Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Nashville. You can't ignore it.

According to Neil Young in interviews here, and elsewhere, when recording the hymn-like final tune on his new album Prairie Wind — a song conspicuously out of place amidst the other compositions, and about which Young said, "I'd never written a song like this before" — he paused to wonder aloud about where this particular muse had come from. One of the studio engineers grabbed a flashlight, signaled Young to follow, removed a part of the modern ceiling and shined the light high into the dark space above, revealing the great arched windows of a very old church. Young, who wrote the song in the studio and was unaware of the building's history, got "goosebumps" as the light illuminated the hidden history of the walls around him.

This church is on 17th Street South in Nashville, and a facade hides the historic structure's original exterior. It was a church before and after the Civil War, and before the Federal army seized the capital it was a Confederate hospital, and morgue. I'm trying to find out if Mark Zimmerman, author of Guide to Civil War Nashville, knows anything about it. The building is most famous as the original Monument Studios (now Masterlink), where Roy Orbison, for one, recorded all his hits, and where Young himself recorded Comes a Time, and his masterpiece, Harvest.

Young is sensitive to history, now more than ever, and spoke of organizing a group to restore the old church while maintaining it's equally historic studio. Time was (and probably still), some in the South bore a grudge against Young for "Southern Man," and "Alabama," powerful, enduring songs that prompted one of Rock and Roll's most lame rejoinders in "Sweet Home Alabama."

Times change. Alabama is different, I suspect. And Neil Young is now the Old Man he once sang to. But this old man has Hank Williams's guitar.

Speaking of Nashville, there are still eight seats left on The Bus for next month's Civil War tours of Franklin, and Nashville. Masterlink Studios is not on the itinerary, but you might find time to drive by while you're there.

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