Catacombs of Music City

Sounds weird, I know. Like, catacombs? Music City? But over the course of the thought I’ve been putting into the world of the turn of the 22nd century, which will be featured for the first time in my next book “Heart of Proxima” (I’ve already completed some 27,000 words of it), I’ve been circling back to my post from last July “A Music City for my Alternate History”, thinking what will become of the capital of country music in the face of the 21st century’s winds of change.

Cities of the 22nd Century

By the turn of the 21st century, the transportation infrastructure is predominately underground, housed in massive tunnels of road, rail, and garage, melted out by nuclear subterrene. Towers and buildings stretch miles into the sky in the old downtown and in the edge cities stimulated by freeway and airway junctions. The abortive suburban fringe of tract homes, their little lots secluded from each other by kudzu hedges, lie abandoned or repurposed for more industrial uses, much like a reverse development to our loft apartments, the fringes of the ever-upward-expanding city centers becoming overgrown with kudzu, ghosts of the new rural living’s harbingers.

The city centers, while structurally extremely dense, has little more population density than it does today, due to accommodations for each individual skyrocketing in square feet and cubic feet, and occupancy rates steadily lowering in the face of an ever-richer and more mobile population. The result of this vertical sprawl and this underground sequestration of all the infrastructure is what a modern of our 2022 would probably perceive as eerie: buildings of Trantorian proportions but with little more human activity on the street than the leafiest suburb of today. The inhuman proportions of all this infrastructure would lend every major city a touch of the sublime.

In 2000 ground transportation still dominates, even if there’s a strong presence of tiltrotor aircraft flitting to and fro those towers. By 2100, however, technology advances to where personal aircraft are the dominant method of transportation. Buildings and towers are reconfigured from parking being underground to parking being high above ground so aircraft can easily access them. As the roads empty of ground automobiles and the rails empty of passenger trains, the ground infrastructure is gradually abandoned.

Freeways and railways might generally be kept in more or less good condition into 2100, perhaps being used more recreationally than functionally — the soul of the Interstate may become automobile-enthusiast racers, rather than anyone trying to get from point A to point B, and denizens of this timeline may not even miss a beat with this transition, since the country has already been dotted with roads designed for pleasure driving from as early as the 1930s (this was in fact a New Deal program in real life, which is why we have roads like the Blue Ridge Parkway; in my timeline this is taken much further).

Catacombs of the Grand Ole Opry?

The vast underground garages, on the other hand, will become superfluous, and the vast majority of their volume will fall into neglect much sooner. By 2100 they’ll be approaching the kind of dankness and mustiness seen in the Chamber of Secrets from “Harry Potter”. Every major city will have these tunnels, which opens up the possibility that, like the mines of Paris before them, they might become catacombs: underground receptacles for cultic rituals and the keeping of the dead.

Now that might be fertile ground for a story. Where this becomes relevant for Nashville is that there’s a creepy possibility of tombs and shrines to country music stars being located in these catacombs. After all, the Grand Ole Opry, which is located in a miles-high Grand Old Opry Tower, and the Ryman Auditorium, which is located right across the street from it, both have their own parking garages and transportation links extending perhaps several miles underground (according to my back-of-the-envelope calculation for the volume of excavation required for their infrastructure), which will fall into disuse, so the idea of people associated with the Opry choosing to be buried there in mausoleums within these abandoned structures isn’t nearly as far-fetched as you might think.

Much like Egyptian pharaohs and even Anglo-Saxon nobles, these tombs might be specially designed in the form of a conveyance for their souls into the afterlife, complete with their treasures and personal effects; performing artists, after all, have more than enough costumes and jewelry to Egyptian- or Sutton-Hoo-style tombs, which might function also as museums for their fans and descendants, who can be with what’s left of their heroes and their ancestor from their death to the end of time.

They might even be used, hopefully respectfully, as performance venues to connect with the heritage of the arts. A much creepier additional possibility is the programming of a computer or artificial intelligence to oversee the tomb and even interact with visitors, as a simulacrum of the man that was, though this smacks too much of Landru’s computer from Star Trek’s “Return of the Archons” for comfort, not to mention how it would be excellent fodder for a horror story.

To be honest, these tombs might be more prevalent in places like California and Nevada, but I’m envisioning this as a setup to a spiritual sequel to my Orphans of Opry Tower story I outlined in my “Music City for my Alternate History” blog post.

Gothic Vibes?

As the world population empties into the deep countryside and into outer space, cities are turned over to being hubs of business and tourism, industry migrates off-world, and agriculture takes up less and less land due to migration off-world and skyrocketing yields per acre, the primeval forest of the eastern United States is reborn, leading to an almost post-apocalyptic medieval-esque landscape reminiscent of a science-fictional take on certain aspects of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.

Tunnel entrances from these seemingly primeval woods, grown over with moss and vine, leading into fully functional tombs home to meeting places for various brotherhoods and sisterhoods of the 22nd century sounds like an awesome setup for a story. There’s a certain romantic quality to it as well, which I might lean into by coupling a heroine with a denizen of one of these centuries-old kudzu houses, perhaps converted into a boutique robotics workshop.

I’m thinking the girl might be an old-money legacy type, from a long line of women who were in a particular sisterhood centered on those tombs, the primeval forest, and the region’s heritage. Leaning in to some of the more creepy connotations of all this worldbuilding, she might be more or less swept into fulfilling her destiny without any real deliberate intention on her part, overwriting her own plans for her life’s future as she is transformed into the sisterhood’s view of the perfect woman as part of her ritual initiation, like she becomes possessed by the spirits of those ancestresses and her sisters, feeling also a compulsion to find a man worthy of the sisterhood’s standards to take her as a very traditional wife and mother, so as to fulfill her feminine destiny and continue the cycle for another generation.

You know, I’m getting some seriously gothic vibes from this setup. Maybe I should lean into that, complete with the Landru-esque creepout factor in the tombs. I don’t know. I think some cool stuff could be teased out of it. After the bright, warm, almost Christmas-y feel of the Orphans of Opry Tower, a cold, dark, almost Halloween-y feel of the Catacombs of Opry Tower? Ooh…

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