“Lord help me, Jesus. I’ve wasted it so help me, Jesus. I know what I am but now that I know that I’ve needed you so…help me, Jesus.” Bellowing from an adjacent restaurant, Kris Kristofferson’s plea to Christ, “Why Me” swept me away while waiting for the elevator at my Nashville hotel. No, it wasn’t just that Kris’s desperate cry to the heavens seemed a bit intense for a hotel bar. The song made me want to collapse to the ground and beg for forgiveness before the elevator reached the first floor. I had sinned! I coveted! I schemed! I imagined heists of country music memorabilia! Forgive me, Lord! My soul’s in your hands!
Why was I in Nashville in the first place, shuffling on my knees for absolution in front of leather lobby lounge chairs? To follow Nick Cave around on his solo tour with Colin Greenwood, of course! I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to witness Nick play the historic Ryman Auditorium, suffering in those uncomfortable cushion-less wooden pews for over two hours while contemplating the legacy of country music formulated at that very spot! As I often do, I used Cave’s tour dates as an excuse to embark on an odyssey of discovery. As Elvis sang, “I gotta know! Gotta know! Gotta know!”
While the Bawitdaba blaring under the spinning sign for Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky-Tonk & Steakhouse beckoned me like a moth to a cowboy (baby) flame within the gauntlet of neon-illuminated honky-tonk trash on Broadway, I spent most of my time in Nashville, when not gorging on BBQ and Nashville hot chicken or gaping wide-eyed at the yeehaw fashions, at a variety of music-related museums: The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Johnny Cash Museum, the Patsy Cline Museum, and the National Museum of African American Music. While the Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline museums certainly deserve their own post, nothing set my klepto urges on edge quite like the expansive Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. I mean, sure, I also felt a draw to pinch a lock of Andrew Jackson’s hair from the Tennessee State Museum.
A silver fox!
Beyond Jackson’s dry-looking mane, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum provided the most fodder for drifting off into a compulsive fantasy of filching. The Museum is organized to chronicle the history of country music from its early folk roots to the contemporary era. Sadly, because of this, things got a bit duller as the museum’s permanent collection progressed. It’s a bit of a downer transitioning from the loud flamboyance of Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors’ famously rhinestone-encrusted suits to Toby Keith’s short-sleeved button-down shirt. Yawn! Where were my favorite contemporary country musicians like Orville Peck or Nikki Lane who not only pay tribute to country’s sonic history but perfectly understand its camp aesthetics?
Even with the gaps in the current state of country music, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum made me appreciate just how inspired I really am by country music and drove me to pen yet another criminal Christmas list. All the things I want to steal! I know. I know. That’ll put me on the naughty list for sure but, like Tammy Wynette, Santa, your good girl’s gonna go bad! So put on your cowboy hat, adjust that bolo tie, and take a gander at my journey to the wilder side of life!
Elvis’s Gold-plated Cadillac
Obviously, any illicit country music wish list must start (and end) with the King himself: Elvis! HOW GREAT THOU AAAART! HOW GREAT THOU AAAART! *Ahem* Sorry. I just can’t help but become overwhelmed by my love of Elvis. So much so that I even found myself tearing up watching that bloated Baz Luhrmann Elvis biopic on an airplane (I have yet to see Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla with Jacob Elordi playing the King). No, not because of Austin Butler’s seemingly permanent performance of Presley; I was just so overcome by my outsized Elvis adoration. Beyond his music, Elvis had an unmatched eye for aesthetics. Sure, Graceland, with all its shag carpet Jungle Room decadence, may be the pinnacle, but this custom gold-plated 1960 Cadillac Series 75 Fleetwood limo just makes me want to roll on the ground, weep, and belt “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” The car is a vision of Goldfinger gilt extravagance painted with, as the label notes, “forty coats of a translucent mixture of crushed diamonds and fish scales called ‘diamond dust pearl.'” Hello, Warhol! Who cares for fame and fortune? They’re only passing things and yet, I’d still like to flee from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum while peering out of the little back porthole window. I’m already cooking up fantasies of being chased by cops while playing an Elvis record (I choose, as always, He Touched Me) on the gold record player, watching Elvis’s 68 special on the gold TV, and calling everyone I know on his gold phone. Worth the jail time if you ask me! WHILE I CAN STAND, WHILE I CAN WALK, WHILE I CAN RIDE IN THIS CADDY, PLEASE LET MY DREAM COME TRUE!
