The Story (continued)
Day Three (Sunday):
Four different Sunday services (and their accompanying choirs) in Nashville are contrasted in a sequence of cross-cuts. In the first service - an austere Catholic one - are Star, Lady Pearl, Wade, and Sueleen (in the choir). The second is at an affluent, white Baptist service, attended by Linnea's deaf children, Delbert, and Haven (singing self-righteously in the robe-costumed choir). The third service is a black Baptist church where Linnea sings "Free Grace" with her gospel choir, and from the pew near the choir, Tommy Brown joins the enthusiastic singers during the baptismal service. The fourth is in a country-style pentecostal church where the weakened, delicate and pretty Barbara Jean sits in a wheelchair next to a table with two lit candles. She pours her heart out with a gospel tune:
And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.
He speaks and the sound of his voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.
Barnett waits impatiently for the service to end from the front pew. Sitting next to each other farther back in the pews are Pfc. Kelly and Mr. Green.
Mr. Green: Esther and I had a son in the service too...Not the Army, it was the Navy. And we lost him in the South Pacific - we don't know how...World War II.
As church bells sound in the distance, Opal delivers her own rambling, poetic monologue about the pretentious, symbolic meaning she finds as she narrates into her tape recorder in an auto junkyard, where rusting hulks of cars are piled high like in a pachyderm graveyard:
I'm wandering in a graveyard. The dead here have no crosses nor tombstones nor wreaths to sing of their past glory, but lie in rotting, decaying, rusted heaps. Their innards ripped out by greedy vultures' hands. Their vast, vacant skeletons sadly sighing to the sky. The rust on their bodies is the color of dried blood - dried blood. I'm reminded of, of an elephant's secret burial ground. Yes...These cars are trying to communicate. Oh cars, are you trying to tell me something? Are you trying to convey to me some secret?
Kenny emerges from within the heaps of cars where he has been scavenging for auto parts - for his disabled car? He is also carrying his ever-present instrument case, and Opal perks up: "Oh, you're a musician."
At the local stock-car races, the deafening roars of souped-up car engines drown out the local talent performing on a side stage. Star-sponsored cars are painted with the names and logos of country stars - Tommy Brown, Haven Hamilton. In the bleacher stands, Haven turns and offers a large slice of watermelon to Tommy Brown. Lady Pearl smacks him for his insensitivity, and remedies the situation by handing Brown a package of lettuce instead. Above the vroom of the cars, Albuquerque makes her debut performance (with Frog on guitar) on the makeshift stage (with a red banner reading NASHVILLE) next to the speed track - only her expressive body gestures are communicated above the sound of the race cars.
Bill and Mary's marriage is disintegrating - they vehemently argue in their hotel room. Non-verbally demonstrative, Mary overturns the dresser drawers and empties her clothing onto the floor. They are interrupted when Triplette arrives to discuss their participation in the rally as rock stars - he shrewdly reverses his previous laudatory position about country western music and now calls it "red-neck music" and "country crap-ola":
Triplette: I know you're astute politically and I'm certainly not here to sell you a bill of goods.
Bill: I don't care. I don't care about politics, no.
Triplette: OK, great. Well, let me tell ya then. I've got a problem but I think it will work to your advantage. As you know, this red-neck music is very popular right now. I've got an awful lot of these local yokels on the bill, you know, singing...
Bill: Your basic country folk...
Triplette: ...country crap-ola, right. So, I think, uh, what I'm going for is a broader appeal, you know.
Bill: Which is where we would fit in.
Triplette: I want to get more than just the Southern, and uh, I think that you could really hit - a group like yours could walk off with the evening.
Bill: Yeah. We're probably the only rock group on the...
Bill: Sounds good. Sounds inviting.
Triplette: Yeah, and I do think you get a lot of, a big audience from these country guys.
Bill: Is this just network, or is it, uh...?
Triplette: No, it's better. It's really better than network. It's gonna be syndicated.
