Thursday, April 22, 2010

#51 Nashville/Music City Footnote

Make that a quarter-note; I'm still semi-quavering from the incident. A truly comic, Minnie-Pearl moment. Never thought, just because I wasn't particularly fond of Country Music--even though I will lay claim to deep Southern roots--that I'd be RUN OVER for it! Well, almost--if my reflexes hadn't been awake enough that morning in the fall of 1968, my very first day of class in Vanderbilt's Ph.D program. Grand Ole Opry stalwart Porter Wagoner was only a hair's-breadth innocent of vehicular manslaughter. At the least: mayhem and manglement. His speed wasn't Toyota-lethal.

Look at those "-dos"! His pompadour challenges the heights of Dolly's B-52. And look at his long, houn' dog face (and voice to match). The archetypal country singer--famous already for classics like "Green, Green Grass of Home" and others, but today more so for his early partnership with Dolly Parton ... both of her. She was a recent "replacement" (who knew then?) for Wagoner's former female sidekick/duetist on his long-time popular TV show. But before Dolly broke away some six years later to her own spectacular fame, they were the most adored couple on Nashville's famed WSM, the Opry's eyes and ears, which beamed country music around the planet.

So ... not surprising that theirs was one of the very first shows we happened to tune into on the motel TV-set during idle moments late in the summer of '68, before our arrival that fall. (We were in the process of scouting locations to accommodate our home at the time--a "mobile" one, the "grad-school caravan"--that we would be having towed from the environs of U. of Toledo to "The Athens of the South" in just a few weeks)

We couldn't have missed it. Their weekly, live-0n-tape show from the venerable Ryman Auditorium was repeated and syndicated every day and all over the dial, so popular was it. "Oh, no," we thought, "better find something palatable about country music. Were gonna get a steady diet of it." What the hell, we'd be halfway there--livin' in a trailer-park an' all (though an "upscale" one, complete with pool).

It wasn't hard to become a fan. Particularly of the two pictured above. I firmly believe that the two of them, especially Parton's later celebrity, contributed to getting the Nashville Sound well into the mainstream. If it wasn't Robert Altman. Trivia-alert: If you'll recall, in that director's acclaimed movie, Nashville (1975), Henry Gibson (of TV's Laugh-In fame) was cast as "Haven Hamilton," a pompadoured country-singer, garishly clad in rhinestone vestmentage. Altman patterned him after none other than Mr. Wagoner, then added political ambitions to his character for plot-purposes. Trivium #2 (can't resist), same movie: Lily Tomlin was cast in a major role as an aspiring country-singer/song-writer; she's a divorced, working mother, waitressing till she gets her big break. (The actress actually wrote and performed her own song for the film.) Flash-forward to the great comic film 9 to 5 (1980), inspired by Dolly Parton's top-40 hit. Lily Tomlin, again playing a struggling divorced Mom, co-stars with Parton, who now has Tomlin's Nashville role as an aspiring country-songstress working office-jobs till she gets her big break. Cosmic.

Anyway, six years before her Hollywood breakthrough (Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, 1982, came soon after her success in 9 to 5--not to mention the very-close-to-home Rhinestone, 1984, the bomb which may have killed it for her) ... here she is with Porter Wagoner just before the break-up, clearly demonstrating why they were so popular. Take a look. Notice the good-natured banter, the blend of voices--very nice is the alternating of harmonics: she will descant soprano when he's baritone melody; he will provide lower-register "continuo" when she takes the melodic line.

Take a good look. Another six years prior to that show, he's the same guy who almost ran me down with his bright-yellow Cadillac convertible. (more)

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