Webb Pierce’s Nudie Mobile
If I’m being completely honest, though, Elvis’s Caddy isn’t actually at the top of my carjacking list in the museum. The car I long to boost is honky-tonk legend Webb Pierce’s Nudie Mobile, a moving tribute to backwoods aesthetics in the form of a 1962 Pontiac Bonneville convertible customized by Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors (the shop, headed by Nudie Cohn, that famously made the best bedazzled western suits of country music history). Just the gun accents alone do it for me: six shooters as door handles, ornamental rifles on the trunk, a pistol positioned upright on the hood. Whew! It makes me want to thank our Founding Fathers for the Second Amendment! Then there are the rodeo references: steer horns attached alarmingly to the front bumper and a saddle plopped right in between the two front seats. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the upholstery of silver dollars (which Pierce eventually kept replacing with alloy coins). Taken together, this Nudie Mobile unquestionably threatens Monster Trucks’ place as the biggest redneck motor vehicle imaginable. It’s startlingly country, frightfully white trash, and entirely car theft-worthy! I fantasize about flooring it down the highway in this! YEEEE-HAWWWWW!!
Bob Wills’s hat
“The kiiiiiind of love I can’t forget, DEAR…” “What kind of love was that, Thomas?!” Bob Wills & Tommy Duncan and the Texas Playboys have the dubious distinction of appearing on the very first Filthy Dreams playlist EVER with their bizarrely cartoonish broken-hearted western-swing, “The Kind of Love I Can’t Forget” (along with their allergy-inducing, “Dusty Skies”). The song’s traditionally plodding country moping, dragged along by a sorrowfully piercing fiddle courtesy of Wills, is interrupted by nasally and loudly proclaimed responses: “Your truly fond and faithful heart, dear, should have never known distress…” “I must confess I don’t like distress!” Who does?! When this voice isn’t shouting “All together! All together!” at the chorus, he’s expelling great wordless exclamations like “WOOOOAWWW!” It’s a Filthy Dreams classic, perfect for aggressive and repeated blaring over a jukebox while wallowing in whisky-soaked self-pity until dive bar patrons beg for mercy. Clearly, with this decade-long connection to the song, I need to Texas two-step out of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum while sporting Wills’s gigantic iconic white cowboy hat, which the label tells me was worn during his last recording session. A true relic! The kind of hat I won’t forget, dear, was the hat you gave to me (ok, that I snatched). You know what? I’ll take the bedazzled fiddle too.
Kitty Wells’s guitar
It wasn’t God that made honky-tonk angels. Kitty was right. And it wasn’t God that made me crack open this Plexiglas box in order to skedaddle away with Kitty’s own guitar to howl the morose “How Far Is Heaven” (“How far is Heaven? When can I go? To see my daddy, he’s there, I know”) or the delusional “Making Believe” (“My plans for the future!! Will never come truuuuueee!!!”) at the top of my lungs. Of course, I can’t carry a tune or play the guitar. But makin’ believe…what else can I do?!
Lefty Frizzell’s stage costume
Can you ever have enough fringe? I certainly don’t think so. Lefty Frizzell’s fringe-heavy stage costume placed immediately beside Kitty’s guitar is a testament to dangly excess, as well as delightfully cheesy patterns of musical notes that would make Liberace envious. All this flamboyance and the only song I admittedly know from Lefty is the pitch-black “Long Black Veil,” which weaves a tale of a man falsely accused of murder but goes to the gallows rather than admitting he was boinking his best friend’s wife. Worth it! The death penalty, murder, doomed romance, cinematic grieving (“But sometimes at night when the cold wind mourns in a long black veil she cries over my bones”), if this sounds like a song that Nick Cave would be into then you’d be correct! Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds covered the song on 1986’s album Kicking Against the Pricks and shockingly, 37 years later, Nick Cave and Colin Greenwood pulled the song out of the abyss of The Bad Seeds’ deep catalogue to play it at the Washington DC show on Nick’s solo tour. Much to my surprise and apparently Nick’s chagrin as he dryly offered the song as a gift to the DC audience because, he proclaimed, they wouldn’t be playing that again! Well, a dedicated song isn’t enough, Nick. I need more–like swishing around the hills, not in a long black veil, but this costume!
