For those of you just tuning in… In September, the Click Clack Gorilla and her Beard began a journey of epic proportions through the country of the Gorilla’s sordid origins (read: USA). After a luxurious week in New Jersey and several days of hand wringing in Philadelphia, they hopped in a rental car and headed south, where you will find them groggily nodding along to Old Crow Medicine Show right now…
Our trek led us on. And on and on and on. The day had begun with a coffee in the hazy half-light of dawn, and it would end five hundred miles later with Pabst Blue Ribbon in a tiny silver can at a country-western bar in Nashville. It was a pilgrimage of sorts: We made country music ourselves, and rumor had it that the streets of Nashville were paved with banjoes, cowboys, and lucrative recording contracts.
I’m not the marathon driver that I used to be (personal record: 13 hours from upstate New York to Ohio, one stop), so somewhere just past Knoxville we stopped at a gas station for several minutes of feigned sleep and more watery coffee. We’d prayed for a grocery store, but all we had found along the highway were “convenience” stores, truck stops, and chain buffets. We’d finished off the leftovers of La Ninja Espanol’s delicious faux baked chicken and were reminded at every rest stop food counter just why Americans tended toward obesity and cardiac arrest.
The memories were filtering slowly back. It wasn’t that I’d forgotten them, but that they’d lost their poignancy in the fog of years and miles sifted through the gray matter that sloshes between my ears, as if the memories were not of this world, but of a parallel universe that had ceased to exist when I’d left it.
But now I remembered. I remembered my last American desk job, where the word “crazy” was liberally tossed around when I mentioned that I rode my bike to work every day (a five minute ride) and astonished looks greeted the fresh salads and greens-filled, vegetarian sandwiches I would prepare for lunch. In America these things made me some kind of freak, but in Europe the same habits just made me a part of the mainstream.
The cheapest fare, it seemed, was always the most disgusting, so I swallowed my pride and my poverty-bred spending habits, bought a bag of peanuts and a jug of orange juice for five dollars, and chalked it up to jacked-up gas station prices. But it turned out that in comparison to what we bought at home for under 10 Euros at Aldi or Netto was going to cost us about 60 dollars at American grocery stores. Had it always been this way? I couldn’t remember.
Finally, tired, euphoric, and deeply disturbed by the price of American beer, we arrived in Nashville where we were unceremoniously greeted by the committees of strip malls and chain stores that line every town in every state across the nation. Were we in Nashville? Denver? Tallahassee? It didn’t matter. It would look the same no matter which city border held our weary bones.
With two hours left until our couchsurfing host would return home from work, we decided to seek out some of the sights, which for us generally meant infoshops, used book stores, and thrift shops. (Oh how I love the musty smell of a warehouse full of donated clothing, books, and funny hats! Oh what patience the Beard would exhibit as I dragged him between the over-stacked shelves and Salvation Army racks of seven states!) Before leaving for a new city I would search the internet for a Food Not Bombs chapter whose website links would, in turn, lead me to the radical culture of each destination. In Nashville’s case the lone beacon was the Firebrand, an infoshop and venue named after the publication of a Tennessee-born anarchist named Ross Winn.
In an unassuming building in an unassuming neighborhood we found the boxy white building. Closed? No. We wandered into the library at its right entrance and found, among the zines, a man who rented a practice space in the building. “What good luck that I was here!” he told us, once we had explained where we’d come from and why we had stopped by. “Usually the infoshop doesn’t open for another two hours.”
Through the library was a show space, floor still littered with bits of glass unswept from the last show that had been held there, and through that room was a tiny infoshop where we added copies of our CDs to the shelves, and I bought a CD from a local riot folk band called Chicken Little. As we browsed through patches, zines, and records, Practice Space Man told us about the bands he’d toured with and played with and recommended bars and venues we might enjoy seeing while we were in town.
With another hour left to burn, we wandered. As luck would have it, we wandered right into “Music City Thrift,” located among shifty discount beer joints and various other strip mall fodder, and found enough $1 Christian propaganda T-shirts to cloth every member of the hell train. One white shirt read “Nashville: Jesus City” above a city-skyline cartoon, complete with Jesus parade and zeppelin. A blue shirt’s front read “For the Glory,” while the back asked if YOU had what it took to fight for the lord, our commander, apparently, in a soccer match.