?” he wondered. Let’s not mention J. D. Salinger. After a while, Gilbert’s prose hit pay dirt. Characters said things without permission. Plots developed without painful re-working. He was happy knowing that he may have captured the feel of his book in the letter with a few spirited catch phrases. He went as far as to envision glowing reviews: “Gifted writer re-defines the Great American Novel.” Was he afraid of being considered overly arch? Using too many adjectives?
Gilbert had also taken a class, How to Publish Your Novel, which went well. The teacher, Nancy Sprout had a successful memoir about her battle with cocaine addiction. She liked his work particularly, although the competition was stiff. Several women were struggling with sensitive stories where the heroines went through stages of failure and renewal. Their earnestness made Gilbert uncomfortable. He imagined these Eat, Pray, Conjugate memoirs were destined to have highly embossed covers and sell like gangbusters. It was a tough row to hoe. Staying up to date without falling into the trendy arena of books with clever, over-wordy sub-titles about the decline of the Middle Class or the imploding Middle East was not easy. Were those books written by publicists?
Eventually, Gilbert dropped the envelope in the big blue box at the end of his street. It was addressed to the agent of a young humorist who wrote pieces for the New Yorker. He said a small prayer and continued on to the local coffee emporium next to the Lesbian Bookstore. Their rainbow flag was limp and fading in the sun. In the Bean Salon, he ordered a regular Decaff in a big ceramic cup and sat down in the shade with a new notebook. Was there another writer he could emulate? He made a few notes on recent books he’d read then noticed the time. As the sun ebbed, Gilbert gunned his ancient Subaru off to the Malls just shy of the Suburbs and just shy of being late for the night shift. He swiped his identity card awkwardly and dashed to the employee changing room where he donned his brightly colored “Retail Barn” shirt ignoring the smell of feet. Or was in Doritos? Back in Textiles, he waved to Sally and threw himself into the towels.
Summer shoppers were the worst. Tanned, bullet-headed husbands in baggy cargo shorts walked the aisles, oblivious. Two-year-olds in carts gazed wide-eyed at small screens. Tattooed wives insisted on opening every towel to feel the moderately soft fabric. Sally had had a long day, “Would you mind re-folding that please, Ma’am?” The husky Amazon ignored the request, threw the towel back on the heap and aimed her face at Sally, “I believe that’s your job, honey.” Gilbert stepped into the breach and began sorting according to size and design. As the housewives retreated back to New Jersey, Sally glared. “Tramps! I don’t know how you put up with it, Gilbert.” He put a reassuring hand on her shoulder, “It’s a Zen thing Sally. And you know we both have bigger fish to fry.” She brightened behind her tears and gave Gilbert a sweet smile. The high-five was a little tired.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Literary Agents as Critics?

As I sat listening to the eight panelists read the ever-important “first page” from would-be novels, I was hoping the next anonymous pick would be mine. What would the reaction be in the room full of fledgling writers? Would they get the sarcastic tone of the book, the sly references to Nabokov and Chandler? Would they get the level of spoof in the mock-detective story about a striving Philadelphia artist? I’ve read it aloud many times to small rooms of people and there was always a response, sometimes even laughter. The words had weight and were about something other than just the story at hand.
This was the “Talent Show” part of the Philadelphia Writer’s Workshop and the panel was made up of New York literary agents who would supposedly give practical advice. The rest of the day, aspiring writers gave manic pitches to them and received specific tips about publishing in return. As the contest began, I realized this was not Americon Idol but the Gong Show. If four hands were raised, the reading would halt. Several pages passed muster barely. Some received a little praise. They then dissed an awful “Romance” for being clichĂ©. Fair enough. By this time I’d stopped taking notes. Next, I recognized the beginning of Work Shy. Not a bad first line I thought: “Edgar Bloom was a buddy from art school who had recently died of an overdose.” I was ecstatic. This was my lucky day! I would receive encouragement and a small pat on the back. They would want to find out about the misadventure, “art school,” or the silly Rocky Statue in front of the Art Museum. 

This went south as the publishing professional flubbed a word or two and continued the rendition in what sounded like profound disinterest. The prose sank into a flat monotone and an agent’s hand went up, signifying dislike. More hands followed and the entire panel scowled and the reading (such as it was) ended. This was fascinating, I thought, but not disastrous. Surely, they would have some interesting criticisms, something I’d overlooked worth the cost of admission. The first inquisitor mentioned the fact that my first page consisted of one paragraph! What? Others concurred. Horror! It became apparent that they also disliked my updated Philip Marlow and his world-weary delivery. One agent put it down to a misguided “style” and mentioned James Joyce. Was I was being dissed because the prose was dense or I knew James Joyce? For those of you who’ve seen my Facebook page or this blog, Pocket Intellectual, Joyce is the jokey avatar. This photograph of me as Joyce was (is) going to be on the back flap of the “published” Work Shy. In less than a minute the panel had moved on unable to grasp my middling thriller writer, Douglas Frank and his inability to suffer fools gladly.
How can a writer’s self-promotion hope to break through the mass of clutter with these morons in charge? Sure, I know it all leads to Self-Publishing, even if you are a gifted blower of one’s own trumpet. Oddly enough, my earlier pitch with a local agent went well and I had a nice chat about marketing, websites and domain names. She suggested I write a “proposal” and send it to her. Do I need a proposal for a finished novel? And what is the difference between the query letter (that agents like these won’t read) and the synopsis? The elevator pitch I can do in my sleep! As I rode home on the train, I wondered why these particular folks were gatekeepers, these recently graduated snoots from “woke” colleges. No, there isn’t much comfort in the fact that they would’ve shot down Melville, Chandler or Hammett. Nor would Lee Child escape their simplistic bias. I imagined his character, Jack Reacher (my hero) knocking some heads! It took a few days to shake off the ego bruising and I figured I did learn something. I only wish they’d gotten to the second paragraph where my
protagonist tells his reviewers at the New York Times to “fuck off.” 


