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You can judge a culture by the talisman it wields. At the mall, it’s twentysomethings with designer sunglasses they can’t afford. On the road, the Viagra-packers often drive the fastest car they can buy. And on the second episode of ABC’s breakout soap/drama Nashville, guitars define the characters — and story lines.
Early in the show, blazing country vixen Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), hell-bent on stealing reigning icon Rayna James’ (Connie Britton) bandleader/former paramour Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten) for her band, takes the much older songwriter for a ride in her vintage pick-up down to a private spot by the river that “was Tammy Wynette’s land” (which Juliette now owns, naturally).
Then, the teen queen who yearns to be respected drops her tailgate, and reveals a secret weapon: a 1938 Martin 000-42 — apparently worth some $50,000 (see similar model at right). Deacon doesn’t stand a chance. “I don’t know who you’re trying to impress, but if it’s me, it’s working,” he simpers while eyeing the acoustic six-string.
Juliette plays it off: just one more dollop on a life of plenty. What she wants is him: in her band, in her songs, in her bed. What she offers — a big tour, a chance to co-write, this drool-worthy six-string — is stunning.
Even the song they write on the banks of the Cumberland River — before Juliette strips down, dives in the water and giggles, luring in the know-better man — includes a hook that sets the tone for the episode. Aptly, the chorus crescendos to the line, “Sometimes good intentions don’t come across so well.” (Worth noting: five Nashville songs currently rank in the top 40 of iTunes’ country singles chart.)
Across town, Bluebird waitress Scarlett O’Connor (Clare Bowen) is finding the stand-by-her-man mandate harder to swallow in light of her surprise songwriting partnership with Bluebird soundman Gunnar Scott (Sam Palladio). The legendary producer Watty White (J. D. Souther) awants to produce their demo. But Avery Barkley (Jonathan Jackson), her indie-rock hipster boyfriend (inspired by Conor Oberst?), has yet another potential manager cancel on him.
When Avery takes the stage at East Nashville’s 5 Spot (a real spot), he wields what looks like a 1963 Silvertone 1429L Harmony Three and plays chords of rage for every door slammed in his face as well as the sludge clogging good music’s arteries.
Avery doesn’t know about the Watty White’s duo-demo offer until a girl down front recognizes the “pair” when Gunnar comes up to say “good show;” then assumes Scarlett is the soundman’s girlfriend. Avery is taken aback, and the truth about opportunity knocking finally comes out.
And so the haves with little talent — during Juliette’s scantily-clad video shoot where she sings among a phalanx of hotties looking like the warm-up crew for a Luke Bryan “Country Girl Shake It For Me” awards performance, the director snaps, “Two more takes and I’ll never have to listen to this crap again” — are poised for success. Helped along with a $50,000 instrument they can’t properly appreciate, while Deacon, Juliette’s prey, sustains himself with a Dan Electro-inspired Jerry Jones model that retails for a fiftieth of the price.
Meanwhile, middle-aged Rayna has no instrument to call her own as she battles her greedy father and weasel husband — the latter now in league with the old man in his run for mayor. Further poking at her insecurities, three socialites offer this humiliation at a fundraiser: “You should put a new CD out.”
Driving the six-string theme home, the perky Juliette displays has a $3400 Gretsch White Falcon on her wall. The metaphor is stronger than sex or the money; though the scene where Rayna’s manager is explaining the finances of shifting to a tour taking her back “to her roots” — with just her and Deacon — is a powerful reality check for anyone assuming the road is a gold mine.
As rehearsals for the duo’s tour heat up, Juliette sends that $50,000 guitar to SIR with a big red bow. Rayna reacts at the audacity, impotent to fight back and knowing the only thing she’s got to hold Deacon is a love that’s seemingly never died.
For Juliette — fuming in the next scene, “Who gets a $50,000 guitar and doesn’t call to say thank you?” — the notion of someone she can’t buy is vexing. Shown the video of her writhing on Demonbreun’s traffic circle’s actual dancing naked people sculpture, she explodes. Says Juliette: “How is this gonna get Deacon Claybourne in my band?” Her manager answers with world-class crassness, “Worry about the teenage girls who’re gonna eat this thing up. They are your meal ticket.”
Somewhere between her public persona and the damaged goods behind the curtain, Juliette sees the person she wants to be, at least where Deacon’s perception is concerned. Just when the inevitable seems inevitable, the show heads to the Bluebird where three storylines converge and twist. Deacon plays his regular mid-week gig (which Rayna hasn’t attended in a decade) as the three females and icon Watty White watch enraptured. But when Deacon calls up “a very talented lady” as a surprise guest, Juliette Barnes is stunned to hear Rayna Jaymes’ name instead of her own.
The two former lovers share a song from their deep past and Juliette’s face becomes a fist strangling tears. Meanwhile, Scarlett looks at Gunnar and she agrees to do the demos with White.
It took only 42 minutes of screen time to play out a morality tale about the soul of stars, men and music. But with legendary real-life players and producers Buddy Miller and T-Bone Burnett taking the musical reins on Nashville, the six-string symbolism dug even deeper. After all, among the Tennessee city’s nicknames is the moniker “Guitar Town.”
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