I went to Tennessee over the weekend: Memphis and Nashville. The trip was originally meant to be reward/motivation for finishing the first draft of my book, and also an opportunity to commune with Alex Chilton's ghost. In the end it was all that and so much more.
I flew into Memphis, arriving on Thursday evening. My buddy Alissa and I were supposed to meet at the airport but Alissa's flight was delayed so I drove to the hotel, listening to a CD of Big Star songs. My favorite Big Star song right now is "You Get What You Deserve"; lately I'm really into songs that are bad-vibey in a sweet way. When I got to the hotel Alissa texted again and said her flight was delayed a thousand more hours, so I decided that was a good opportunity to go do weird Big Star things.
I drove to Ardent Studios, where Big Star and Alex Chilton made lots of records. It was all locked up for the night and I took pictures and peeked into windows and thought about Alex Chilton. It was dusk and it had been raining all day and everything was blue. I drove around for a while and tried to absorb some Alex Chilton energy from the trees and it definitely worked. Then I stopped at a barbecue place and ordered food because I once saw a picture of Big Star hanging out there. I got a brisket sandwich, some gorgeous crinkle-cut fries, and a gigantic fountain Diet Coke with a shot of strawberry soda. I went back to the hotel and ate my food and drank some wine out of a plastic cup I got when I poured myself some pink lemonade from the cute jug in the lobby earlier.
Alissa got in around one or two in the morning and that was the best thing 'cause I hadn't seen her since Christmas 2011, and that it is way too long! I love Alissa. Pretty soon we're coming out with our debut album, which is called She's the Swordish, I'm the Cowboy.
Friday morning: we woke up! It was raining. (A fun/actually kind of annoying/ultimately totally okay thing is that it rained every day we were in Tennessee. I live in Los Angeles and Alissa spends most of her time in Florida and the Bahamas and we are not accustomed to the cold rain; poor, poor us.) We went to Beale Street and ate breakfast (fried chicken and waffles for Alissa, ham and eggs and toast and 97 cups of coffee for me), then walked around Beale Street a little while in the rain. I bought some Elvis Presley lip balm and then we went to Sun Studios and stood in the studio, where Johnny Cash and Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis and U2 made records. We hung out there a while and then we drove to Graceland.
Oh my god, Graceland. Graceland changed me, man. Before Graceland my main thing about Elvis was "The Beatles loved you, so I guess that means something to me." But being in his house made me love Elvis. Partly because I'm way into his style, the joyful over-the-top-ness of it. Here's a view upstairs from the foyer or whatever you call it:
And here's the ceiling in my favorite room, the billiards room:
And here's a shot of "the jungle room" (kind of a den/second living room):
Alissa made a really good point about how each room had a very distinctive mood and how, if you lived at Graceland, you could just go to whatever room fit with your mood. Like, "I feel like a jungle right now." Or: "I'm feelin' kinda disco." I hope I have a jungle room and disco room in my house someday.
The thing that got to me the most at Graceland, the thing that made me fall in love with Elvis a little, was how - in "the racquetball building" - they had this display with a bunch of Elvis's jumpsuits and they were playing a video of Elvis singing "Can't Help Falling in Love" in Hawaii in 1973. The video's great and ridiculous and wonderful and depressing and perfect, and I think that's an inspired combination. Very little's more inspiring to me than a once-beautiful man who's gone to seed and still trying to be beautiful, and mostly failing but still sometimes getting these tiny little moments of total glory. The spectacle of intermittent glory is a powerful thing for me, is an important lesson I learned in Memphis.
It was weird seeing Elvis's grave. I took pictures but I feel weird posting them. Next to his grave there was a fountain and I threw a quarter in and said something to Elvis in my head, but of course I can't tell you what that is.
Here's the most beautiful of Elvis's jumpsuits. After Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, he is definitely my third-favorite beautiful dead Capricorn from Memphis:
We drove from Memphis to Nashville. It was dark and pouring rain and I basically had a low-level panic attack the entire ride. But on the plus side we stopped at some place by the side of the road and had really great fried pickles, the second best fried pickles of the trip.
We made it to Nashville and I was tired from having had a four-hour-long panic attack and instead of going out we went to a gas station and bought apple beer and Nutter Butters and just hung out in the hotel room and chilled and gabbed and it was nice. Haha, Friday night in Nashville. Totally perfect.
On Saturday we tried to go to Pancake Pantry but the line was nine miles long so we went to some other place and I had an oyster po boy and so much Diet Coke. Afterward we went to this wonderful bookstore called BookManBookWoman where the owner-dude was listening to Some Girls by the Rolling Stones. "Far Away Eyes" is a GREAT song to hear while shopping for books at a used bookstore in Nashville, let me tell you. I bought the book on the left:
But not Candy because "Ringo Starr was in the movie version of Candy and the book cover's exciting" just weren't motivation enough for me. P.S. If you've never seen the Candy trailer, it's so worth watching. So completely bonkers.
We walked around a while; it stopped raining for a bit. We ended up at a bar called Paradise Park. I drank whiskey and Alissa drank vodka and I bought this t-shirt that I love so much:
We went back to the hotel and "freshened up" and went back out and ate dinner at Jack's Bar-B-Que. I ate more brisket, and mac and cheese and green beans, and drank a beer and for dessert we split a piece of chess pie. Chess pie! I'd never had chess pie. It's custard and cornmeal and heaven.
