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Walkin' After Midnight: A Journey to the Heart of Nashville
By Lauren St. John 
ISBN 0 330 39181 
X Picador An imprint of Macmillian Publishers, Ltd. 
2000 London 

Published quietly only in the United Kingdom, South African author Lauren St. John, a golf journalist, succeeded in her quest to the heart of Nashville, making the journey unnecessary for the rest of us would-be Americana/No Depression/bluegrass/country music fans and aspiring boosters. She also makes it obvious that it would be impossible anyway. They may labor in obscurity, or at the pinnacle of popularity, but these people are busy! 

Like the blind men exploring an elephant, the book follows St. John’s journey of growing understanding as she encounters Nashville’s players around town and on the road. In relating the tale of her year of living musically, she profiles the best known of the unknown (Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Buddy and Julie Miller) and their supporting casts. She explores the nuts-and-bolts of the creative and commercial process with high-priced executives and shoestring independent upstarts. The champions of even lesser known, but equally important Nashville issues like women, race relations and the repealing death penalty are given a voice as are the audiences that make it all possible.

Doors and people were slow to open to this former London Times sports correspondent, not unlike they are for any hopeful going to Nashville with stars in his or her eyes, but when they do open, they are the right doors to people whose lives swing dizzyingly between the heights and the valleys, whose stories make a compelling case for preferring the fringes, even as those offbeat characters stand poised to become The Next Big Thing, or at least the last thing standing as the weight of the bloated, unimaginative behemoth of country radio collapses on weak unit sales. 

Faithful fans of the above-mentioned artistes will want a copy of this import, as well as any aspiring writer who thinks they want to tackle the underside of a cultural movement in a time of change. St. James’ journey to the heart of Nashville is also a journey to the heart of contemporary American culture, making this a must-read for all observers of American life.

Reviewed by Linda LaFianza 1/27/2003


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