Drink | Listen with Steven Grubbs
A few years back, for a period of time, Steve and I would sit across a table from one another at an Athens coffeeshop and work on our respective projects (and eavesdrop/try not to look like we were eavesdropping). I was writing fiction; Steve was writing smart and funny essays about food and culture, or maybe his hypnotic liner notes to the wine list at Empire State South, or maybe an irresistible new song for his band, Little Francis. I’m so pleased he agreed to put his own spin on Eat | Read this week.
Today I’m eating what probably counts as haute Indian food. I’m sitting in a tiny, window-lit restaurant in a pleasant development full of right angles in a reconditioned part of Atlanta’s middle. There’s Bossa Nova coming over my shoulder. I could easily hate Bossa Nova if I wanted. I do sort of hate the idea of people liking Bossa Nova.
Over the weekend, I was in Nashville, and I went to a cocktail bar that had rules and a bowtied maitre d’ who spoke with what I’m 85% percent sure was a cooked-up southern accent. I was getting a dinner theater vibe. Nobody actually talks that way. Not since, like, Bull Run. I drank two cocktails, one based on various bitters and crème de cacao, and the other involving mezcal and amaro. They were both very good. I ate pork rinds out of a bowl and a small corn dog that replaced the dog aspect with a shrimp. Then, I went to see Kenny G play.
It turns out that Kenny G’s last album was a Bossa Nova record. His percussionist told the crowd where the style had come from, that it arose as a habit of people coming home from dance clubs at the end of the night and wanting to continue partying. They would get out pots and pans and kitchen utensils, play beats with/upon them, and dance quietly, so the neighbors wouldn’t get mad. They called it Bossa Nova, meaning ‘new thing.’ Bossa isn’t actually the word for ‘thing’ in Portuguese, but I was trying to take Instagram videos, and flying kind of high from the cocktails etc., so I missed that explanation.
Kenny G started to play “Girl From Ipanema,” the most tired of all Bossa Nova songs, but then he stopped it, thus revealing the joke, and went into a more obscure tune, also from the Getz/Gilberto record, called “Desafinado.” This juke was the most punk thing Kenny G has ever done. A slender middle finger to the smooth jazz establishment.
Earlier that day, I’d eaten way too much at a family-style southern restaurant. Nashville is full of terrific places like this, holdovers of old dining forms that serve edible relics. At the tables are usually about as many young cool people as anybody, the boys wearing the same uniform as those in the complicated coffee shop on the east of town: that 1940’s haircut, the asspocket hankie—basically a filling station worker. I’m not sure how I feel about all this aesthetic tourism. After lunch, though, I bought a large stack of used country records—really old stuff like Slim Whitman and Webb Pierce—so what do I know. But I do really love Webb Pierce. Maybe those dudes love that haircut.
In the small haute Indian restaurant, a Bossa Nova version of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” has just started playing. This I immediately hate, whether I want to or not. Desire doesn’t enter into it; the same way wanting to love something doesn’t make any sense. I could make a joke here about it being more like a kind of hell, but that would be too extreme, and not funny enough.