originally published: June 21, 2017
If you lived in Hendersonville in the 1970-80s, in all likelihood, you have a Johnny Cash story. That story weaves you into a reality to which very few others can relate. This was a town where an Oak Ridge Boy was your neighbor. The best Halloween candy you could get was from a wrestling promoter’s house. The entire world showed up to your town for Roy Orbison’s funeral. To see Johnny or June running errands was not unexpected because they lived in your city and there were no pretensions about them. Here are a few stories that circulated in my little adolescent world:
1. I saw Johnny at Eckerd buying something for a cold he was nursing. The Man in Black got the sniffles.
2. My friend, Will, sold him mulch at Wal-mart.
3. My mother saw him pull up to the Coke machine outside of K-Mart, put in 2 quarters, get nothing in return and then started beating on it like it took his last dime.
4. My mother-in-law and June seemed to have similar shopping schedules at the Kroger.
All of these stories mean nothing. June needed some chicken. She went to the store. She did not pull an old lady out of a burning building. She was just buying groceries like everyone else. But these stories do mean something. I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they…all saw Johnny or June somewhere. Somewhere that we all went on a regular basis. And that is strange. If I see a person in real life that I have seen on television, it takes me a few seconds to adjust to their three-dimensionality. Add on top of that discombobulation that you are sneaking sausage samples from a tray that was left out at the deli of a grocery store and it all doubles down on the weird.
Brady Haston- Burden, oil on linen mounted to panel, 15x18", 2016
Everyone knew where Johnny and June lived. It was not hard to find their house. You drove past it on your driver’s exam. The house appeared approachable enough to my friend, Esther, that as a 16 year old, she walked down his driveway, expecting to get to the door, talk to him and find out how to meet Larry Mullen, Jr. “Why c’mon in little lady. Can I get you some tea? How can I help you?” Instead, she was met on the driveway by a very large but nice guard that heard her plight and said, “Well, you’re not going to meet Mr. Cash today, but here is Cowboy Jack (Clement)’s address. Maybe he can help.” Esther did eventually meet Larry but not because of Cowboy Jack, however he did invite Esther and her friend inside to watch home movies of U2 hanging out at his house over a Christmas holiday.
A person’s Johnny story (or your Johnny’s big security guard story) is tied to a place. Tied to a very ordinary place- a store, his house, the DMV, etc. It’s not like we lived in Rome and saw him at the Pantheon. That would not be as unexpected. Who would not want to see the Pantheon? Even Johnny is going to be impressed with the Pantheon. Seeing an American icon buying Robitussin while you are buying a pack of Hubba Bubba is something different.
Brady Haston- Plateau, oil on linen mounted to panel, 14x18", 2015
All of this is 25-35 years in the past. Hendersonville has about 20,000 more residents than when I lived there. Johnny is gone. June is gone. Their house burned to the ground while renovations were being made by the next owner. The Wal-mart where Johnny bought mulch moved to a new location. The K-mart where he beat up a Coke machine is now Kroger. The old Kroger is currently nothing.
These ordinary places, ubiquitous and reproduced in every other midsize town, are still around but gone at the same time. That K-Mart was my record store growing up. We did not “go to Nashville” when I was young. My mom acted like you needed a wagon train and three months provisions to get to Nashville. We went to Rivergate Mall. So my music stores were K-Mart, a Cat’s Record and whatever was at Rivergate…Camelot, I think. Camelot. Mercy. This was not just a K-mart to be tossed aside for me. It is understandable to mourn the loss of a mom-and-pop business but I am not going to argue with you if you have to make your peace with the closing of the chain store where you bought Kiss’s Destroyer album or a $20 Pole Position game for your Atari that you and your brother had to save 3 months of allowance to afford.
The Kroger had a video store in it. There was a pizza kiosk where someone had to make and shrink wrap the “ready to bake” Kroger pizzas on site. The store was in a strip connected to a Subway and a Baskin Robbins. My wife and I got engaged in the parking lot before going to see the Big Lebowski. Not romantic but that is how we do things. We could have gone on a hike or to a nice restaurant, but we are ice cream and Coen Brothers people. The roads of much more romantic proposals have ended at law offices.
Brady Haston- Stratification, oil on linen mounted to panel, 15x18", 2016
I drove out to Hendersonville this week to see that parking lot. The old store sat there, newly emptied, with a decent traffic still present for Subway and Baskin Robbins. I had a selfish “how dare you?” moment. I got engaged there. Where’s my plaque? June Carter Cash bought peanut butter here. Where is the plaque? If I walk across the street to the Methodist parking lot, where is the historical marker that says, “Here in 1992, Rob Matthews sat in the back of David Heeks’ pickup truck and listened to the Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head for the first time. It has never sounded better, even in headphones, than sitting in the back of that truck.”
One day that Methodist church will not be there. One day, Maple Road will not intersect with Indian Lake Road. It does now and will not be going anywhere for the foreseeable future. Thousands of people drive past it everyday. But for me, as a 10 year old, in 1984, it is at that intersection, sitting in the passenger seat of our family car that I felt SOMETHING. Something massive. Something bigger than Michael Jackson or UNC basketball or Atari or anything else that ruled my world in 1984. I felt the Holy Spirit move upon me. My first mountaintop experience was in a station wagon at a random intersection in a town whose biggest claim to fame was that there was a brick wall with “Hello Darlin” laid into the patterning of the brick. I cried, not from pain but from joy and I cried hard. I do not even remember if I was able to explain to my mother why I was crying. I assume that I did because she did not take me to the hospital.
Prone to nostalgia, these are the things that welled up in me when reflecting on Brady Haston’s show at Zeitgeist. Keep in mind, the show has nothing to do with the Big Lebowski, the Beastie Boys or the Holy Spirit. It is abstraction derived from the history of an area though, specifically 18th-century frontier Nashville. There is a language developed by mining the past and elaborating on that. The truth becomes legend when it is abstracted. Haston’s palette gives both the residue of something past with moments of contemporary clarity laid on top. That is how I walk through half of my life. This is not an abandoned building. It is where I got engaged. This is not a mall parking lot. It is where I rode the Flume Zoom. This is not a baseball park. It is an empty void behind a soccer field where I would watch trains pass at night. This is not a road. It is where the promise of an eternal covenant exploded in front of me.
Brady Haston- Corner Meander, oil on canvas mounted to panel, 72x96", 2017