The Nashville Sound by Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit


The first football match I ever went to see was Arsenal v Leicester on September 22nd 1962. I was taken to the game by our next door neighbour, Malcolm Goodchild, and during the game, that’s what I was. A good child. The score was 1-1. I really enjoyed going and I have no idea why I went and my Dad didn’t. I guess that Malcolm had a spare ticket and my Dad selflessly allowed me to go. Remarkable. Malcolm and my Dad were both Arsenal supporters and much to my Dad’s disappointment, I never learned to love Arsenal; if anything, I preferred Tottenham but that’s probably because they won the First Division and the F.A. Cup in 1961 and won the Cup again the following year. Sadly, I never supported a team until 2016 when I started going to Brighton games but I always loved football and enjoyed going to Doncaster, Wolves or Crystal Palace matches with Martin, Ben or my brother-in-law.

In the nearly Noughties I started a Schools Fantasy Football League at Oakmeeds. About sixty children and twenty staff joined the League and I got the weekly figures and pinned them on a noticeboard outside my office. It was more complex than these days – I had to collect money from each individual to enter, complete forms and post them off and each month, I would hand out prizes at assemblies. It meant that everyone thought that I knew a lot about football when I didn’t. I enjoyed going to games but I had no idea whether or not Jamie Redknapp’s move to Tottenham was likely to ensure he got more Fantasy points. I had to take part in lots of conversations with children which mainly involved me muttering positive noises while they wittered on about Liverpool.

At around this time, I was put in charge of cover at Oakmeeds. This was guaranteed to make me the most unpopular member of staff. These days, “cover supervisors” are employed because of pressure applied by the Unions and teachers do very little cover. In fact, at BHASVIC now, staff get paid for cover which would have been unthinkable in the past. In those days any teacher could drive into school, thinking of the four hours of teaching they had to come but looking forward to the one hour free time they had. They might be feeling a little bit ill but came into school anyway only to find that a lightweight colleague had phoned in sick and they had to spend their free lesson teaching Spanish to de motivated 13 year olds. It was my job to organise cover on a fair basis but what was fair? Some teachers had more free lessons than others because they had increased responsibility. Should they do more cover? It was an increasing source of bitterness and rancour.

One evening, Roo and I met Dave and Gay for a drink and a meal in Horsham and I was boring everyone with all of the above when Dave said “Fantasy Cover!” Over the course of the next few hours we planned it all. Every member of staff could have five members of staff in their team and they got points every time they did a cover. They had to pick themselves – that was the important bit. Each month there would be a bottle of wine as a prize for the member of staff with the most points. It worked like a dream. There were members of staff coming up to me complaining that they hadn’t done any cover for a couple of weeks. Other members of staff would look at the noticeboard and punch the air, shouting “Yes! I’ve got to cover Year 9 Drama this afternoon”. The best moment was when one member of staff (who shall remain anonymous but often reads this blog so yes, you know who you are) was so hungover on the last day of term that he lay down underneath a table in the staffroom and had to have his lessons covered, thus resulting in him winning the end of term league because the people covering him were in his team. For some reason, I wrote to the Times Educational Supplement about all of this.

There’s no doubt that organising cover made me anxious. Every morning I would get into work at 7:00 a.m. and would check the phone messages four or five times before pinning up the cover rota on the board at 8:00. During some days, my classes would be interrupted with a message that a member of staff had gone home ill and I had to arrange emergency cover. During those days there was quite a lot to get anxious about as Head of Department as well as teaching my own lessons but doing a job whereby I would have to ruin someone’s day was not a great job for me because I have this overwhelming need to be liked.

A few days ago I wrote about the anxiety I was feeling because a couple of channels were missing from our new TV setup. (I resolved all of it by cancelling BT and reverting back to SKY). It is fascinating to me that the anxiety I was feeling fifteen years ago about the cover rota was no different to the anxiety I felt three days ago about not being able to watch the “Alibi” channel or Movies24. It has made me reflect on whether the anxiety I feel is absolute or relative. Given several fairly important things to do (one of which was the non-trivial matter of ensuring that a class of thirty children had an adult to supervise them) or one trivial matter, my feelings seem to be the same. Is anxiety a measure of the situations I encounter or is it simply a reflection of my personality? Some people don’t seem to feel anxious about anything although I don’t know what happens to them underneath the surface. Conversely, some people always get very anxious about trivial matters. It always amazed me when I first started teaching at BHASVIC, a College for highly intelligent, highly motivated Sixth Form students, and a colleague would come into the staff room and complain that they had just had a very difficult class. I would think that although I didn’t know what class they had had, I could guarantee that it wasn’t a difficult class relative to a bottom set Year 9 Maths class on a rainy November afternoon at Oakmeeds. That was unfair of me because, relative to that teacher’s normal experiences, it probably WAS a difficult class. Relative to my laid back, stress free life at the moment, depriving me of the Movies 24 channel IS anxiety inducing. I dunno. Maybe that’s taking things a bit far.

