Jack Pendarvis recently wrote that, “...there is no more Southern Music”, a depressing yet true statement. “Game Over”, his article in the 75th issue of The Oxford American, describes this decline in one of the South’s finest traditions. I would agree with Pendarvis, though disagree as to the why and the what.
However trite these knock off white boy blues are, and yes, it takes one to know one, they are not the reason southern music has died. In truth, it’s not only southern music that has died, but also southern culture as a whole. And it has not died in the traditional sense of the word. It is more accurate to say that the southern way of life has lost its identity, its uniqueness, its cardinal direction.
There are certain things I am immediately reminded of when I read Faulkner’s Absalom Absalom. The first is unmistakable feelings of loss. Taking place before, during, and after the civil war, the book captures the feelings of an entire generation who have lost their way of life. Here however, I contradict myself. How can a southern culture, built on stories of loss of identity and existential crisis, loose its identity? I would attribute it to the second truth of Faulkner’s to which I attest. That is, the tendency of every southerner, native or born again, to speak in the way that Faulkner writes. They tell stories never ending, the supposed conclusion of one only leading the start of another, a veritable history book written in the parenthetical.
Though southern in its roots, Faulkner’s trade of photographing eras in the low lighting of their darkest hours has grown far past its habitat, much like the Kudzu that now threatens Rowan Oak’s pastures and out buildings. McCarthy transplanted it from Tennessee to the west, Twain piloted it all up and down the Mississippi and Vladimir Nabokov cultivated his own garden of depression in Russia.
How can an identity of phrase and speech be stolen? It starts with words like “y’all” and “aint” diffusing into the vocabulary of the nation. Then, the train wreck of culture builds and culminates when New York times articles about Ole Miss are printed out and handed back and forth from alumni and future students. These “rebels” revel in the attention that their beloved Grove receives, placing the column between their bible and abandoned copy of The Help on their bedside table, dreaming of the dress or sport coat they will wear to their first tailgate.
This expose on the beauty of the South not only “humbles” the students of their opportunities, but baits a hook of class and culture before casting into the many geographical regions of the country. As I toured the campus of Auburn, yet another of the South’s uniquely beautiful campuses, I meet other prospectives from Utah, Texas and Pennsylvania. This baffled me, I had no idea that anyone would consider travelling to the South to study while I dreamed of attending the University of Colorado-Boulder no matter the consequences. A friend and future lawyer at Ole Miss confessed that “No one tells you about the girls, but when you get on campus you can tell they’re special”. Another nail in the coffin of the South. You no longer need to travel and experience to find women so unique, you simply turn on the regional search on eHarmony.
For years, I subscribed to the thought that Dixie alone was the keeper of loss, bearer of the keys to resentment and spite. However, in years of late I have found this to be untrue. The economic recession of 2008, the Arab Spring movement in the middle east, and the Occupy Wall Street protests show that the South is not the only area swamped with hardships and degradation.
Increased globalization and political awareness has revealed that the South is not the only geographical region of losers. Which points out another loss of Southern identity. We’re no longer losers. Our universities and colleges are some of the greatest centers of learning in the country, our football teams win, some more that others, our actors star, and most importantly, our culture spreads. Seersucker in New York? Mint Juleps in L.A.? Bluegrass festivals in England? Who knew so many people would come to idolize life in the grove?
I would attribute it to the spirit of “never loosing a party”. The world, in its depression, has turned to the experts in masking feelings with linens, literature and liquer. The bible belt now provides for the world what it, historically, provided only for the flat broke writer, the estranged sons, the empty, cheated and unpopular. A chance to win at drowning their sorrows, a banner behind which to escape self doubt, a haven where alcoholism is accepted and moderation is frowned upon.
As a culture once closely guarded by tradition, wealth, blood, and even muskets is swallowed whole by a vast population, Southerners find themselves in a conundrum. That is, to globalize and loose their identity, or to remain stagnant, dooming themselves to the changing tides of pop culture and consumer fickleness. As predicted at the end of every playing of “From Dixie with Love”, the South has risen again. But for how long? Are we doomed like Icarus for embracing the wave of popularity until it dashes us against the rocks? I believe so. The South has risen, and will die again as soon as the streams bourbon and bow-ties dry up to reveal the sacks of garbage submerged in the proverbial mud. And then, southerners will have something to sing, write, and cheer about once again.