Another Deep Southern Gen X sampler, from “the lists”

The section in level:deepsouth called “the lists” is for collecting and sharing articles, sound files, videos, and images from Generation X’s early years in the Deep South and from today. Below is a sampler.

Bear: The Hard Life and Good Times of Alabama’s Coach Bryant by Paul “Bear” Bryant  with John Underwood (1975)

Bear Bryant was the college football coach from the early 1960s through this retirement in 1983. Bryant left the game as the winningest coach of all time, with 315 wins, and he had won a half-dozen national championship between 1961 and 1979. This book came out at the height of his success. 

“Charlemagne Record Exchange closing after 42 years,” on al.com, December 2019

From the late 1970s until December 2019, Charlemagne was Birmingham’s independent record store. Located in an upstairs shop in Five Points South, the store was a classic record store.

Jason and the Scorchers, “White Lies,” at Farm Aid in 1986

Nashville-based Jason and the Scorchers came early in the “alt-country” movement in the 1980s. This video shows them playing one of their hits at the Farm Aid benefit concert.

Beanland: Rising from the Riverbed (documentary, 2004)

Oxford, Mississippi-based Beanland was an early Southern jam band that played from 1986 to 1993. Members later played in the Kudzu Kings and Widespread Panic.

To contribute to the lists, use the contact form on the about page.

Book Review: “Cool Town” by Grace Elizabeth Hale

Cool Town: How Athens, Georgia Launched Alternative Music and Changed American Culture
by Grace Elizabeth Hale

(University of North Carolina Press, First Edition 2020)

Reviewed by Jim Hodgson

This should be something we do: gather people interested in art, give them time to create it, and enjoy the result. So it was with Athens, Georgia, in the ’80s as described in Grace Elizabeth Hale’s Cool Town. The results are undeniable.

If you were a kid then, you probably remember the cigarette smoke, the K-Mart knock-off version of parachute pants with broken zippers, the aggressively uninteresting Chrysler economy cars. Maybe you remember fundamentalist Christians howling about morality, then sobbing about their own deeply flawed lives. Tylenol could murder you. Halloween candy was full of pins and razorblades. The president was a famous guy, but not a politician. What must it have been like to put those things together into music that somehow made sense?

As long as we’re asking, what about now? Who can put American culture over their shoulder and drag it into the future with Christian fundamentalists, Republicans, and other so-called “conservatives” doing everything they can to hold it back?

Cool Town is a thorough and beloved answer to these questions. It explores the place, the players, and the music in impressive depth. The answer to the latter question being, of course, “young people.” All they need is a little time and maybe a few people off their backs while they’re at it.

Speaking objectively about the hardback book, it’s a detailed work of art. It has gorgeous paper, carefully-chosen – and even better, listed – typefaces, detailed epigraphs from the songs it describes. There’s even a Spotify playlist. Fans of R.E.M. and the B-52’s will find plenty of material to enjoy, but Pylon, Love Tractor, and others as well.

The book’s author, Grace Elizabeth Hale, co-founded the Downstairs, a café and music club open during the ’80s. It’s hard to imagine an author better qualified or a book more up to the task. Cool Town has done its job admirably. But we still have work to do. Why don’t we gather people interested in making art? Why don’t we give them time to create? We know we enjoy the result. Cool Town is proof.

——

Jim Hodgson is a filmmaker and published author. He has written bestselling books, is a produced playwright, is an Ironman finisher and an ultramarathon finisher, and has climbed two of the world’s tallest mountains: Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua.

At the Epitome

It was one of those times when it seems almost everyone around me was upset with me in some way.  You know the vibe; everybody stressed out with lips puckered up like an old lady’s asshole.  I was halfway through college and broke.  Mike came one night to get me from the playhouse/shack I was living in behind my grandparent’s house and took me to Tallahassee.

Mike and I ate at Denny’s, a favorite late-night stop on Tennessee (now closed).  Then, we go to the Tennessee Strip which is right across from Florida State University and is an area of restaurants and bars that is a mix of prep, frat/sorority, and total skid row with the drunk and homeless asking for change, sometimes aggressively. 

But at this point in time, there was one hip place and it had just opened a couple of months before—the Epitome, which has about half a dozen bars (at least) on one side as well as a piercing and tattoo parlor, sex shop, Greyhound bus station, city bus station, two pawnshops—one of which took a thumbprint even if you were pawning something only worth a dollar or two—and a self-professed beer barn on the other side with all manner of bum, ruffian, scalawag, ne’er do well, shill, outlier, outrider, and outlaw patrolling/hustling the street looking for whatever they can find, even if they don’t know what it is. 

Despite the rough company on the outside, the Epitome was the kind of place that you could always feel comfortable in on the inside, a sort of refuge. 

So Mike and I went to check this place out, or I guess he took me to check it out as he had been there before, and I loved it from the start.  Bin Bin was at or near the end of the counter the first time I went.  He was a muscular Asian with long black hair almost down to his waist and Chinese tattoos, the totem spirit of the Epitome.  The inside a cool-glowing jewel blued with light and smoke—“Om mani peme hum: the jewel is in the lotus.” And I brought other people here, sometimes went by myself, and since it was right across from the University, and I was going to a college with zip for a library, I could often do some research and then head back over to the Epitome.  (I always wondered if the “real” students could tell I didn’t go to FSU just by looking at me.  I assumed everyone was brilliant.  I was always anxious that someone on campus was going to stop me, question me, and discover that I didn’t go there, that I was an imposter.  Years later, I got a doctoral degree from there, taught there, delivered multiple conference papers there, and even chaired a conference panel there.)

The Epitome had no windows and had been carved under something else. So one side opened right into a downhill road (Raven Street), and the back side opened onto a parking lot backing up to the area known as French Town.  Sort of a bohemian bunker protecting us from the fallout outside.  Inside, it was everything.  A vegetarian restaurant with full smoking privileges.  It was one big room filled with sofas, tables, some chairs, and a few stools, all ragged, dirty, and possessing a well-worn comfort that comes from years and years, maybe decades, of slow and easy lounging.  Centuries of homeless Buddhas dirty and smiling.

The chairs and tables and sofas were in constantly shifting arrangements.  Each section a small neighborhood, a community, a state, a nation, a continent, a kingdom, an empire, a world, a galaxy.  Universe and Totality.  Mazes and alleys formed.  Each one with its own culture and population and language and customs and dress and culture, yet all united by that one great common denominator—Coffee and the desire or destiny to be different.    

The bathrooms were in another room with a sink on the outside stationed between two closets for toilets.  No designation or dualism or male or female, just first-come, first-served (more and more places do this now, but at the time this was much more of an “out there” idea, especially in the South).  The doors were mostly horizontal wooden slats with a length of cloth pinned on the inside and a hook and eye to keep the doors closed.  The graffiti rotated, evolved, painted over, and returned.  Some of the lines were even philosophical or inspirational, or at least mildly poetic.  Sometimes I’d go inside the bathroom just to read what was new on the walls.

Fairly close to the bathroom were bookshelves with books, many of them duds, but some good ones too.  Over the years, I exchanged, among many others, Tolkien, Eliot, Nabokov, and books on chess (one was Hypermodern Chess) with books of my own, mostly old sci-fi that my friend (and we would discover twenty years later, third-cousin) James had given me in exchange for his father burning my copy of The Satanic Bible.  During the peak, I took ten books a day to the Epitome.  I made it into an unofficial lending library, trading post, for myself at least. Continue reading “At the Epitome”