I was at JJs the day Leonard Cohen died. A whisper made its way through the cafe as the news spread from table to table. We sat on the couches quietly and Trevor and Ross cued up his low mournful tone through the crackly speaker system. I didn't know too much about the man, but I recognized the heavy sigh that had settled over the cafe.
It was a strangely beautiful day outside, a Monday. Trump was about to be elected. No one wanted more bad news.
The long hall was now a place of mourning. JJs was Leonard's for the evening.
This, I think, was her greatest strength. People sure as hell didn't gather for the blueberry cobbler coffee (I did). It was the place where Leonard Cohen died and then was brought back to life until closing time.
I won't bemoan exactly what JJs meant to me. But I will say this: JJs represented a scarcity in the city. A place to sit quietly and talk excitedly. She encouraged both solitude and community.
I've been thinking about the phenomenon of an entire coffee shop sitting enraptured by the sound of a local radio show being pumped over speakers into the cafe (I think it was T2's show.) Witnessing the bleed of people working service jobs spreading in the community fabric. As we sat there, like we were at the movies, someone called in and requested a song and then everyone listened to that too. Going about their individual work or conversations, but listening.
Captive audiences, unwilling to negotiate with the freshman crowd at Bongo or the hustle of Portland Brew were subjected to whatever weird artist the barista/radio DJ/punk god/lo-fi torchbearer/niche obsessive wanted to play from their perch behind the dark counter—as long as the mandatory 3 pm classical embargo had passed.
There was something special about that. The free-for-all of the airwaves was so validating and thrilling. I'd go in knowing I'd hear all kinds of random shit at any given moment. It felt like an escape from the carefully curated, meticulously soulless vibe that's quietly bulldozing whatever weirdness Nashville has left.
Highlights included: Classical 91.1 and YouTube jazz. Tammy Wynette during finals week. Semisonic's Closing Time fifteen times in a row. The weekly Saturday Night Fever service (I walked in early one Saturday morning and Sam and Soyoun were playing the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack to an empty cafe.) A day of lo-fi, high-qual songs by our mutual friends, a closing shift of metal, the only coffee shop to be caught dead bumping Lana Del Rey's new single. It had been months since I'd seen Meg and I got a text saying she played my already crackly Garageband dump over the speakers. I could hear it in my head. It felt fully formed now. JJs could do that.
Somehow both a sanctuary and the waiting area in an airport terminal, (both are: equalizing, liminal, take you as you are, just FOR STARTERS) some of my best work and deepest connections were forged at JJ. Some of my worst days. Greatest days, too. It's a small measure of comfort to know a crop of fresh young students will be living on that real estate once the building is knocked down. I know what they're missing, though. I wish they could have experienced it too.
We've weathered each change: the purge of DIY venues after the Oakland warehouse fire, Fond Object's impending doom, news of layoffs at the Nashville Scene and Tennessean. These cultural havens are shuttered suddenly, constantly. I don't have to rehash this. You've seen and felt the impact of the freight train. Slowly the city is being consumed. At first, though saddened, I wasn't too afraid because I thought at least we'd have JJ. She'd preserve and push for that ever elusive sense of community absent from this new era. There would always be something unexpected playing at 1912 Broadway. The loving and bizarro spirit could survive. Now I'm less sure.
The Wigwam © 2019