Published Jan 01, 2006According to Carolyn Mark, Robert Altman's 1975 epic film Nashville is perhaps the most unheralded and obscure of the great movie musicals, an equally hilarious and bleak look at the music industry, political ennui and the USA's bicentennial blues as seen through a cast of miserable characters. And after listening to her better-than-the-original tribute album to the movie's soundtrack featuring Neko Case, Kelly Hogan, members of the New Pornographers, the Sadies, the Buttless Chaps, and more it's hard to argue.
Though Mark and her singer/songwriter friend Dave Lang, who sparked the initial idea, know the movie inside out, she made sure that the album's guests were at least familiar with the movie. "I tried to make that a prerequisite," says Mark, who co-produced the album with her sideman Tolan McNeil. "Every time the Sadies stay with us we watch the movie, and their bass player Sean Dean knows all the dialogue. Dave was the one that was into it first we watched the movie a lot together. There was this one season where there was no cable and no money, so we'd pretty much just do that."
There are moments in Nashville that every musician can relate to: playing a drowned-out gig at the speedway, the humbling open stage, or when the superstar singer has an on-stage breakdown and starts rambling while her backing band attempts to start the song.
"When I first saw the movie," says Mark, "every show would have a little breakdown like she has, for about a year. I'd say, Me and the boys are going to strike up another song now,' and then I'd talk for like half an hour." But the character Mark most related to was the old man whose niece keeps avoiding a visit with her dying aunt by running off with musicians. "Oh, I felt so bad for Mr. Green," sighs Mark. "I felt like Mr. Green while making this record sometimes, because everyone kept running off. I'd say, Can we do your song now?' And I'd hear, Oh, can we just smoke this joint?' Or, Uh, I have to make some coffee.'"
Mark is busy at work on her own album, due later this year. But it's much easier to get her to talk about Altman than her own music. "You know what sucks?" she asks rhetorically, in the middle of an Altman geek-out. "Kansas City. It's like Nashville but a jazz one, and it's so boring. But I found Nashville boring when I first watched it, so maybe if I watch Kansas City 85 times it will be my next project. Actually, it's gonna be M*A*S*Hville, with the characters of M*A*S*H singing the songs of Nashville. And the [movie's] political campaign speeches can be done by Radar over the loudspeaker!"