Rick Bass will be a featured writer at our next Sowell Collection Conference (April 18-20, 2013), so in preparation for this visit, I’ve been reading more of his work. He’s such a prolific writer, I quickly fall behind and suddenly I have four new books on my reading list.
I started with Nashville Chrome, a novel published in 2010. Though this work deals with real people and events, centered on Maxine, Jim Ed, and Bonnie Brown, a family country music trio who began singing and recording in the 1950s; though the work mentions many historical figures– Elvis Presley, Chet Aktin, Jim Reeves, The Beatles; and though Bass worked with the family, met with the family, had, in a way, their blessing for this project, this is a novel, not biography. Part of the reading experience is meditating on the difference between art and reality, literature and history.
According to an Associated Press article that appeared shortly after the book’s release:
Maxine Brown had an immediate and intense reaction when she read “Nashville Chrome,” Rick Bass’ fictionalized account of country music pioneers The Browns. “When I first got that damn book I screamed and cried and threw it across the room, threw it in the trash, wrote him a hot note,” Brown said. “And then I retrieved it and said, ‘I’ve got to read this with an open mind because it’s got to be something here, he’s such a great writer.’ So I read it again and again and again and I realize that it is absolutely great. He painted a beautiful picture.” (Bangor Daily News, Sept. 26, 2010.)
Yes, the book is beautifully written, the narrative weaves the past and the present, alternating between the years of promise and the years of deep regret. The Browns have fame, applause, family—and then Maxine finds she has only solitude, silence, oblivion.
“The days and nights pass through her like light through a pane of dark glass. Some of the ache in her is real and some of it is simply an unsatisfied heat. She falls into long reveries that are interrupted only by the teakettle’s whistle. She waits for the phone to ring. She lived too much, too high, fame blew through her like a hurricane” (24).
Maxine yearns for one more hit, one more appearance, applause and more applause. She lives alone in her little house in West Memphis, and one day at the grocery store she posts a note on the bulletin board, seeking a filmmaker for a project that will reawaken the world to her voice. The story of the unlikely filmmaker and his impressionistic style weaves another thread into the lyrical narrative of Nashville Chrome.
Nashville Chrome was well reviewed when it was first published, you can find reviews on the internet. I especially recommend Susan Salter Reynolds’ review in the Los Angeles Times, Sept. 11, 2010, Bryan Woolley’s in the Dallas Morning News, Sept. 25, 2010, and Dave Shiflett’s in the Washington Post, Sept. 18, 2010. You might also check out Maxine Brown’s webpage with links to videos of The Browns singing their best-known songs.