tidbits, fragments, and ephemera 1

tidbits, fragments, and ephemera is a usually weekly but not always, sometimes substantial but not making any promises glimpse at some information and news related to Generation X in the Deep South.

Religion Landscape Study, South Carolina

This Pew Research Center study shows that 78% of adult GenXers in South Carolina are Christians, with the bulk majority (19%) as “unaffiliated.” Every other religion added together makes up the remaining 3%. (No year was clearly available for the study.)

Party Affiliation among Generation X by state

This info from 2014 shows that, among GenXers in Southern states, there was a mix of major-Republican and majority-Democrat states. Apparently, at this time Mississippi was no longer considered a state by the Pew Research Center.

University of Georgia launches a newsletter for Generation X alumni.

excerpted: “From a design standpoint, The Fast Times is reminiscent of the popular zines of the ‘80s, where people made magazines that were small in size and easily distributable. Their creators often gave them away for free to increase the spread of their opinions on music, film and other cultural followings.”

Alabama journalist Tim Lockette publishes two novels.

excerpted: “Lockette’s time as a newspaperman lends authenticity to Tell it True. But the 49-year-old said both books are colored by his personal experiences as a member of Generation X – the demographic group born roughly between 1965 and 1980 who were often criticized in popular culture as “slackers” but later gained a reputation for entrepreneurship while steering clear of political activism.”

Demographic breakdown of the Mississippi legislature

These graphs were compiled and are offered by the Center for Youth Political Participation at New Jersey’s Rutgers University. Among the graphs and charts is the category of generation.

“Generation X can flip the script in their communities,” by Kristi Gustavson, CEO of the Community Foundation of North Louisiana

excerpted: “One thing for certain about Gen X, perhaps as with any other generation, is that we refused to adhere to the constraints put upon us by the generation before us.  We sought to very uniquely define ourselves.  Of course, bucking the system is nothing new and certainly not invented by Gen Xers.  Every generation does this to some degree.  What makes each generation unique is not that we choose not to conform it is how we choose not to conform.”

Blues Old Stand, live

The band, which took its name from a tiny community in Macon County, was a staple of the Montgomery, Alabama music scene in the 1980s and 1990s. The band streamed a live show on Facebook in April 2021.

level:deepsouth is an online anthology about growing up Generation X in the Deep South during the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. The anthology is open to submissions of creative nonfiction (essays, memoirs, and reviews) and images (photos and flyers), as well as to contributions for the lists.

Penelope Spheeris’ “Suburbia” (1983)

I have no clue when I first saw Penelope Spheeris’ 1983 movie Suburbia. I was a fourth grader when it came out, and I don’t remember watching it until later in the ’80s. There’s no way that it came on regular TV in Montgomery, Alabama, like on those weekend afternoon matinee shows that used to fill time alongside Kung Fu reruns and Ronco infomercials. It’s possible that a friend had it on VHS or something. 

However it happened, I did find it. And I watched Suburbia quite a few times after realizing that the movie rental store in Normandale Mall near my house had a copy. Those were the days of latchkey kids, and I was one. It was no sweat to put together a few dollars, walk up to the store, rent a movie, watch it while no one was home, put it away before anyone got home, then walk it back up there the next day.

What I do remember about Suburbia was: it took a while for me to clue in to the fact that Penelope Spheeris was the same director who’d made Decline of Western Civilization, Part II about the LA hair bands. At that point, I had not seen the first Decline film and wasn’t into punk as much as ’70s rock and ’80s metal. Back then, punk was hard to come by in Montgomery, but the local classic rock station and the shopping mall record store made rock and metal readily available. My taste in tunes led me to watch Decline, Part II, probably on MTV, and that may have also been where I stumbled on Suburbia. (For those not old enough to remember, MTV used to play music videos, then as time went on, they strayed into other programming, like showing movies. I’m pretty sure that’s how I saw The Song Remains the Same and The Wall.)

Even though punk wasn’t my thing, Suburbia is very much a movie about punk. Some people would say that punk was dead by that point. I don’t know enough about the history to have an opinion, but I will say that there will never be a shortage of disaffected young people looking for art and music that speak to what they’re going through. Even though I wasn’t a punk, I did understand what I was seeing. As an example, in the opening scene of Suburbia, the mom comes home from work, sees that the boys have done no chores, and begins flipping out and screaming. This freakout leads the older son Evan to run away from home, leaving behind a promise to come back for his younger brother Ethan. That’s the catalyst that drives the plot.