Wanda Jackson’s dress and guitar
Right above this display of Wanda Jackson dream hauls was a screen projecting Elvis shaking his hips to “Tutti Frutti” followed immediately by–woo!–Wanda Jackson weaving those old tales of Adam and Eve and Samson and Delilah in her song “Hard Headed Woman” (“Well a hard-headed woman, a soft-hearted man, been the cause of trouble ever since the world began!”). Dearest Filthy Dreams rockabilly babies, I had to try my very damnedest not to scream myself silly and tear at my hair just like those psychotic fanatical audience members way back when. And though, as you know, I love Elvis with a huge hunka hunka burnin’ love, it was Jackson’s snarling assault of a vocal delivery that had me teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. My mind was a blank. My head was spinning around and around. I was going deep into the funnel of love! Security! But before they make it up the elevator, I’m going to be a thorn in the side of the museum by slinking off in Wanda’s rhinestone and fringed tan dress clutching her name-emblazoned guitar. Whoo! Let’s have a party!
Maybelle Carter’s Gibson L-5
Can the circle be unbroken? Can the glass be unbroken that I’m going to smash up in order to pocket Mother Carter’s 1928 Gibson L-5 that she used on hundreds of their recordings? By and by Lord, by and by…
Gold record for Elvis Presley’s “He Touched Me”
As a hall of fame as much as a museum, certain towering installations intended to strike awe at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum fell a bit flat for me. I’m just not impressed by a ginormous wall of gold records or godawful ceremonial plaques commemorating musicians’ entry into the hall of fame. Give me more memorabilia for my sticky fingers! That being said, I wouldn’t mind having some gold records hanging in my apartment. Though I considered scurrying away with a Conway Twitty record, if I can only choose one, I’m going to have to go with my favorite Elvis gospel album, “He Touched Me.” With this placed above my bed, I’d fold my hands and pray to it every morning and night: LEAD ME, OH ELVIS, WON’T YOU LEAD ME! LEAD ME, GUIDE ME, ALOOOOONG THE WAY, FOOOOOOOR IF YOU LEAD ME, I CANNOT STRAY!
Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors suit for The Flying Burrito Brothers
Unsurprisingly, most of the memorabilia on view that really sent my stealing spidey senses a-tingling were the copious outrageously loud and outlandish suits by famed Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors, who, yes, already appeared on this list as the customizers of my new ride. The only problem? There are just so many suits to pick from! So many rhinestones, so little time! Do I need the blue suit with a pterodactyl soaring on the back? Cawww! Or how about some old-school Oregon Trail nostalgia with wagon wheels and cacti patterns? Or even Hank Snow’s stage costume in full sparkling nautical mode full of anchors, helms, and ships? Hello sailor! Though these are all quite tempting, I’ve settled on a suit visible on the cover of The Flying Burrito Brothers’ album The Gilded Palace of Sin: a white suit (which I’ll surely dump coffee on immediately) with a cross on the back. Hallelujah! Praise Nudie’s name! While I’m always into some garish religiosity, the real standout for me on this suit is the two little perfect pink and red flowers on the rear end. One for each bun. Perfect for ass-kissing! Sacred and cheeky.
Tammy Wynette’s dress
While this glamorous evening gown is a long way away from the swingin’ mini dress made from Mama’s kitchen curtains and old bed sheets featured in her duet with George Jones, it would still be something to brag about when worn to go yowl “Stand By Your Man” until my throat is ragged at Nashville’s very own Santa’s Pub (which, shamefully, I did not get to visit. Next time!).
Dolly Parton’s dress
Americans cannot agree on anything–not even simple truths about our collective reality. Every few days a conspiracy goes around on X (formerly Twitter) theorizing what politician or celebrity may have a double now. Senator John Fetterman may be a stand-in with that new suspicious facial hair! Or maybe Melania is secretly a decoy! What about Putin?! Identities are not the only source of cognitive dissonance anguish: everyone who ever dies will now either be slotted, depending on what side of psychosis one is on, as a victim of vaccine injury or COVID’s mass disabling event. But there are even more insane questions about which to argue: Is Michelle Obama secretly trans? Are pedophiles running rings of adrenochrome under Taco Bells? Is the world flat? Did the moon landing ever even happen? And what about the UKRAINE?! Or ISRAEL and PALESTINE! What open letters should we be signing or disavowing NOW? No. No. No. I’m not getting into all that. Instead, let’s come together. Granted, there are few things on this planet that Americans all enjoy. That consists mostly of grotesque celebrity-endorsed fast food like donut drinks. But there remains one woman who we collectively worship. Saint Dolly Parton, of course! It’s too bad Dolly never had any political ambitions as she’d win the 2024 presidency in a landslide (and probably be quite transformational. I mean, really. Could she be any worse than the other options?). All of this is to say that I would be remiss if I didn’t tiptoe off the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum premises with this dress of many colors from Dolly herself. Sure, I could never fit into that distinctively impressive bustline but who could? And who cares? I’ll hoist the whole mannequin right out of the museum and into my apartment where I can reenact (one-sided) scenes from 9 to 5.