On behalf of himself only, Bill accepts for the group. Mary returns to the room and listens to Bill's self-promotion of the deal of "a great timespot on this gala, and we're gonna walk away with the show, John says." While defacing herself with cold cream smeared all over her face, Mary objects because of her heritage as a registered Democrat:
We can't vote for him because we're registered Democrats, and besides that, he's a little crazy, isn't he?
Triplette encourages her to consider their "future - I think it would give you a great shot."
The Walker van drives through the night and returns to its garage: "...Does it make sense that the churches should remain untaxed on their vast holdings of land and corporate investments? Does it makes sense that a multi-million dollar income should go untaxed year after year? Know all will not be easy, but we will bask in the satisfaction of having done what we should have done, and if we don't get it done today, we may run out of tomorrows." Kenny, with his fiddle case under his arm, listens to the message in front of the campaign headquarters.
Day Four (Monday):
Opal walks though a vast parking lot of yellow school buses, again speaking into her tape microphone as she records her free associations and thoughts [from yellow dragons to yellow nightmares to Yellow Peril to caution to cowards to sunshine] and seeks profound meaning and cultural symbolism about the plight of schoolchildren:
The buses. The buses are empty and look almost menacing, threatening, as so many yellow dragons watching me with their hollow, vacant eyes. I wonder how many little black children and little white children have yellow nightmares - their own special brand of fear from Yellow Peril...(speaking to herself) dammit, it's got to be more positive, no, more negative. Start again. Yellow is the color of caution. No. Yellow is the color of cowards. Yellow is the color of sunshine, and yet I see very little sunshine in the lives of all the little black children and the little white children. I see their lives rather as a study in grayness - a mixture of black and...oh Christ, no, that's fascist. Oh, yellow, yellow, yellow, yellow fever.
Triplette negotiates with Delbert where the political smoker will be held - in a club where "this bizarre stage drops out of the ceiling."
As Barbara Jean leaves the hospital amidst a bustle of hospital personnel, visitors, and departing funereal flower corsages, she waves "Bye bye, Bye bye" to other hospital patients - echoing her refrain (with Barnett) from two nights before. She expresses a sincere interest in Mr. Green, asking him about his wife and her continued health:
Give her my very best and is she takin' her Vitamin E?
But Mr. Green is soon stunned and speechless to learn that his wife expired earlier in the morning. In internal anguish, he tunes out when the obsessed Barbara Jean follower Pfc. Kelly excitedly describes his mother's association with the country star [an ill-timed barrage of his only words in the film and really a disjointed reply to Mr. Green's unwanted statement to him earlier in the church pew about his deceased son]:
My mama saved her life. They used to live next door to each other. My mama was the one that put out the flames. She always loved Barbara Jean more than anything. She's still keepin' a scrapbook on her. Only thing she said to me when I joined up was, she said: 'Son, when you're doin' your travels, I want you to see Barbara Jean. You don't have to say nothin' about me or nothin' like that. I just want you to see Barbara Jean.' So that's what I've been doin'. Now I'm gonna go over to Opryland and hear her sing. You give my best to your wife, now.
The sound edit of Mr. Green's sobs as he looks down at the medicine intended for his wife merges into the laughter of John Triplette in the next scene.
In a stream-of-consciousness prattling of her own theory, Opal expresses to Triplette her idea of political assassination and how a climate of violence 'stimulates' other innocents to act:
I have a theory about political assassination. You see, I believe that people like Madame Pearl and all these people here in this country who carry guns are the real assassins. Because you see, they stimulate other people who are perhaps innocent and who eventually are the ones who pull the trigger.
The scene is juxtaposed to the next one in Mr. Green's house where Kenny - the "innocent" who is the assassin in the film - is a boarder. The clean-cut, timid, 'straight' character speaks to his mother on the phone. He stands under a round, aging portrait of a military officer hanging above him. In his room, a picture of the Green's dead son is framed on the wall. The conversation reveals a troubled relationship and his antipathy toward his overbearing, domineering mother. Skinny L.A. Joan, wearing a skimpy tie-dyed undershirt and bikini panties, enticingly walks around him and into his boarding house bedroom during the tense dialogue - both women are juxtaposed in his mind:
Mother: Kenny, Kenny. Where are you? Kenny?