One problem with growing up in 1980s Alabama was: even though we had our share of divorce, poverty, intolerance, and violence, there were no homegrown musical (or artistic) forms that spoke to the anger felt by young people whose lives were rattled by these things. Ever-conservative country music reflected the concerns of working-class adults, and even the more progressive Southern rock and the more freewheelin’ outlaw country weren’t really designed for teen angst. Neither Charlie Daniels nor Waylon Jennings had songs about being mad at their moms for refusing to get them a Pepsi.

So, to find those expressions, it was necessary to look beyond Alabama, beyond the Deep South, past the beer-drinking dads and muscle-car bullies, and to fabled places like New York and Los Angeles. The latter is where Suburbia took place, in an abandoned housing project occupied by runaways and plagued by wild dogs. In this apocalyptic refuge, an assortment of streetwise punks, naive newbies, and fragile miscreants huddled among cast-off furniture and other refuse. The leader was Jack, older than the rest with spiked blond hair and a beat-up car. An angry, usually shirtless skinhead named Skinner was his righthand man. Also in the mix was the wild-eyed Razzle, played by Mike B the Flea, the bassist for Red Hot Chili Peppers. The group goes to concerts, lays around the house, and causes some trouble.

The main antagonists are two middle-aged white guys, pissed off at having lost their jobs and looking for someone to blame. Though I’d never been to LA, I recognized those guys. They lived in Alabama, too. To distill their thinking down to a sentence: everyone who isn’t like me is a problem. That attitude is sorry enough, but the guys who take it further and act on it can cause real problems, like running over a little boy on his big wheel.

The other sort-of antagonist is a police officer, played by Isaac from The Love Boat. He patrols the area where they live and has some measure of sympathy for the kids. Others aren’t quite so understanding about it, so he has to spar with two unemployed white guys, who would rather take a zero tolerance approach.

Though I had no desire to live in the dirty hovel that was home to the runaways, I think that I identified with their plight: unwanted and maligned, victims of their circumstances, seeking refuge among people like themselves, trying to make sense of it all. I had been a bookish, nerdy kid who grew into a frustrated teenager tired of hearing that I was weird and wrong and unacceptable. Though I didn’t want to run away from home and emulate these unruly punks, their situation resonated with me, telling me that I wasn’t the only one going through this kind of thing.

It’d be a mistake to watch Suburbia and think that it summarized or encapsulated life for Gen-Xers. It didn’t. Most of us didn’t live like that. But there are glimmers of truth among the muck, and that’s what appealed to me about it. There really were small concert venues where people piled in to hear local bands, and occasionally got violent. There really were angry parents who would throw glass bottles at their kids for not taking out the trash. There really were guys who would follow punks and skaters in their cars, then jump out and start a fight in some random person’s yard. There really were MAGA types who would do things like prowl an empty housing project with guns, looking to get even with the punk kids they didn’t like. And for kids who were on the fringes, those were some of the facts. What was great about Suburbia was: without trying to turn the punks into saints, it flipped the scenario on its head and showed the mainstream folks what they looked like.

Note: Don’t confuse this movie with the one from 1997 with the same title. That one was made by a group with Gen-X credibility – director Richard Linkater, writer Eric Bogosian, starring Giovanni Ribisi and Parker Posey – but . . . well, it’s not as good.

Foster Dickson is a writer, editor, and teacher in Montgomery, Alabama. He is the editor of level:deepsouth.

An editor’s reblog: “When Reading Meant Everything”

The following was originally published on editor Foster Dickson’s website in August 2019.

All of the books pictured here came into my life between ages 14 to 20, during the years 1989 through 1994, while I was in high school or the first two years of college, and each of them changed my life in its own way. It was a bleak time for me; my parents got divorced, my older brother got married and moved out, and my father remarried quickly, all in 1990, and once high school was done in ’92, our inability to afford much in the way of college meant that I would continue to live at home and attend a local school while working full-time. I was tethered to a life I didn’t want to lead in a place I didn’t want to be, and books (and music and movies, too) were my gateway to something greater than what I saw around me.

Though, as a young kid, I was something like the bullied Bastian in The Neverending Story who escaped from the world through books, what I have found in books and magazines (and music and movies) since then is expansion. By high school, I was no longer reading to get away from the world— I was reading to know it better, to see and to know more of it, to glimpse ways of life I hadn’t imagined, even when I couldn’t physically leave where I was.

