NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Why Books Are Bad for You

Another Day, Another Dollar, Workin' My Whole Life Away

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

Another day, another dollar

Daylight comes, I'm on my way

Another day, another dollar

Workin' my whole life away

If you've seen and heard the recent TV commercial for VW cars featuring that song, I'm sure you have remarked on how authentically country that song sounds. Well, I hope you have. The first time I heard it, I thought, "Damn! I know that song!"

That's because it actually is authentically country. That's Wynn Stewart's original 1962 recording on Challenge Records of his composition "Another Day, Another Dollar." Stewart was one of the great West Coast honky-tonk pioneers. Merle Haggard started out as his bass player. Wynn's legacy remains a largely untold story.

So here's another original being co-opted by giant commerce. At least people are actually hearing Wynn Stewart, even if they don't know who he is. And that he died in 1985. Here he is being played on network TV, but not on country radio, where he would sound pretty damned good right now, being played against all the shallow and constructed and facile song hooks we're hearing these days.

New cultural assaults hit us so frequently and so brutally as to sometimes go relatively unnoticed these days.

Magazines die daily, good newspapers are disintegrating, interesting websites disappear, quality record labels dry up, good singers and groups atrophy because of lack of support, beloved clubs and honky-tonks are shut down, good radio stations change formats or go away, beloved record stores are boarded up, dependable dealers get busted, independent coffee shops are squeezed out by the StarMacs, spontaneous combustion seems to claim any truly interesting new online start-up, and many seemingly wondrous new things are generally dead on arrival. iTunes, of course, only flourishes. Beatles forever.

Can little kids sell lemonade from a sidewalk stand anymore without getting busted by the IRS and the health department? Are the thought police lurking behind the TSA? Are you ready for your airport crotch feel-up and pat-down?

These are some reasons why it may seem unimportant that a bookstore in Nashville, one that admittedly was part of a small chain of stores, is being closed without too much notice.

But that store has been a beacon of culture for many years, promoting books and music and literacy and writing and live performing and has served as a cultural center for Nashville and the mid-South. Good bookstores are much more of a cultural anchor than any other institution, and don't let anyone disabuse you of that idea.

Who else could or would present free performances by local musicians regularly? And by nationally-known artists? And readings by local writers? And by nationally-known writers? And a broad selection of children's programs?

Nashville's Davis-Kidd Booksellers always offered me a cushy easy chair to lounge in and a warm, inviting café for snacks and lunch and tea and coffee while I could browse their books and the magazines from the excellent magazine section, including a large selection of music magazines. A wonderful children's section, an intelligent offering of music CDs. True, their prices on books and CDs were usually list prices, but do you always want to sit at home and order stuff from Amazon and miss running into your friends at Davis-Kidd and talking with the very literate Davis-Kidd staff about new and upcoming books and music? And actually experiencing real live singers and writers? Real life is not conducted online, no matter what anyone says.

The point is that culture -- of any sort in any form -- does not seem to be all that important anymore. If you wander through the rest of the opulent Green Hills Mall that houses Davis-Kidd, you find mainly high-end stores with a lot of pricey stuff you don't really need. The department stores are handy. And the Apple store is there. But people flock to the mall, and they go to the bookstore.

But it's closing, and there's nothing to take its place in middle Tennessee. Why is it closing? Usual reasons. Founded as an independent store, the founders want to move on and sell to a clueless out-of-town conglomerate with no real knowledge of running a bookstore. Conglomerate ultimately files for bankruptcy and shuts the bookstore. Selling books does not generate huge, immediate profits. Get rid of 'em.

End of story.

There's no changing that scenario.

But I'll tell you what. I think there is a valid future for that kind of boutique, service-centered local store. I would be there in an instant. I know plenty of people who would be there. Davis-Kidd was a local version of what Apple is internationally: a quality, specialty company that listens to its customers and responds to them.

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