"Nashville cats play as cool as water."
My awareness of the enduring cool of Nashville began with hearing those words from a great old tune by The Lovin' Spoonful. Thankfully, since then I've had many more chances to experience firsthand just how cool Nashville can be. For just about a decade, I've had the pleasure of spending a few weeks in Nashville writing the script for the annual CMA Awards -- or as ABC and I both like to call it "Country Music's Biggest Night." Because it is.
This year, it's been especially moving being here to see how far Nashville and the surrounding communities have come in the aftermath of the historic Nashville Flood this May. The waters dealt the city and the region a terrible blow, but make no mistake, with relatively little media attention, Nashville has come together and is very much back in business and as warm and welcoming as ever.
It remains a singularly musical city. While I've been here, I've seen great performances by Grace Potter & The Nocturnals at the Ryman Auditorium, by Jakob Dylan at the Exit/In and by any number of excellent country singers you'll most likely never hear of playing in the clubs on Lower Broad. Next month, just a few feet away, a guy named Garth Brooks will play at least nine sold-out shows at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena.
I've also spent time with one of music's coolest cats, Brad Paisley, working on a book we're writing called Diary Of A Player: How My Guitar Heroes Made A Man Of Me. And in any free time, I've bought music -- lots of music -- at two of the greatest record stores left on earth - Grimey's and Ernest Tubb's Record Shop.
But mainly, I've been right here in the heart of Nashville, gleefully working on the 44th Annual CMA Awards which air live on ABC this Wednesday night. I hereby promise it's going to be a great show featuring everything from a tribute to the legendary Loretta Lynn by nine-time nominee Miranda Lambert and Sheryl Crow to Oscar-winner and Country Strong star Gwyneth Paltrow making her high profile debut as a country singer with a little help from the great Vince Gill. As I write these words, I'm watching Gwyneth -- because we're all on a first-name basis here in Nashville -- rehearse on the CMA stage with a great band and one of the finest singers in country history, Vince Gill. As I see it and hear it, she's going to have a very big night herself. In fact, I wouldn't be too surprised to see Gwyneth back at the CMA Awards next year -- if that whole acting thing doesn't get in the way.
To give you all a few more reasons to tune in, there will be performances by our fantastic hosts Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley, along with Sugarland, Lady Antebellum, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, George Strait, Zac Brown Band with Alan Jackson, Reba, Dierks Bentley, Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean with Kelly Clarkson, Rascal Flatts and -- because Nashville's a family town that really loves kids -- Kid Rock too.
America, set your Tivos.
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Recently, I received a book in the mail called Rolling Stone The 90s: The Inside Stories From The Decade That Rocked. Immediately, I found myself drawn to two stories from this beautiful new anthology because, well, I wrote them -- "Angry White Female" my profile of Alanis Morissette just as her massive Jagged Little Pill was being lovingly swallowed by millions of young fans, and one of the first articles written about 'N Sync. I remember that piece took me to a Florida corporate park in order to find the new Sound of Young America.
A lot has changed since then. Alanis -- who I soon realized was less angry than passionate and sensitive -- is about to become a mother. 'N Sync impresario Lou Pearlman -- who I noted in my Rolling Stone piece "likes to refer to himself as Big Poppa around his acts" -- turned out to be a Big Liar and a total scoundrel too, and is currently serving what is hopefully a few decades of hard time. To Lou, I can only say, "Bye Bye Bye." On the other hand, Justin Timberlake -- already clearly bright, charming and ambitious -- is now a grown-up superstar, a man with proven talent in music, comedy and drama who refuses to be put in any box. Here's hoping that in 2011 Lou Pearlman watches Justin wins an Academy Award for The Social Network on a prison TV. On second thought, here's hoping they don't let Lou have that time in the TV room to socially network.
Beside my semi-professional journalistic ramblings, Rolling Stone: The 90s includes memorable pieces by Cameron Crowe on Pearl Jam, David Fricke on Kurt Cobain, Chris Mundy on Green Day, Carrie Fisher on Madonna, Mikal Gilmore on Notorious B.I.G., Michael Azerrad on Tupac Shakur, David Handelman on Vanilla Ice, Chris Heath on Spice Girls, Jancee Dunn on Liz Phair and Neil Strauss on Prince, and many more.
In honor of Rolling Stone: The 90s, here's my personal playlist for a decade that gave us a grungy kind of hope, even if not all of that promise has been realized. Please add your own songs below that make the 90s worth remembering for you.
SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT - Nirvana
MONKEY WRENCH - Foo Fighters
HARD KNOCK LIFE - Jay-Z
BITTERSWEET SYMPHONY - The Verve
ONE - U2
LOSER - Beck
MAMA SAID KNOCK YOU OUT - L.L. Cool J
MY NAME IS - Eminem
MARY JANE'S LAST DANCE - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
BAD REPUTATION - Freedy Johnston
BUDDY HOLLY - Weezer
EX-FACTOR - Lauryn Hill
1979 - Smashing Pumpkins
LAST GOODBYE - Jeff Buckley
WONDERWALL - Oasis
IT'S A SHAME ABOUT RAY - The Lemonheads
CALIFORNIA LOVE - Tupac with Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman
SABOTAGE - Beastie Boys
A MURDER OF ONE - Counting Crows
CREEP - Radiohead
YOU GET WHAT YOU GIVE - New Radicals
BELIEVE - Cher
IT WAS A GOOD DAY - Ice Cube
BLACK HOLE SUN - Soundgarden
GOOD RIDDANCE (TIME OF YOUR LIFE) - Green Day