Beyond the fantasy works of JRR Tolkien, Ursula K LeGuin, and Madeleine L’Engle that I enjoyed when I was young, the first book that truly changed my life was Albert Camus’ The Stranger, a work I never would have chosen for myself but which was assigned by Mrs. Brock in ninth-grade English. In this mid-century French novel, a man named Meursault’s passive refusal to participate in aspects of life that he doesn’t care about causes him to be taken for a sociopath when he stabs and kills a man in an altercation that results from a misunderstanding. At fourteen, what I saw in Meursault was not a heartless murderer who deserved the death penalty, but a man who was utterly exasperated with having a life he didn’t want being crammed down his throat.

That same year, I borrowed another book that I had seen on a friend’s shelf, knowing nothing more about it than its intriguing title: Beyond Good and Evil. This work of philosophy by 19th-century German existentialist Friedrich Nietszche, was wayover my head, though I did manage to finish it, urged forward by having people constantly say that I had no business reading such things. They had thrown down the gauntlet, issued a challenge, and I wouldn’t be bested. I’ll admit freely that I only understood parts of what I read, but for me, it was like Rocky’s goal in the first movie: I wanted go the distance. I knew I couldn’t beat Beyond Good and Evil, but I also wouldn’t be able to hold my head up in the neighborhood if I got knocked out by it. Some teenagers wanted a high ACT score or a sports championship, I wanted to read and understand books that no one around me read.

Later in high school, two other vastly dissimilar books moved my understanding of literature and reading forward again: Edgar Lee Master’s poetry collection Spoon River Anthologyand Danny Sugerman’s No One Here Gets Out Alive, a tell-all biography of Jim Morrison. Though I don’t remember when I encountered that latter book, Spoon Rivercame to me through a theatrical adaptation we put on when I was a junior in high school. (The book, published in 1915, contains interconnected monologues spoken from the grave by the town’s dead citizens.) After the show was over, I went out and bought the book to read all of the poems, and this experience led me to two realizations: that people carry things inside themselves that the rest of us never know, and that I loved poetry. Where The Stranger was the first literary work that made me look deeply and critically at the world outside, Spoon River made me look deeply and critically at the world inside. By contrast, that second work – a mass-market paperback about hippie-era Los Angeles – taught me something that neither Camus, nor Nietzsche, nor Masters could: that writing could be cool, and that nonfiction could be, too. Books didn’t have to be dull and droll— they could be about rock stars.

After high school, reading became a way of life. Working, attending a commuter college, and living at home with my mother severely limited “the college experience” for me, which led me regularly and often into the arms of literature. Reading Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, Dharma Bums, and The Subterraneans one after the other at age eighteen fertilized the seed that was planted by No One Here Gets Out Alive— a life lived on the edge could be a writer’s material. Discovering the Beats then led me to Henry Miller’s lurid and wild Tropic of Cancerand to Richard Brautigan’s quirky novels Trout Fishing in America, The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster, and In Watermelon Sugar. My affection for Kerouac also led me to his literary idol Thomas Wolfe, whose florid and sprawling Look Homeward, Angel is heartbreakingly sad and beautiful. Somewhere in there, Walt Whitman came into my purview via Allen Ginsberg, and along the way, possibly via Camus, I found Alain-Fournier’s The Wanderer (Le Gran Meaulnes), which is still my favorite coming-of-age novel.

Stranded in pre-internet Alabama, reading meant everything. These were the years between the release of Nirvana’s Bleach and the suicide of Kurt Cobain; during the years that REM put out Green, Out of Time, Automatic for the People, and Monster; in the five-year span that started with Say Anything and ended with Reality Bites. . . And it makes me sad that I don’t see young people reading like I used to, for the reasons I used to. And don’t tell me that anything on the internet is even a remote parallel, and don’t compare the books I just listed to Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. These literary idols of mine didn’t offer readily available screen adaptations or collectible merchandise to garner revenue from my isolated and desperate teenage sense that there absolutely must be something more out there, something more than what was at arm’s length. Back then, there were only the words on the pages, words were so masterfully strung together that nothing else was necessary. Not followers or subscribers, not clicks or likes, not trending or sales ranking, not chat rooms or fan conventions . . . just the words on the page. And, with reading, that’s the way it ought to be.