Dottie West’s Bob Mackie-designed jacket and pants
Would you hold it against me that I’m not all that familiar with Dottie West’s music other than her collaborations with Kenny Rogers? But when I see anything by iconic designer Bob Mackie, my fingers get all hot and itchy. I must have it!! I must have it NOW! And certainly, this jacket and pants combo inspires a particularly physically gnawing form of kleptomania. Just look at the feathers hanging from that fringe! It’s the kind of breathtaking gaudy just-the-right-too-muchness that Mackie is known for. How many lifetimes will it take to get an outfit like this for myself?!
Reba McEntire’s dress
“Here’s your one chance, Fancy, don’t let me down. Here’s your one chance, Fancy, don’t let me down!” I chant to myself like a Zen kōan as I clutch this devastatingly 80s frock worn by Reba on the cover of her Reba Live album.
Shania Twain’s hot pink outfit from the 1999 Country Music Awards
If you didn’t hear the first few twangy notes and the sultry “Let’s go girls!” from the first five seconds of Shania’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” just looking at this hot pink trench coat and bootie shorts combo, are you even human?! And if you didn’t subsequently feel the nagging need to, then, put the outfit on and do a rousing, if alarming, rendition of “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” are you even a country music fan?!
Tacky Elvis Christmas ornament
I visited the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s gift shop a whopping (and a bit embarrassing) three times in the five days I was in Nashville, consistently returning to reconsider more Elvis crap. First visit, I purchased the book Elvis Style: From Zoot Suits to Jumpsuits, mostly enamored with this gold Elvis tribute gun (the closest I’ve ever been to wanting a gun):
It was only after I was blocks away from the Museum, back in my hotel room, that I realized the error of my ways. I should have bought a tacky Elvis Christmas ornament to gift to Nick Cave, renowned Elvis fanatic, at the last of the three Faith, Hope and Carnage signings I attended in the past two months (I welcome your eye-rolls and your judgment). With his arms stretched and raised, this Elvis ornament was the perfect picture of jumpsuit-wearing Christ-like transcendence, the same Nick has analyzed as a “crucifixion and resurrection.” The ornament also looks like, as my cousin noted, an Elvis Happy Meal toy (an observation I tried to share with Nick to radio silence). The next day, I returned and made perhaps the smartest $12.95 purchase of my life.
What kind of response did I want to elicit from the object of my filth elder affection? A scoffing laugh? A groan? A sighing, “Oh my god”? Any of those would have been satisfying really. But, that’s not what I received at Nashville’s Parnassus Books after sliding the ornament to Nick across a wooden table with my, now, fifth copy of Faith, Hope and Carnage (not to mention the audiobook I was sent last year). What I got was sincere enthusiasm and gratitude! (Yes, this is not the same Nick Cave as decades ago). “This is my favorite Elvis period!” Nick gushed, looking at the plastic bauble. “I know, me too,” I responded. Ignoring all my awkward jokes about the ornament, Nick described it as “beautiful” and proceeded to try to figure out what performance that jumpsuit was from (to which I just humored him. I don’t fucking know, Nick, that’s some very deep-cut Elvis devotion. Even for me). Then, after placing it into a red gift bag someone else must have bestowed upon him, he took Elvis back out again to gaze upon His glory and place him with rightful royal prominence peeking out of the top of the bag.
I better see Elvis in a photograph of the Cave Christmas tree this year! Or better yet, one of Nick’s Polaroids on Cave Things. I demand a discount! I paid a whole $14 for that, with tax! Or more as two days later, hours before my flight out of Nashville, I fought my way through the drunken Broadway hoards on a Friday afternoon to return yet again to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum store in order to buy a mini-King for myself, as a memento. And, you know what? Nick is right. Elvis is beautiful.