Flaskaland
Sunday, November 21, 2004
 
A view of here from another place, way off and far away: Dixie Lullaby

The Road to Surfdom shares a moment of recognition and perception about the similarity of experience from across the great divide:

"This similarity was brought home to me when I read Mark Kemp's book, Dixie Lullaby.
Kemp is a music journalist who has worked for Rolling Stone and MTV. He was born in North Carolina and the book tells about becoming conscious and verbal at exactly the time the schools were becoming desegregated and the other momentous changes happening at the instigation and in the wake of the Civil Rights' movement.

"Kemp is very good at capturing the sense of confusion he felt as a child, especially as attitudes hardened within various branches of his family. He explains the infuriating feeling of internalising a sense of "white Southern guilt" while at the same time resenting deeply the sneering superiority of those Northerners who now felt licensed to look down on all things Southern. Most interestingly, he tells of moving North himself once he left school in pursuit of work and becoming one of those sneering, superior Northerners that he'd hated and resented.

"The type will be instantly recognisable to any Australian who has encountered one of those more-British-than-the-British types you always seem to run into in London, the sort with the affected Oxbridge accent and the ready story about his/her love of all things Aboriginal, anything to distance themselves from what they imagine to be the backwardness of the land they've "escaped" and to ingratiate themselves to the Londoners up whose arses they were eager to crawl. The Brits who bad-mouthed Australia were painful enough, but you could learn to laugh them off after a while realsing their attitudes were based on pig ignorance. The self-hating Australians were an altogether different type of creature.

"Kemp's story in Dixie Lullaby is ultimately about his attempts to make peace with "his" South and the way he did this through the discovery of bands like The Allman Brothers and Lynard Skynyrd. For a music fan, this part of the story is fascinating purely from a musical point of view, but the story goes a lot deeper than the mere recounting of a fan's obsessions:

At first, we turned to music. Hippie music. Music that embraced alternative lifestyles. Then we discovered marijuana. The combination of music and drugs took us far away from our dreary mill town lives. My favorite band was British —the Rolling Stones. I had no idea at the time that the Stones had been influenced by such southern American artists as black blues and rock & roll pioneers Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon, and Chuck Berry, and the white rockabilly and country musicians Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly, and George Jones. Those artists had made their careers in the very region that my friends and I found so suffocating. I completely missed the connection. Mick Jagger came from a land so far away that it didn't seem real. Jagger himself didn't seem real. He wore eyeliner and sequined jumpsuits, and strutted about the stage with effeminate gestures. In Asheboro, North Carolina, boys played football, chewed tobacco, graduated from high school to enter college or go into business, or quit school at sixteen to work for one of the local textile mills or furniture factories. I adored Mick Jagger, but to emulate him was to expose myself to ridicule. Besides, I couldn't really relate to him. He was so much larger than life.

Then I discovered the Allman Brothers Band, a mixed-race, blues-influenced rock group based in Macon, Georgia. The Allmans dressed in flannels and jeans, like I did. The singer, Gregg Allman, crooned with a melancholy I'd never before heard from someone who shared my reality. It was as though he were speaking directly to me. In the band's 1969 psychedelic-gospel dirge "Dreams," Allman moaned the words "I went up on the mountain / To see what I could see / The whole world was falling / Right down in front of me." I was only eleven years old the first time I heard that song, but I felt I knew what Gregg Allman was talking about. In the years following desegregation, the mood of the South was chaotic. Times were changing. Wrong seemed right and right seemed wrong. The Allmans embraced that chaos, combining country, blues, jazz, and gospel into an otherworldly musical stew that allowed me to feel conflicting emotions: sadness, joy, sorrow, pride. Between 1969 and 1973, the Allmans sang of what it felt like to be saddled with pain ("Dreams," "It's Not My Cross to Bear"); they sang of redemption ("Revival"); and they sang of falling in love with (and within) the awesome beauty of the rural South ("Blue Sky," "Southbound").

"The book is the story of his life, but it also follows him and his father and he travels back through the South, meeting up with old friends and visiting old hang-outs, and eventually everyone, more or less, coming to terms with everybody else. There is a somewhat surprising and nicely poignant end, as it turns out.

"As I say, one of the things I found enjoyable about the book was the shock of recognition, that someone seemingly so distant from my life had had some experiences that were actually pretty similar. To realise how common such prejudices are is to go at least part of the way to overcoming them. In short, it's a book I highly recommend.


 




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Compiling the best online articles about music so there will be more of both in the future. In periods of drought, the reader will be innundated by my own blogs on the matters.

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