Museum of Country

Nashville, Tennessee. Home of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Ten years ago, we would have lumped a visit to this place atop our list of Stoopid American Tourist Traps to Avoid (known as the SATTA list, it includes the following monuments to all things banal: South of the Border, the world's largest twine ball, Sea Shell City, and the nearby Mr. Chicken, the plastic-legged rooster). Now that we've been to the Country Music Hall of Fame, we can attest with full conviction how utterly wrong our cynical and baseless pre-concieved notion was. (The previously-named locations will forever remain on the SATTA list, along with the shoe trees which are popping up like a bad fungus).

If pressed, we'd have to admit we know alot about old-school country music, and not by choice. For several years, we lived in the desert west, where the radio dial landed on one of two stations: National Public Radio, and a lone AM country station with the on-air moniker, "KZZR- The Voice of No Choice." A constant diet of NPR got old real fast. Every news story had to inject some victimization theme into the reporting. They went something like, "In ten days, the sun will supernova and the earth will heat to 10,000 degrees kelvin. The homeless drug addicts in Sao Paulo and the indigenous Togoese tribe in Ghana will be among the most impacted." Listen to All Things Considered and you will notice a similiar slant in nearly every story.

So we started listening to the scratchy AM country station, and before we could stop it, we were humming Merle Haggard and David Allan Coe songs. We started wearing Justin boots and Roper shirts. We chewed Copenhagen and drove a truck. Like those missionaries in Borneo found wearing grass skirts and eating fire-roasted monkey brain on a stick, it was a textbook example of "going native" to meld with the dominant cultural expectations.

We left our dusty cowboy boots in the desert awhile back and returned to the midwest. We rarely listen to country these days and at best, know the new artists only by name. But after spending a few hours at the Country Music Hall of Fame, we offer the place up as a must-see for anyone who appreciates vintage Americana in its purest form. The museum is new and clean, and contains countless items from American icons who impacted popular culture in more ways than we realize. Johnny Cash's favorite guitar. The mixing board used by Patsy Cline to record "Crazy." A leather saddle Roy Rogers had made for Trigger. Ray Charles' sunglasses. The collection was comprehensive and complete.

But what really entertained us was the mixture of the absurd and sublime. Around the corner from Porter Wagoner's first opry costume was Dolly Parton on the cover of Playboy magazine, circa 1978. The caption reads O-O-O-E-E-E! (Wow. You don't hear that expression much anymore). We doubt anyone was hooting O-O-O-E-E-E! after they bought the issue, went home and closed the drapes, only to discover the only "revealing" she did was in an interview.

This coat was worn by one of the Flying Burrito Brothers, an early country-rock band with a name more typical for a Tejano salsa band. The jacket seemed a little out of place, perched next to a bathrobe worn by Barbara Mandrell and a wig Reba McEntire once owned. But it had an interesting "Liberace meets Cheech and Chong" flair; sequins and nekkid women, large vibrant roses, a pickle on the sleeve, and poison ivy growing up the front. Or maybe that's cilantro. For the burritos, no doubt.

Our favorite was one of Elvis' limos. With gold-plated door handles and a mini-bar, this car was the 1974 prototype for the modern-day pimp my ride trend: a nine-inch black and white TV white and a car phone from the era when only people like Elvis could afford a car phone. The stains on the velour-covered seats were like coyote tracks in the dirt; he could have been there yesterday, sweating away after a karate workout or Vegas concert and on his way back to Graceland.

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