White Noise in Nashville

Just noise

White noise

The "principled" guitarist plays a concert at the country club for the white mayoral candidate, even though he supports the black mayor, who is his sponsor. This makes "support" a funny word for him to use. He's "only doing it," he irritably stipulates, as a "favor" for star of the show and of the concert, who is also the candidate's wife.

Trouble was on my tail

He followed me like a hound

'Til I moved that one step on to glory

And off of that changing ground.

You pull my strings one by one

Until you get me onto one.

Pulling someone's strings until they get onto one is not a bad metaphor for the show. It's not a musical, and characters don't spill their guts in song, exactly. They do, but there is a tantalizing uncertainty in the relation between plot and song, character and performance. An uncertainty that is sometimes invoked by the performers themselves. ("It's acting, you idiot!") The drama is about whom is singing, writing, or touring with whom, all of which are heavily libidinal with varying levels of explicitness.

Although, while the equation is clearly chemistry = creativity, "libidinal" isn't specific enough. The basic musical element is the duet and songs come almost exclusively out of the sexual charge between a woman and a man. Which of course is why the two female stars (Rayna and Juliette, who are locked in a generational conflict) getting on stage together is "a big event," as the the head of their label puts it with exploitative relish.

To write is to sit together with a guitar between you, which is the man's. When the youngest musical couple first write, it is at his encouraging insistence. Encouragement requires a certain benevolent dementia. Of the poems she wrote he declares "these are songs!" Her book in his hand, he begins strumming chords--"tell me when it sounds like what you heard when you wrote it." Words between a woman with "heartache" and a man who wears snappy shirts are never just lyrical; they are always lyrics.

I’m hearing static

You’re like an automatic

You just wanna keep me on repeat and hear me crying

This genre origin story has an automation both productive and seductive, the two feeding each other, until they don't. It's not sex that "just happens"--it's music.

So when Rayna and Juliette write together, it's work. "Let's just be professional and get this done," says Rayna. Work in the sense that their writing is not leavened by heterosexual tension, and in the sense that this scene works on the gendered logic of the show's scenes of writing--scenes that have not had to do much work, like the characters who breeze along on waves of seduction.

However dramatic the relationship between a picking man and a singing woman can get, it's along romantic lines. When they don't get along, they don't write. Unlike Rayna and Juliette, who write "The Wrong Song" through what sounds like nothing but abrasion.

It's a long, long road to independence

But I'm leaving you for Tennessee

I got demons riding shotgun

Telling me not to go

But what they don't know

Is I'm already gone

These are the very first lyrics of the show, sung by a woman (Rayna) whose daughter just asked her dad "why does she have to go to work?"

31 January 2013