Legendary New York Timesman R. W. Apple Jr., AKA Johnny, died today. He had a distinguished career as reporter and editor, yet in his final decade he turned to food and travel writing. In his 2005 Apple’s America, he has a chapter on Nashville, and it contains some sentences that are pearls:
“The swells of Nashville live in Belle Meade, a suburb of emormous houses beneath lofty shade trees on even more enormous lawns. Guardians of garden-club gentility, politically conservative, they do not mix much with the denim-clad country crowd, and this is more and more their city. . . . Robert Altman got it right in Nashville, his brilliant, Chaucerian film about the princes and princesses of country music, with egos the size of cathedrals, as well as its no-hopers.”
“Its fans treat the Opry with tremendous seriousness, according it a place in their hearts alongside stock car racing and evangelical Christianity. An Opry performance feels a little like a secular church service. The audience is, in fact, seated in pews, not individual seats. Everyone listened raptly and respectfully the Saturday night we were there, munching popcorn and slurping Big Drinks, with none of the hubbub of a rock concert. Viewed from another perspective, this is vaudeville for hayseeds, with a carefully calibrated blend of corny jokes, spangly costumes, bottle blonds, and a surprising range of music–not just country and bluegress, but also honky-tonk, western, rockabilly, gospel, and quasi-Cajun. The lyrics may be banal and the emotional range limited, but there are big voices on the stage, and the performers are unmistakably skilled.”
And so was he.