In the span of four weeks back in 1984, Steve Earle, Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett, and Mark Germino were all signed to major label record deals. Historically this watershed event was a reaction to the Urban Cowboy phase running out of steam and has been humorously dubbed "the Great Nashville Credibility Scare."
Houston Press: Your records certainly aren't the records of a PC guy, yet you obviously have entree on Music Row. How do you work that side of the street vs. your performing recording side?
Mark Germino: I'm fairly far to the left politically, but I find politically correct Democrats to be equally as loathsome as liberal-hating Republicans. Both feed off their own ridiculous fears and at the end of the day both are usually carrying around self-serving cloak and dagger agendas that support those fears. So if any of my songs are anti-PC, it was probably unintentional, and if any happen to carry an outright PC message, then it was probably unavoidable. As for songs recorded by other artists, when it's happened those are generally surprise accidents. Occasionally something will spit out of me that I recognize as a mainstream possibility and only then do I make an effort to utilize the industry machine that operates in town. It's always nice when Johnny Cash or Vince Gill or Kenny Chesney does one of your songs because it pays bills and maybe even validates your efforts to a certain extent.
HP: You completed three novels during a sabbatical from music. What was the impetus to come back to music?
Germino: Well, if I had known the impetus responsible for coercing me into giving up my music to write two novels of literary fiction and one mildly sci fi book, I would have run and hidden. I had no idea of the weightiness of what I'd embarked on. It was a lot of trial and error before I actually hit my own creative groove. Quite early I realized if I were to pick up my guitar even once, I would never finish the books. The allure was just too strong for me. So, I didn't write songs or perform for five years and it about killed me.
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HP: You have that Terry Allen "Peggy Leggy" blue collar realism with your characters and portraits. Where do you get characters like the one in "Rosemary's New Constitution?"
Germino: Sometimes they are fleshed out literally, as was the case in "Rosemary's New Constitution." Rosemary was a friend of an African-American friend of mine. The day of the 1992 Presidential election, I gave her a ride to the polling place and in the process of waiting in line I got to meet many of her friends. One was a very outspoken lady named Rosemary who went off about what she would do if she was in charge of it all. I was inspired by her theory of allowing a group's weaknesses to be strengthened and to suddenly hold all power based on their current sagging station in life.
HP: How did you hook up with Tim Krekel and the Sluggers? Was that a record company match or something more organic?
Germino: At the time, I was the one with a record deal and an album to make and Tim had his band The Sluggers and was available, so it was a natural fit. Tim and I had already written some songs together. I only co-write about 10% of the songs I write, but writing with Tim is always a lot of fun. He is such a talent.
HP: Who are the young up and comers to watch from Nashville right now?
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Germino: As for ones I personally know, Dustin Welch and Justin Earle are wonderful. Both are on the right track, writing songs for the right reasons. I find their music to be tinted with a sense of purpose without appearing too polished or vacant of the opposite of that, in the sense that their songs are not purposelessly ethereal. They do it right with an artistic finesse and responsibility attached to something genuine which is far and away from the hydroponic bullshit a lot of new Nashville writers are assembling these days.
HP: Who are your favorite unknown or under-appreciated Nashville writers?
Germino: Rob Stanley, Cadillac Holmes, Warren Wilken, Ty Stone, and Michelle Chambers. - William Michael Smith
Mark Germino performs Friday, March 2, at Anderson Fair,