Outside the Jack's bathroom there was a collage of Elvis photos and Alissa and I spent a long time taking selfies in front of the collage. Here's a good one:
And here's a gorgeous picture of My Elvis:
After dinner we went to a bar. I drank whiskey and Alissa drank vodka. There was a band playing; they were good. Halfway through their set one of the singers/guitar players came through the crowd with the tip bucket and asked if we had any requests and I asked for "Wild Horses." Instead of playing "Wild Horses," they played a bunch of other songs, including "Name" by the Goo Goo Dolls.* Which was kind of a drag but then there was this fantastic moment where at the end of "Name" some frat boy dude came dancing across the dancefloor, twirling a Keroppi umbrella. Such a good move! The Keroppi umbrella had Keroppi's eyes sticking out the top; so supercute.
We went to another bar and watched another band, then took a cab back to the hotel and took lots of selfies in the elevator, which we nicknamed The Sexy Elevator. The selfies came out weird and I look like Michael Jackson in most of them.
On Sunday my big thing was I wanted to eat breakfast at a place where Jack White likes to eat breakfast, which I learned about from my friend Sarah Tomlinson. It's called Marche and it's in East Nashville and it was heaven. HEAVEN! Even more than the chess pie was heaven. I had a sake Bloody Mary and a carnitas torta and for "breakfast appetizer" we got a basket of homemade bread, with a little plate of things to dip the bread in, like homemade orange marmalade and Nutella and peanut butter and honey and butter. Oh my god it was gorgeous. Jack White wasn't there. I'm deeply fond of Jack White.
Then we walked around a while and found this adorable place called I Dream of Weenie - it's a little hot dog stand/truck thing and there's some sort of mini-field next to it and you get a hot dog and then go eat it in the field. While we hanging around taking pictures of it I heard a girl order a hot dog with avocado; oh my god Nashville is magic.
We decided to walk around more and hang out in East Nashville a while and come back to I Dream of Weenie later in the day. Pretty soon we came upon a bar called Dino's, AKA THE BEST BAR IN THE ENTIRE WORLD/UNIVERSE. This is the outside:
This is the inside:
After sitting there for half an hour my eyelids were so greasy and I loved it. The jukebox was killer and they serve cheeseburgers and fries and you can smoke inside. We don't smoke but I enjoyed the presence of a filthy ashtray on the bar, right beside Alissa's filthy plastic pint glass of PBR. All I want now is for every bar in the world to be exactly like Dino's.
We went to another bar, the Red Door. We were at the Red Door for hours. Really good vibes and I learned I love the song "Wagon Wheel" by Old Crow Medicine Show/Bob Dylan. I drank whiskey and Alissa drank vodka.
After Red Door we walked back over to I Dream of Weenie and it was closed! It was so sad. We pouted and then went to Batter'd & Fried, which is a Massachusetts restaurant. Alissa and I are from Massachusetts, and at one point I misspoke Massachusetts as "Mouse-achusetts," which was fun. For dinner we ate this yummers sushi with cream cheese and avocado and radish sprouts and sunflower seeds and kiwi, plus some sweet dill fried pickles (aka the best fried pickles of our trip) and chili cheese fries. Then we went over to the bar for one last drink. I drank whiskey and Alissa drank vodka. We went back to the hotel and European Vacation was on BBC America: heaven all over again.
On Monday morning, we went to Pancake Pantry. Boy was that worth the wait! Thank you to everyone who told me to go to Pancake Pantry, you are so smart. Deciding what to order was an arduous task but I landed on the Apricot Lemon Delight, which is "diced apricots blended with pecans and enhanced by the flavor of fresh lemons, served cool with powdered sugar and whipped cream." Holy cow:
After breakfast we walked downtown and went to the Country Music Hall of Fame, where I took 85 zillion pictures of Gram Parsons's Nudie suit. Look how beautiful:
And here's a picture of Gram actually wearing the suit, being a dreamboat:
After the Hall of Fame we went for one last Nashville drink, at a bar on Broadway where a band was playing Rolling Stones songs but not "Wild Horses." I drank whiskey and Alissa drank vodka. We ate fried pickle spears and chicken fingers and went back to the hotel and got a cab to the airpot and parted ways, which was sad and sweet. I like sad and sweet, as a general dynamic in life. Our whole trip one of our running gags was saying that old "I like my coffee how I like I like my men: ____ and ____!" bit, and then filling in the blanks with goofy stuff. But probably the most truthful way I could fill that in would be "sad and sweet," at least when it comes to the men I worship from afar.
Speaking of Gram Parsons, on the plane home I read this part in the trashy book Hotel California about how when Gram Parsons got fat he would still wear his clothes from when he was skinny. I thought about the Nudie suit, and it got me down but also charmed me. I'm pretty much in love with Gram Parsons now, which of course was a long time coming. It's nice that it's finally setting in, and it's weird how you can recognize that you're made to love someone but you can't ever force that love into existence: it has to just happen on its own. I was always going to fall in love with Gram Parsons, just like I always going to fall in love with Alex Chilton, and the Replacements, and Neil Young, and the dozens of other dudes I've fallen in love with over the years. And I haven't fallen in love with the Kinks yet, or Arthur Lee or Jackson Browne, but I know I will someday. "No Doubt The Universe Is Unfolding As It Should" is a bad bumper sticker but I absolutely believe it.
Before getting on my flight I decided to listen to "Hot Burrito No. 2" a million times on the way back home, and of course that's exactly what I did. In Salt Lake City I looked at Twitter on my phone and everyone was freaking out about the Met Gala and I thought, "Why care about the Met Gala when you can just care about Gram Parsons instead," and I still completely agree with myself about that.
*I actually really like "Name" by the Goo Goo Dolls. I just really wanted to hear "Wild Horses." I wanted to hear the Flying Burrito Brothers version.