Kenny: I'm in Nashville. How are you?
Mother: We're so worried. Well, I'm alright. Well I have been. I haven't been able to sleep. I had to take some of that Nyquil so I could go to sleep - that cough syrup, you know. It puts you right out...Where are you staying in Nashville, Kenny?
Kenny: I'm staying in a rooming house.
Mother: In a rooming house?
L.A. Joan: Who are ya talkin' to?
Kenny: (to Joan) It's my mother.
Mother: Who are ya talkin' to, Kenny?
Kenny: A girl that lives in the rooming house.
Mother: A girl who lives in the rooming house? Kenny, who owns that rooming house?
Kenny: Her uncle.
Mother: A man owns the rooming house. Well, it can't be very clean.
Kenny: Don't be silly.
Mother: Well, I'll bet the sheets aren't very clean. (L.A. Joan picks up Kenny's violin case) And you know, this is terrible timing in the South. You can pick up this parasite...
Kenny: (to L.A. Joan) Put, Joan, put that down, please!
Mother: Kenny, listen to me. You can pick up this...
Kenny: (to mother) Just a minute.
L.A. Joan: OK. I just wanted to look at your fiddle.
Mother: Kenny. Kenny.
Mother: You can get this parasite fungus in the South and it's very difficult to get rid of. Now when are you coming home?
Kenny: I don't know. In a couple of weeks.
Mother: You left your blue suit hangin' in the closet. What are you wearing?
Kenny: I don't need my blue suit. I'm wearin'...
Mother: I-I would really like you to get home as soon as you can....
Kenny: Mother, just listen to me.
Mother: Kenny, don't you talk to me in that tone of voice. (He pushes in the receiver to disconnect the call, but pretends to finish the conversation for Joan's sake. In similar fashion, Linnea finished her first phone conversation with Tom with pleasantries after he hung up.)
Kenny: I love you too, mama. I really do, I'll see you soon. Bye, bye.
At the Opry Belle venue, an outdoor stage created to look like the back end of a river paddleboat, a determined, chummy Delbert connives with Triplette and then corners Barnett to convince him to add Barbara Jean to the roster of stars at the political rally, but the manager resolutely refuses to have her appear with Walker:
Delbert: We're gonna do a show. OK? Now John's doin' his show. Haven's gonna do it. We want Barbara Jean to headline it...
Triplette: We don't want her to make any political statement at all.
Barnett: Absolutely not. What do you think her being there's gonna be? Ain't that gonna be a political statement?...No! No politics, no government, no nothin', alright?
Barbara Jean appears for the public concert at the Opry Belle in another white, bridal-type gown with her brown flowing hair arranged with pink ribbons. She first performs "Tapedeck in His Tractor" (The Cowboy Song) with great energy. Pfc. Kelly, Kenny, and Opal are in the audience. Her second impassioned song, "Dues," tells of hurt in an embattled marriage. Kenny raptly stares up at her during part of her performance:
It hurts so bad it gets me down down down.
I wanna walk away from this battle ground.
This hurtin' match, it ain't no good.
I'd give a lot to love you the way I used to do. Wish I could...
You've got your own private world
I wouldn't have it no other way.
But baby, you've been hidin' your wounds
Pretendin' what you say...
Writin' it down kind of makes me feel better
It keeps me away from them blues
I wanna be nice to you, treat you right
But how long can I pay your dues.
