We’re thrilled to kick off the month with a special Music v. Monday guest post from none other than Craig Shelburne, a CMT.com writer and producer, and the driving force behind the recently launched CMT Edge. Showcasing emerging talent and new music from established acts (including live concert footage), CMT Edge is dedicated to musical discovery – helping fans of Americana, folk, country, and bluegrass find more of the music they love!
A few years ago, you could’ve flipped through my CD collection to see what kind of music appealed to me. Now, you can look at the art on my walls.
I’ve been in Nashville since 1994. (Or as I like to say, “since the 1900s.”) When I moved here from Nebraska, I was 19 and about as mainstream as you could get, both with art and music. When I was a student at Belmont University, I landed one of the most pivotal internships of my college career – at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
At that time the museum was located on Music Row in an unusual building that sort of resembled a church. Every day I walked past the exhibits, toward the middle of the museum and took the stairs into the basement, where the employees and the archives were located.
During that time, I was given my first Hatch Show Print for a Johnny Paycheck collection titled “The Real Mr Heartache: The Little Darlin’ Years,” which the Hall of Fame issued in 1996. In the middle of the poster is Mr. Paycheck himself, looking covert and alluring. Although I considered myself a true country fan, I had never heard anything quite like that album. It was significantly weirder and twangier than “Take This Job and Shove It,” his classic hit that came much later in his career. In one of the tracks, Paycheck intoned, “Pardon me, I’ve got someone to kill.” That’s probably when I realized there was a whole other side of country music and I was going to have to seek it out.
That poster also made me into a collector of Hatch Show Prints. My only requirement for this hobby is that I attended the show and enjoyed it. From the 1990s, I’ve held onto Hatch concert posters from George Jones and Trisha Yearwood. They’re side by side on a wall in my apartment. Farther down, I have my wall of women – Patty Griffin, Gillian Welch, Lee Ann Womack, Wynonna and a couple more.
Between those two sets, on my bedroom door, is a poster for a 2002 benefit concert featuring Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell and host John Hiatt. So if you’re ever coming into my bedroom, at least you sort of know what you’re in for.
My bedroom doesn’t have any Hatch show prints in it but I do have quite a few pieces by Steve Keene, a colorful painter who took it upon himself to create a series of country legends in 2001. When I got the postcard in the mail about the art opening, I misread the date and arrived at Tag gallery one day early. Luckily for me, the curator allowed me to buy what I wanted – big, wooden paintings of Johnny Cash and George Jones, as well as Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn.
Keene lines up his flat, blank boards and essentially paints the same piece a couple of times, so these primary-color pieces aren’t exactly one-of-a-kind. But they are special to me, even with the misspellings. For example, one exalts the “JONNY CASH SHOW” while another praises Lynn by exclaiming “SHE HAS WON GRANNY AWARDS.” It also calls her “COAL MINERS GIRL.”
I keep them by my computer. I like looking over my shoulder and seeing the honky-tonk angels.
Also in my bedroom I have a lovely blue box print by Dolan Geiman with the words “Country,” “Song” and “Alabama” – Jukebox at the Honky-Tonk (shown at the top of this post). I met Dolan years ago at an art fair in Atlanta and we’ve kept in touch. I can look at his work and know that he’s a music fan, too. I also love my small, screenprinted piece he created with the likeness of Hank Williams in lovesick blue (above). It simply states: “COUNTRY.” (An early piece reminiscent of Country Fair.)
I’m always on the lookout for art when I travel. One of my favorite pieces is a glimmering and captivating portrait of Willie Nelson from William K. Stidham‘s Sacred Hearts Collection. I met Mr. Stidham in 2007 at a music festival in College Station, Texas, and struck up a conversation. If you can talk about music, you can talk to anybody. And who doesn’t love Willie Nelson?!
Another time when I was walking through the art museum in San Diego, I found a room where the art was actually for sale at reasonable prices! This was a new concept to me. I walked right up to a piece called “La Cienega.”
If you’re a few inches away from it, you can see that the artist David Russell Talbott painted over a road map of Los Angeles. But the focal point is a dapper fellow driving a melancholy gal to parts unknown. In the corner, Talbott painted these words: “The further we drove, I began to feel uneasy everytime the Swamp was mentioned.” Intrigue! There’s also a tiny, turquoise car glued to the canvas and the words “La Cienega” painted across the top. Talbott refers to his eye-popping work as PulpCore.
I bought the painting because, at that time, I was obsessed with a Ryan Adams song called “La Cienega Just Smiled.” The heartbreak in that song is palpable, both lyrically and musically. I’ve read that Adams might substitute the real name of someone he was writing about with the name of a city, or in this case, a street. I never tried to figure out who “La Ciegena” was really about, but I remember picking up on that feeling of uncertainly, loss and loneliness.
Later on, I dated somebody whose favorite song by Ryan Adams was “La Cienega” as well. Our connection was immediate (for other reasons) but quickly collapsed. Right after that, I got involved with somebody who worked at an art gallery and that ended abruptly as well. Bad decisions? Well… who knows. But to get through those tough times, I always had my music surrounding me
Listen to the songs I love and you’ll know me well. Then look at my walls and you’ll understand me even more. -Craig Shelburne