I wrote the words
“She rolled a joint on her poetry journal
She was a high school student reading Ginsberg and Borroughs
When the Rolling Stones were beginning to drop acid”
about nine months before I wrote Nashville. I wrote them before I’d even been to Nashville.
Usually, I’ll scrap a song if it doesn’t just come out the right way the first time. But I always liked this set up and thought it might tell a good story one day. So I kept the lines around and would revisit them every once in a while to see if I had the rest of the song ready yet.
That summer, I’d left my job for the perk of more time to write and focus on my band. Right about the same time, my car died. It’s hot as hell in Texas in July but I didn’t quite have the cash for a new ride which meant I was taking the bus and walking a lot and sweating. I think you can hear the heat from that time in a lot of the songs on the Country Hero.
After a couple of months, my Dad found an old truck for sale back where I grew up in Virginia that had been kept pristine by a military man. It sounded worth the cross country drive so I flew back there to pick it up sight unseen to drive it to Austin. I was pleased to find the truck was the color of the sky.
The way back gave me a chance to finally see the trails of the American South my heroes sing about. The Mississippi Delta, shining like a National Guitar, Memphis, and, of course, Nashville, Tennessee.
Now, I’ll admit, I’d had a bit of a fantasy that I’d roll my sky blue Ford Ranger in past the Panthenon into a rowdy bar brawl of a honkytonk town, saloon ladies drinking bourbon in the post office and songwriters crossing the streets carrying guitars the way people in suits carry brief cases in D.C. Songs would be pouring out of bar taps.
But, actually, it was freshman orientation weekend at Vanderbilt University. Gaggles of sorority girls looking like each other were eating brunch everywhere. Plus, the town was, I don’t know, cleaner looking than I’d imagined. Now don’t get me wrong, I know there’s a hell of a lot more to Nashville, but I just have a habit of forming an image of a place by the songs people sing about them. And freshman brunch wasn’t in that myth.
It’s like the soul makes an image of a place that is in reality still on Earth. I’d bet a trip to the Holy Land might bring about a similar kind of experience for a religious man. Zion isn’t ever going to look the way I think it is, no matter what Zion I’m looking for.
The rest of the song just sort of poured out after that trip. I wanted to play with a Nashville Country-style four-chord progression and knew there had to be a big lift in the chorus. As soon as I wrote rode that dog all the way to the city of Nashville, I knew the lift was Tennessee.