A FAR OUT HISTORY OF NASHVILLE >>> PART 1

When it comes to Nashville’s music reputation, being “far out” is not often dropped as a descriptor. Sure, the city has a well documented history of outlaws and a handful of oddballs like Chance Martin, but by and large Nashville has always been viewed as a city that subscribes, and even defends, the norm. This does not mean, however, there are not strands of subversive history to be discovered, for there are significant moments in Music City’s timeline that are further out than one may expect. The following is excerpted from a larger work in progress in which I am exploring Nashville’s role in the countercultural movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I’m not quite sure where this piece is going, but if anyone out there has knowledge of anything I should know about, I’d love to hear from you. This is the first part of an undetermined number of postings to come before Nashville's first psychedelic music festival, Far Out Nashville, happens in May. Enjoy!

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In 1968 Rick Shubb and Earl Crabb, both of whom were integral members of the Bay Area’s burgeoning folk scene, got together for the purpose of revisioning a map of the world. Their focus and intent was to draw lines connecting the many bohemian and folk communities scattered across the globe at that time. The result of their efforts is what has become known as Humbead's Revised Map of the World. The map depicts the world as having one centralized land mass and is reminiscent of those old single continent Pangaean interpretations of our prehistoric world. This version of the supercontinent is encircled by water in which there is a dragon, a rubber duck, a seemingly inebriated Neptune, and a couple surreptitiously named islands, one of which is titled “The Rest of the World.” Around the edges of the map are the names of those in the “Population,” or as Shubb and Crabb intended, the names of those who were most tied in to the countercultural scene.

Although their intention was not to create a psychedelic map of the world per say, their inclusion of scene contributors did include a number of musicians, artists, and chemists that fed the map’s lysergic reputation. The map’s main focus, of course, is on the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Los Angeles, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. There are a number of oddly placed anomalies spread across the map, including South East Asia, North Africa, and the Mexican Border. These inclusions, no doubt, due to their role in fueling the Humbedean community with their recreational (ahem) substances.   

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If one looks carefully just off the west coast of New York City, Nashville can be seen floating somewhere between The Whelming Brine and Farspooming Ocean. Considering that by 1968 a number of bohemian types had already been winding their way from New York’s Greenwich Village down to Tennessee, the inclusion of Nashville on this map shouldn’t come as a total surprise. After all, the hard-nosed conservative reputation of the city was starting to wane a bit as an influx of more liberal artists made their way south. Bob Dylan himself had already made the pilgrimage in 1966 for Blonde on Blonde and then again in 1967 for John Wesley Harding. Even stalwart traditionalists Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were thrown into Nashville’s transformation as they took on a number of Dylan’s compositions on Changin’ Times (an acknowledgement to both Dylan and the the city’s shifting landscape) and Nashville Airplane (a nod to San Francisco’s Jefferson Airplane).

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By the end of 1968 even the most iconic of psychedelic pioneers, The Byrds, set their sights on Nashville for the recording of the landmark Sweethearts of the Rodeo. Even though this Gram Parsons led iteration of The Byrds was about to shed their psychedelic past for a country future, Nashville’s old guard was nonetheless ruffled and did not appreciate the arrival of these California long haired hippies and everything they brought with them. WSM’s Ralph Emery treated Parsons and McGuinn with contempt during an on air interview and refused to play a new cut they brought with them to the studio. Later, the band was met with a number of heckles as they took the stage at The Grand Ole Opry. Acceptance amongst Nashville session players and the younger generation, however, was widespread, and The Byrds were quickly recognized as the original purveyors of what would become known as country-rock, a countercultural feat no less impressive than 1967’s Summer of Love. After all, the turning of the tide in the South is a much more arduous task than it is in San Francisco.

What Shubb and Crabb knew of 1960s Nashville is not documented on their map or in any of the literature that accompanied their work through the years, but the city’s inclusion is certainly not by chance. Granted, even by the standards of Humbead’s more radical mainland communities, the countercultural events transpiring in Nashville during the 1960s seem meager at best. However, location is everything, and in the Southland the mere idea of insubordination is often enough for the gatekeepers of tradition to sound the alarm. For these alarmists, even the most miniscule of change was indeed far out.

Curious about Humbead's Revised Map of the World? Check out Jesse Jarnow's Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America.

- Mike Mannix (Psych Out! on WXNA)

 

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