Between songs and a few false starts, she begins to unravel as she reminisces about a phone-in radio show, and then remembers her grandmother and her childhood - the band behind her impatiently waits for her to finish her lunatic, nostalgic ramblings about the burdens of her life and how her mother pushed her into a singing career when she was very young:
I can sing like a Munchkin myself. I don't know about you. And I'm real fond of the Wizard of Oz, and plus I live out, you know, just a ways out here on, off of Highway Interstate 24 on the road to Chattanooga so you can see why I kinda related to that...(She looks up into the sky and touches her forehead) I think there's a storm - seems like it's a-brewin'. That's what my grand-daddy used to say all the time before he lost his hearin'. Once he got deaf, he never talked much no more, except sometimes he'd say 'oh gosh' or 'oh dern-it' or 'my word.' Now granny, she'd go round the house a-clickin' her teeth to the radio all day. Boy, was she a lot of fun and cooked always my favorite roast beef. And she was a sweetheart. She raised chickens too. She, uh...In fact, did you ever hear a chicken sound? You know how chickens go. (She begins making noises like a chicken)...I'm thinkin', you know, about the first job I ever really got was when momma - my grandma, see, she's the one who clacked her false teeth to the radio all day - she taught my momma how to sing and momma taught me. One time she took me down, 'cause we was gonna get a new Frigidaire. She took me down to the Frigidaire store where the man was doin' advertisin' - this little record was goin' round and round - and my momma told him that I knew how to sing. And he said: 'If she really does and if she learns this tune and comes down and brings it to me, I'll give you all a quarter.' So momma and I went home, and then what happened? (She pauses to think) Let's see. I think, oh yeah. We went home and I learned both sides of the record in half an hour and we went back there and pranced in real fancy and told him that I had learned them. And he said: 'Well, let me hear this.' So I sang him both sides of the record instead of just one, so he gave us fifty cents and we went across the street and had us a soda. (She chuckles to herself) Ever since then, I've been workin'. I don't..I think ever since then, I've been workin' and doin', supportin' myself...
Embarrassed by her disconnectedness, Barnett ushers the mentally and physically exhausted Barbara Jean from the stage for lemonade. To calm a hostile, booing audience for removing her from the stage, Barnett is forced to placate them by promising that she will perform for free and appear at the Walker rally:
You all show up at Centennial Park tomorrow at the Parthenon and you'll see her for free as our guest. How's that? All right.
Feeling "trapped" by the ungrateful audience of the singer's fans, Barnett establishes "ground-rules" with Triplette for her performance:
She's gonna sing first...She's gonna be off before that man even shows...No paraphernalia, no literature being circulated, do you understand?...never at any time is she supposed to be associated with Hal Phillip Walker, whatever his name is.
In another phone conversation, Linnea is enticed to come to Tom's latest gig at a downtown Nashville club - Exit/In. There, Bill, Mary, Norman, and Opal share a table and a bottle of champagne. Wearing a white top in the dark establishment, Linnea heads toward the empty chair next to Tom, but before she gets there, it is taken by black-wigged L.A. Joan. So Linnea circumspectly finds a vacant table in the back, orders cider and then requests: "Would you put it in a wine glass, please?" and puts up with Wade who is fresh from being perturbed over Sueleen and has slipped into the seat next to her.
Flippantly, Opal chirps to everyone that she has had sex with Tom: "Should I say that Tom and I, uhm, pardon me....got to know each other, uhm, in the Biblical sense...but I mean, he is so attractive." Mary turns away with tears welling up in her eyes after the disclosure, mortified by the admission that the man she loves is simultaneously promiscuous with other women. (While avoiding them, she looks directly back into the camera with her hand clasped over her mouth.) Wade applauds by rapping his glass beer bottle on the table next to Linnea, splattering beer foam around.
Tom, who recalls that he "used to be part of a trio" calls Bill and Mary to join him on stage to sing as a trio. Mary, the lead singer, stands between Bill and Tom - the two men in her life. The refrain of their song: "Since You've Gone" has rich meaning - most of Mary's lines are directed toward Bill:
Since you've gone, my heart is broken another time.
Ol' railroad train has taken him from me.
All my luxury has turned to misery.
He's all I ever wanted - why did he run from me?
Since you've gone, my heart is broken another time.
I didn't know that you were leavin'
Till you were out the door
I didn't know the love you gave was a real love
I didn't know a lot of things then - (Mary clears her throat)
Lord, I know them now.
Since you've gone, my heart is broken another time. (With drunken enthusiasm, Wade joins in and sings, from his table, the last line of the refrain.)
Left alone with Norman, Opal snobbishly forgets his name and denounces him: "I make it a point never to gossip with servants."