In “Anxiety”, by Jason Isbell, the singer is in bed with his lover sleeping next to him and he’s wondering why he can’t relax. “I’m wide awake and I’m in pain”. He understands that his life is good, he’s “living in a fantasy” but he “can’t enjoy a goddamn thing.” He knows he is “a lucky man but so afraid that time will take it all from me“. I interpret this song as agreeing with my belief that some of us are more predisposed to being anxious than others. Maybe we all have a different potential for anxiety, an empty receptacle that we have to find a way to fill. For some of us, it’s a large vessel and for others, it’s smaller. Alternatively, everyone’s anxiety receptacle is the same size but some of us keep it more locked away and out of sight than others. Buy me a pint and we can sit in this pub and discuss this further. The recorded version on the album features the full band (“The 400 Unit”) but here’s an acoustic version which is possibly better, showcasing the lyrics and Jason Isbell’s fantastic, soulful, emotional voice.

Jason Isbell’s songs are deadly serious but he’s a very funny guy. He is married to a beautiful fiddle player, Amanda Shires and she plays in The 400 Unit. At one concert, Willie Nelson was invited up on stage to sing a song. The first thing Willie Nelson did was kiss Amanda Shires on the mouth. She later asked him whether he was annoyed. He replied “It’s Willie Nelson. First of all, he’s 82 years old. Second of all he could probably whip my ass. People who smoke that much pot don’t fight like normal, sober people. They’ll kick you in the ankle, then pee on you. They do weird shit, so I would not fight with Willie Nelson.”

“If We Were Vampires” is another song that reflects Jason Isbell’s anxieties. The song starts with him singing about the qualities that he loves in his partner but he realises that this won’t go on forever. Maybe, if they’re lucky, they’ll have forty years together but “one day I’ll be gone or you’ll be gone”. If they were immortal, they could treat death as a joke and, by inference, they could also treat life as a joke. As it is, they need to take the time to appreciate what they have because “likely one of us will have to spend some days alone.”

“White Man’s World” is a complex song. It starts with acknowledging that he is “a white man living in a white man’s world”. He has a wife and a baby daughter. He is in a privileged position. However, he explains that the comforts enjoyed by many white people have come at the expense of other races. “I’ve got the bones of the red man under my feet.” In the past he has made racist jokes and he wishes he could change the past. “I’m a white man looking in a black man’s eyes, wishing I’d never been one of the guys who pretended not to hear another white man’s joke. Oh, the times ain’t forgotten“. Jason Isbell wrote the song is response to Donald Trump becoming President of the USA in 2016.

Jason Isbell has said that he doesn’t feel a need to be careful when criticising Trump even though it may alienate some of his audience. “It’s not a Peckinpah Western; it’s the real world. You can’t root for the bad guy.

At one point, Amanda Shires was touring whilst Jason Isbell was at home with his daughter. A stray cat came onto the tour bus and she kept it, naming it Richard Thompson. She didn’t explain this to Jason Isbell. When they phoned and he asked her how things were going she explained that Richard Thompson had thrown a fit, pissed all over the seats and ripped all the seats open.

“Hope The High Road” is the best song ever. Well, at least, it’s the best song about Trump’s election in 2016. It starts with a confession that he thought he understood things and the people that he grew up with. “I used to think that this was my town. What a stupid thing to think.” He realises things have turned pretty bad and he’s feeling very down. “I hear you’re fighting off a breakdown. I myself am on the brink.” He doesn’t understand. “There can’t be more of them than us.” However, he’s not going to feel sorry for himself and he realises that even with Trump’s election, he is living the life of a privileged white man. “I’ve heard enough of the white man’s blues. I’ve sang enough about myself.” The chorus is just exceptional. “I know you’re tired and you ain’t sleeping well. Uninspired and likely mad as hell. But wherever you are, I hope the high road leads you home again to a world you want to live in.” My interpretation of this is that it can be seen to be about a relationship (I hope that you and I can be happy together) but he also hopes that the country recovers (and, in time, it’s world which we are proud to live in). It’s a wonderful song and here is a wonderful performance of it.

In 2016, when Jason Isbell wrote this song, there was a lot to be anxious about. In 2020, when I have been writing this blog, there is probably even more to be anxious about but at least Roo and I can watch a film on Movies 24 tonight. Thank goodness. Now what can I feel anxious about next?

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

2 thoughts on “The Nashville Sound by Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit

  1. New to me! As I’m a great fan of John Hiatt and Nitty Gritty DB I’m loving this already. Thanks! Guitar work is terrific too!

    Liked by 2 people

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