Finding ourselves in Moses

Those who have not lived in Nashville for a long time may be surprised to learn that the “nudie” statue in the center of the Demonbreun traffic circle was not always fully embraced. When it was first unveiled, there were a wide array of opinions given, from admiration to disdain, from confusion to celebration. While there were of course some minor prudish concerns about the nudity itself, the main question seemed to be “What the heck does this have to do with us?”

To be clear, everyone understood that its name and inspiration was music and that this was supposed to represent the fact that we were a hotbed for live and recorded songs, but, beyond that, people seemed baffled about how the sculpture itself represented that spirit. If we hadn’t been told its name, would it make any sense at all? And while I personally liked the image quite a lot, I wasn’t  sure if it was an attempt to define us in a classic fashion (uplifting our cultural capital, making us the “Athens of the South” rather than emphasizing our country strains) or if it was an attempt to shake things up a little. It was difficult for many to know whether to embrace it or not.

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A bit after its unveiling (and I don’t know why it took so long in retrospect), people started clandestinely dressing up the statues late at night. From Predators outfits to country music artists to pandemic masking, the nudies became alive, taken over and redecorated when no one was looking. The sculpture became something of a delight that was difficult to imagine. 

Regardless of who was doing the work, it was always entertaining.  Indeed, even when there was an obvious marketing angle to the makeover, it still seems creative and fun. It suddenly seemed very, very Nashville.

Yes, it’s “Musica,” but it became something more. It’s a place for us to play a little, to take things over for just a minute (unlike a tattoo or a state toppling, we know these costumes are going to be fleeting moments of play). Even when we weren’t individually the target for the makeover, we were all part of the community around which it made sense.

The first time this happened, I remember the late (and quite wonderful) Gail Kerr writing a column in the Tennessean (I can’t find it; I did look) which noted that this was a sign that we, as a city, had finally and fully embraced the statue. It had become something more than an Alan LeQuire sculpture—it was now ours. From then on, she noted, and has proved to be correct, we would never see those nude dancers the same way again.

While it’s not quite the same thing, my belief is that a similar form of magic happened last Saturday night when our own Soccer Moses walked to the front of the supporter’s section to play the guitar solo that starts the game. 

While I realize that this was not the subterfuge of a Musica makeover, that it was indeed a top down decision made by the club, it still had the effect of altering the meaning of the guitar solo, of changing how we collectively felt about it, of making it about us. 

Yes, the man behind the beard also happens to be a local artist, and yes, that puts him in same lineage with most everyone else who has played that guitar, but we can all agree that there’s something different about this. Soccer Moses is one of us; a better and more fun version of most of us, but he’s not an employee of the club; he’s just a very jubilant member of the Backline. He jumps and sings like all of us. He loves the team, like all of us. While he has to pose for more selfies than any of the rest of us, he remains firmly and decidedly ours.

And this reinterpretation of the guitar solo moment only solidified in the days that followed. While I watched the video of him walking down the stairs, “Let My People Goal” banner raised high as the crowd parted in front of him, so did millions of people around the globe, on twitter, on espn, on a news channel in Melbourne. A friend from the west coast wrote me this morning, forwarding ESPN’s posting of the clip and wanted to know more about both the solo and Soccer Moses. And he wasn’t the only one. I’ve heard from multiple people who wanted to know more about both Moses and this whole guitar solo bit. The number of people reaching out to Moses himself must be astronomical.

And the beauty of it all is this: while some onlookers absolutely loved it (well, mostly us, but a lot of folks around MLS territory) and while others absolutely hated it (mostly, from what I can see, the great “gatekeepers” of proper fandom in the United Kingdom, they all know that it is ours. Not just an MLS image at large, but a Nashville SC image in particular. 

In retrospect, it seems like a no brainer; I wonder why it took so long to have Soccer Moses play that role. On the other hand, I’m just glad it happened. Moses stood in for all of us in that moment, and he made the guitar solo something a little different, something I look forward to seeing in the future. I’m ready to embrace this thing, and that certainly brought me a step closer to fully doing so.

Again, this is our moment to shine as a team, as a club, as supporters, and as a city. 

Soccer Moses took us a several steps along that path with those few seconds of shredding.

Let’s move forward.

Author: John Sloopgrew up in Asheville, NC, and after forays to Georgia and Iowa, found his way to Nashville over 25 years ago. On a trip to Portland, Oregon, 15 years ago, he watched the (then) USL Portland Timbers youth squad play one afternoon and fell completely and totally in love with soccer, to the detriment of his love of all other sports. In addition to thinking, writing, watching, and talking about soccer, Sloop teaches media and rhetoric at Vanderbilt. He is currently serving as the Chair of the Board of the Belcourt Theater and is part of the team that runs Tenx9 Nashville, a monthly story telling event.


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