Say the Bomb goes off while I’m at this music seminar. Say songwriting instructor Barbara Cloyd’s house happens to be impervious to radiation. She’s laid in supplies to last fifteen years. In order to survive… oh, I can’t remember the setup for this.

You know the deal, though, right? It’s a brain teaser/personality test. Limited supplies, World’s End (or a life boat, perhaps), three people have to be thrown out for the others to survive, and the puzzle becomes what personal attributes you (as God) are looking to preserve in the species and/or what attributes are useful to keep the people in the shelter/boat/desert island alive?

In this exercise, modified to fit the Nashville music industry, three songwriters must be cast out and will have, therefore, no influence on modern country music nor will they reap any benefit from same.

Also they will die from nuclear radiation.

Or something.

Here are the twelve songwriters trapped in Barbara’s house, starting from my left:


Professional nurse in her 40s. Funny. Demonstrates her leadership in various ways, like, for example, initiating this seminar. It’s an “invitational” of former seminar attendees who Barbara thinks are serious about the music biz. This is actually the second annual “invitational,” and both have been Liz’s brainchildren because she intends to write and sell a country song and loves hanging out with similarly afflicted people.


Still in high school. Blonde. Ambitious. Her mom’s there with her, and would presumably also require rations from the nuclear pantry. Katelyn’s going to be a Nashville star and she’s here to learn songwriting. Even though she’s generally professional and polite, I (as a former high school trombone player/funny T-shirt wearer) can sense the “Ohm’gawd” vibes coming off her and spend most of the seminar sort of trying to avoid her, which is not such a good idea since we writers are supposed to try to get in on the ground floor with artists. Unfortunately, in this instance, doing so would make me feel Humbert-Humberty (especially with her mom there).


Nice lady. Doesn’t socialize much with the rest of us during lunch breaks and off-moments because maybe she’s also visiting other friends in Nashville or is going to the hotel to feed pets or kids… I don’t know. By the end of the seminar, all I really know about her is she lives on a farm, maybe in Illinois, maybe in Iowa, and she’s nice. Her songs are sincere and emotional. Her experiences as a farm wife might be useful in an apocalypse.


A transplant from Athens, Georgia. She’s about my age, and told me that when she was in her early 20s she used to date R.E.M.’s Mike Mills (which I’m very impressed by). She’s an entertainment lawyer by trade. Her songs are expertly crafted, and her main complaint is that she feels excluded from the Nashville “cool kids club.” Personally, I think the Mike Mills thing alone gives her a pass in the survival game.


New Jersey lawyer. Bristling with energy. Smells like money. Friendly to all, and has that habit of developing something unique to josh with each person about. Very successful with co-writes, winning awards and getting attention for himself and his songs, which all adhere skillfully to the prescribed formulas. Actually rents a nice apartment in Nashville—partly because his daughter’s at Vanderbilt, and partly because he’s aggressively serious about selling a song. If mankind went feral, we might all be working for him in a forest or cave.


Likable for his wry, dry, rapid and absurd humor—and also because it seems like maybe things happen both for and to him. He’s had good luck in his life as a professional musician and toured with, among others, country great Hank Thompson in, like, the ’80s; he’s also had bad luck, as his wife has developed chronic illness and though his New York recording studio is successful, he needs a cash infusion. He got in a wreck at the beginning of the seminar, so he came late. Will he bring good or bad luck to our group of survivors? Is there even such a thing as luck?


A powerful singer and skilled guitarist. A gregarious songwriter’s advocate. An openly religious person. Has a radio show in Knoxville on which she plays cuts by unsigned singer-songwriters. I don’t really know, but she can probably hunt, skin, dress and cook a deer or other game animal. She seems fierce and capable. Also, if zombies attack the house, she could probably take a lot of them out.


A pleasant guy from Minnesota. Professional musician. Makes his living with his guitar. Also had friends in town and left early each day of the seminar. I don’t know anything else about him, really. He had that fun Minnuhsohhht’n way of pronouncing his “o’s”.


Polite to the point of being shy, and has that Southern understated humor that’s easy to underestimate—he’s not going to force himself on anybody. By the time you’ve heard his heartfelt songs, and singing, you realize he’s a clever, quick, soulful dude. His wife paints. His son (he showed us a YouTube video taken at their church) is an excellent guitar player. He owns a machine shop in Alabama, so obviously we have to preserve him because he’s skilled mechanically which we’re going to need in our little crew of survivors. Almost certainly he would let the ladies eat his portion of the food if they asked for it.


Has written a number one hit. Hosts the renowned Bluebird nightclub’s Writer’s Night and has heard so many songs that her snap judgments are pretty convincing and her advice is coming from one who has heard it all. We’ve all learned a lot from her. NOTE: It’s bad form to throw the teacher and hostess out of her own home.


She drove all the way from Canada. Mother of at least a couple kids. She has no demos, so sings all her songs aloud to the room. She styles hair for a living, though times have been hard since she became allergic to perm solution. Her songs are all kind of old-fashioned, and she seems a little out of her element, although everyone likes her.


Oh, whatever. Given my apparent inability to figure out a song that can rise to the next level in Nashville, I should just volunteer to walk out into the uranic hellscape. I’m a fumbling handyman; a layman in the worlds of medicine, mechanics and theology; a lesser musician; not much of a cook; and probably not a reliable repository of human knowledge for application in the new world: What were the important lessons of federalism? How is bread made? What’s the first step when jailbreaking an iPhone, or the ratio of gas to oil in a two-cycle engine? I don’t know. I’m pretty useless in this scenario, I have to admit, though self-preservation instincts will probably kick in here any second, I hope, and I can mount a pro-me campaign.

Who do you think should be thrown out of this scene? Who should Nashville get rid of, to make country music stronger and ensure its survival?