Dec 24, 2013

Fall 1991: My Date with the Country-Western Star

I spent the fall 1991 semester in Nashville, where I studied Hebrew at Vanderbilt Divinity School, taught English at a state college, outed a Medieval knight...and dated a country-western singer.  At least, I thought he was a country-western singer.

I'll call him Randy.

We met at a restaurant near near campus, when he saw me trying to translate a passage from the Hebrew Bible and came over to ask if I was "a Christian."  Turns out he went to Bible college, planning to become a missionary, but dropped out, and now he was working as a waiter and at a guitar store while honing his musical craft.

Naturally, I started going to the restaurant for lunch almost every day, at the end of the rush when he had time to chat.

Randy was a country boy, all about fishing, hunting, working on cars, and following sports, but he never mentioned a girl, so I figured he was gay. Besides, there was something about his open face and appreciative smile that made my gaydar go off.

Nashville was the country-western music capital of the world, so I started trying to impress him by listening to Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Charlie Pride, and Roy Acuff.  I couldn't stand the dismal, depressing, ballads about being poor, tired, hungry, lonely, rejected, replaced, and generally miserable, but if they helped me get into Randy's good graces, it was worth the depression.

I asked his opinion of Clint Black, Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks,  and Randy Travis.

I did extensive research, until I was able to talk to him about the history and genres of country-western: honky-tonk, rockabilly, country pop, the Bakersfield sound.  Bluegrass, banjo pop, Outlaw Country, Western Swing, neotraditionalism.

After a few weeks of buttering him up, Randy finally made his move: "I'm performing this weekend.  I know it's not really your kind of music, know, if you want, you could come.  And maybe we could have dinner afterwards."

Randy's gig was in the Paradise Park Trailer Resort, a dark, dingy redneck bar downtown where the floors were coated with Astroturf (I'm not kidding).  There was lawn furniture against the walls.  There was a Spam exhibit.  The other patrons looked like refugees from Duck Dynasty. 

I got there at 9:00, just as Randy was going on.  He walked onto the small, dingy stage with guitar in hand, nodded at me, and sang:

Farm people, book wavers, soul savers, love preachers!  Lit to pop and nobody is gonna stop!

It sounded familiar...wait...was it "Stop," by Jane's Addiction?

That's me in the corner, that's me in the spotlight, losing my religion, trying to keep up with you.

What kind of country-western singer performs "Losing My Religion," by R.E.M.?

And then his own composition:

The world keeps on turnin'
I can't decide if it's night or day
Your jaws keep on movin'
I can't decide if you know the way

Protest conformity, rage against the machine, raise your fist against the injustice of the world!  Indie rock!

All this time, I had just been assuming he was a country-western singer!

Later, over dinner, I praised his song effusively.  Randy said "That's a relief!  You're such a big fan of country-western music, I didn't think you would find anything to like in indie rock."

"Oh, I'm versatile," I said with a suggestive leer.  "I can find something to like in just about everything."