Sunday, November 17, 2019


When traveling, tourists are compelled to consider buying a souvenir tee shirt from every shop, luncheonette, historic site and rock & roll show. This can get expensive. There were some nice ones to choose in Nashville covered in flags, eagles and guns for the neo-patriotic. There were also many advertising Pulled Pork. I preferred to visit “Boot Barn” for some inexpensive Western Wear that is not available in the North East. I was hoping to be mistaken as an out-of-town musician at the Americana Festival or possibly William Burroughs. I am learning that “Americana” is a much broader category and not to be confused with straight up “Country,” the kind that Garth Brooks parented in stadiums and Taylor Swift personified before her morph to pop. (She still uses that ghastly auto-tune). This music is not to be confused with Classic Country of Hank Williams, George Jones or Patsy Kline that some misguided folks think sounds corny. Both types of Country Music are appreciated in Music City but the new version has always been a bit suspect; more Southern Rock blues-power than mournful “three chords and the truth.”
In Nashville, my crush developed. It could’ve been the free biscuits and gravy for breakfast. Then there’s the huge lunch of shrimp and grits. (I’ve outgrown Waffle House) You make room for that by tramping around all the attractions in Music City. The place buzzes with cranes and new construction. A former industrial wasteland called the “The Gulch” is an ad man’s dream. It is now a destination for Urbane Cowboys (like myself) who brunch. I was reminded of LA where all antiques are repurposed by fancy designers and sold back to us as Heroin Chic. If it is not up-scale food, it’s music. Even emporiums like “Two Old Hippies” have a stage. My Mecca, Third Man Records is just outside the Gulch adjacent to a Mission where real hobos eat lunch and urinate in alleys. In ninety-five degree heat the smell was pervasive and not for the faint of heart. Here, the P. T. Barnum of Low-Fi, former White Stripe, Jack White upholds a high level of street credibility. His store is an intense experience for Vinyl Aficionados. This was my second time and I was again impressed by White’s entrepreneurial skills. The traveling record shop (a big van) was parked outside and the small recording booth was inside. Is this what heaven looks like? I bought a couple of seven-inch singles, a Margo Price tee-shirt and an awesome White Stripes bumper sticker that was illegible! After that we stumbled over to see some live music on the strip but it was a bit early for Honky Tonkin.’ I gave a lonely busker five bucks.
Nashville’s boom is infectious and the history and economics go far deeper than being the home of the Grand Ole Opry. We finally visited the Hatch Show Print factory. They’ve been producing those fabulous posters since the nineteenth century. The Country Music Hall of Fame was the glitziest destination we made. As much Las Vegas as Nashville, it was educational and full of near religious artifacts like Elvis’s limo, Waylon Jennings guitar and Gram Parsons Marijuana-leaf “Nudie” suit. The history of the “Armadillo” in Austin, Texas was interesting. I call it the “crossover,” when hippies and truck drivers agreed on music and partying if not haircuts. Cannabis brought everyone together, lapels grew and Country got loud..
Even on a Wednesday, the Broadway strip is full of cover bands playing varieties of Country old and new. Everyone dressing as a favorite icon provided real diversity. The four floors of Acme Feed & Seed was a blast, full of Beer, Bluegrass, grits and retro-Country. We ended up on the roof watching the skyline. I felt right at home even though my cowboy hats were in Philly. Upon reluctant return to Philly I was committed to watching Ken Burn’s Country Music documentary from start to finish, all 12 hours. I was hoping it would fill in some gaps. It did. The solid thread ran through it linking the Carter Family, Jimmy Rodgers and Bill Monroe to modern antecedents. Up my street was the look at Chet Atkins and the development of the “Nashville Sound.” I own a few of those “Countrypolitain” records and play them at parties. They sold well but the production did not work for Willie Nelson’s personality or Waylon Jennings’ outlaw sound. More about the “Armadillo” period. Burns had no difficulty dealing with the past via old photos – I’d never seen so many of Hank Williams – but the present day throws him. The music industry is no longer quaint and caters to “big hit” algorithms rather than the developing of alternative musicians. Many veteran stars looked a bit rough on camera after surviving the Eighties hair days and Nineties chin tucks. Check out the recent CMA! Dolly to Riba. Burns tiptoed around race issues like the guide at the Civil War Plantation we visited. Are Rap and Country diametrically opposed? Not according to the 2019 summer hit, Old Town Road or the Gangstagrass theme to TV’s Justified. Not “Country” enough? Good Ole Boys listen to both while driving F150’s to Nascar. 

After digesting Ken Burns, I discovered the glamorous soap version of “Nashville” from ABC, perfect binge material for post-vacation blues. Six seasons! Amid the drama are real clubs and weekly guest cameos, the ever present and icky Brad Paisley. Reality TV kills music. Vince Gill showed up too. He was one of Burn’s spokesmen in the documentary and looks a little like an accountant now. The music penned by industry stalwarts ain’t half bad and is available on disc and can be seen live! I am intrigued how quickly the characters write heartfelt songs on old Gibson guitars and deliver them immediately the same evening at the Bluebird CafĂ© without rehearsing. It is now on my list of places to visit. In the meantime, I’ll be researching Nashville on HULU. There’s only sixty episodes of left!