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Monday, November 20, 2006

The Lessons of Opryland


I’m back from Nashville. I definitely missed O, but I kept busy enough – between conference-related events, self-indulgent solitary activities in my room, and walking the miles and miles of freakiness that is the Opryland Hotel – that I didn’t have much time to dwell on it. Here, in brief, are a few key things I discovered:

1. No Child Left Behind is even more criminally corrupt than I realized. Because the public school where I teach is a “lab” school, we are spared from complying with this terrible law, which is Orwellian in both its logic and its name. The conference was a teachers’ conference, and so I heard horror stories from teachers who have been stifled, overburdened, and underfunded as a result of NCLB, and I attended an excellent presentation on ways to resist the law (which is up for reauthorization this year). I also caught an interesting panel on using blogging in the English classroom. Hmm…

2. The Opryland Hotel is a disorienting fever dream, a bizarre combination of mall, amusement park (sans rides), hotel, and hothouse, and I hope I never have to stay there again. Not one, but three lakes, waterfalls, a dizzying array of exotic plants in numbers that boggle the mind, little restaurants and gift shops every time you turn around, and lots of life-sized stuffed animals hanging from the ceiling playing various instruments (and for some reason dressed in Elizabethan capes and robes). My room was spacious and tasteful, but the numerous“water feature” areas were a riot of sensory overload, and the fucking place is so huge and circuitous, with numerous bridges and wooded pathways (all indoors, remember), that I got lost twice.

3. The Grand Ole Opry, on the other hand, rocks! My colleagues and I got tickets because, hell, we were in Nashville – why not? But I was a little ambivalent. I love the Carter family, Bob Wills, Johnny and June, Hank, Loretta, and Patsy Cline, but I assumed the Opry would be mostly slick new country stuff. I was so wrong. It was overwhelmingly old-timey, with lots of banjo pickin’, mandolin strummin’, and sweet vocal harmonies. I got to see the lovely, dulcet-voiced Emmylou Harris, and hear the Del McCoury Band do the most rascally-good version of “Nashville Cats” imaginable. The coolest thing about the Opry, though, is how intergenerational it is. When do you get to see a twenty-year-old heart throb in torn jeans share a stage with a wise-cracking eighty-year-old woman in rhinestone slacks? And respect all around. It was very homey and unpretentious, not at all slick. A more wholesome night of entertainment I’ve never had. And when the cute-as-all-hell Opry Square Dancers took the stage, I actually got to witness clogging first hand, something I’ve wanted to do ever since I read David Foster Wallace describe clogging as “a kind of intricately synchronized, absolutely kick-ass country tap dance” that’s “erotic in a way that makes MTV look lame” (from DFW’s must-read essay on the Illinois State Fair in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again). Lucky for me, the Opry is currently being held in its original home, the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville, “the Mother Church of Country Music,” so I got to sit in a pew and soak in the venue where Johnny and June reigned for so long. I highly recommend the Grand Ole Opry, especially if you can catch it at the Ryman Auditorium.

Through sheer coincidence, O. has recently started requesting a Patsy Cline Greatest Hits CD as his bedtime music. Tonight, he was still awake when the CD ended, and he came and interrupted this little bout of blogging to ask me to start it over. I sneakily tried to begin it at the third song, which is the start of a run of mellow tunes, and he called out “Hey! ‘I’m Walkin’ in the Moonlight!’” (his name for “Walkin’ After Midnight,” the first track). My bluff called, I started the Patsy CD at the beginning.

7 Comments:

Blogger Esereth said...

I couldn't get your link to work, but I read up on NCLB on wikipedia. I think I get it. You're forced to teach to the tests, and the whole thing is constraining and rediculous, right? I never knew anything about NCLB, I'm glad you made me want to look it up.

And I'm jealous of your trip to see the Grand Ole Opry. Until my Dad had a stroke, my parents watched it faithfully every saturday night. I love the old fashioned guys, a dying breed, I bet. Also, you are so damn cool for being so open minded about music.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Feral Mom said...

Welcome back!

12:07 PM  
Blogger Mrs. T said...

NCLB sucks the life out of teaching.
I love O's taste in music! My Lydia's current bedtime muscic is Dean Martin. It's pretty dreamy- I just wish she'd cut back on the martinis...
Loved hearing about the Opry!

6:46 PM  
Anonymous jpn said...

I've never heard "Nashville Cats" by anyone but the Lovin' Spoonful (I think John Sebastian wrote it) but I must say I really enjoyed the video of the Del McCoury band doing it. Makes me want to go to Nashville just to see the Opry. And I totally think you need to post a picture of O wearing his Ryman Auditorium cowboy hat with his red flannel cowboy shirt --- he was the essence of cute when I saw him the other day.

7:36 PM  
Blogger E. said...

Esereth, I changed the NCLB link to a new and better link that has both information and a petition to sign, if you're interested. (They're also trying to raise funds to run an anti-NCLB-reauthorization ad in the Sunday New York Times.)

Mrs. T, I heard so many teachers at the conference I was at echo your words. It's sad that our government ties the hands of the people who guide our children and help shape our future.

9:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But don't you think it's a shame that Opryland left downtown Nashville?

8:53 PM  
Blogger E. said...

Yeah, DoctorMama, I'd say it's a shame. Even though I've never seen the Opry in the new place (new being the last two or three decades, I think?) but having seen it at the Ryman, I definitely think that's where it should be. The vibe there was so cool, and downtown Nashville is great, as well.

6:39 PM  

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