tidbits, fragments, and ephemera 9

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.


Tennessee Waltz (alternate title: Tennessee Nights), 1989

By the 1980s, screen media like television and media had long been in full effect as the main providers of imagery and narratives about the South. Functioning as arbiters of truth, Hollywood offered an array of portrayals of Southern life, especially the small-town and rural South, as a place that continued to be violent, racist, and hostile to outsiders. Employing familiar actors Ned Beatty (of Deliverance fame) and Rod Steiger (from In the Heat of the Night), this film from 1989 has a visiting British attorney crossing racial lines and facing the consequences.

Mike Espy elected to Congress from Mississippi, 1986

In November 1986, near the end of Reagan’s second term, Democrat Mike Espy was elected to the 2nd Congressional District in Mississippi, making him the state’s first black representative to a federal seat since Reconstruction, which ended more than a hundred years earlier. Espy was born in 1953 in Yazoo City, so was in his early 30s when he was first elected. He remained in office until 1997.

HIV and AIDS in the ’80s and ’90s

This CDC report from 2001 shows a quickie glimpse at information related to AIDS from 1981 – 2000. We see that the South had 25.7% of cases nationally and that mainly the oldest GenXers were affected. In 1981, GenXers were between newborn and 16, and in 2000, between 19 and 35 years old. Considering that only one-quarter of cases were occurring in the South, and those mainly in high-risk groups, the average GenXer in the South was highly unlikely to contract the disease.

An Econochrist discography

Though they made their name in the Bay Area around San Francisco and Oakland, this hardcore-punk band was originally from Little Rock, Arkansas. They played together in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The 1992 National Championship (in under 33 minutes)

Led by Bear Bryant alum Gene Stallings and QB Jay Barker, the University of Alabama won a national championship in 1992, beating Miami in the Sugar Bowl 34 – 13. After winning a number of championships in the 1970s and ’80s, the team and its fans may have been hoping that the golden days were back. However, it was a one-off thing, and they would have to wait until 2009 for Nick Saban to have Bear-like success.


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.

Arkansas, 1993: A Brief Primer on the West Memphis Three

In a time when social-justice issues, especially those involving policing and the judicial system, have been brought to the forefront of our culture, it seems like we shouldn’t forget the West Memphis Three. It was twenty-eight years ago this month, in 1993, when three white teenage boys were arrested for allegedly mutilating and murdering three children in eastern Arkansas. The events that followed, at that time and later, made for one hell of a mess.

What brought national attention to the situation were the particularly heinous details of the crime. The victims were eight years old, and their beaten bodies were found naked and hog-tied. One of them had been castrated. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas:

The state of the boys’ bodies quickly inspired rumors that a satanic cult was responsible. The crime scene’s location in the woods, the nudity, the positioning of the boys’ bodies, and especially the castration caused concern about Satanism amongst the locals, and amongst the police as well.

In the 1980s and ’90s, evangelical Christian groups led a nationwide charge pushing the idea that America’s teenagers were being influenced by the Devil. In the South, where evangelical Christianity had a particularly firm foothold, this trend was prevalent. The primary targets of the complaints were heavy metal music, Dungeons & Dragons, horror movies, and other forms of entertainment that employed dark imagery or elements of magic and the occult. By contrast, many among Generation X viewed these things as slightly risky aspects of pop culture, not to be taken too seriously. The Misfits sang about “Horror Business” and Ozzy sang about suicide, the neighborhood dungeon master inspired a bit of awe, guys used horror movies to get girls to jump into their arms, and – I don’t know if they still do, but – Toys ‘R Us carried ouija boards.

However, it was taken very seriously when it came to Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr., who became suspects in the brutal crime, even though the details were sketchy. Echols, who was the oldest, was on probation and already known to law enforcement. Baldwin was a friend of his. The two were considered suspects, but nothing was solid until Misskelley, the youngest, came to police’s attention through comments he made to a woman who had volunteered to search for the victims. Again, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas:

As a result, Misskelley was taken to the police station for several hours of questioning, of which just over thirty minutes were recorded. At the end of the questioning, Misskelley confessed, implicating himself, Echols, and Baldwin. Misskelley’s confession, however, was inconsistent with details of the crime of which the police were already aware. While confessing, Misskelley at times contradicted his own story as well.

The boys were arrested in June 1993, and during their trials in 1994, prosecutors had “a cult expert who indicated that the defendants’ music collections and clothing were key indicators of satanic cult activity.” Echols had admitted to dabbling with magic but denied being involved in satanism. However, the boys’ clothes, lifestyles, and choices were brought into question. Additionally, there was this:

Further, a former Ohio police officer named Dale Griffis, who held what the defense characterized as a mail-order Ph.D. degree from an unaccredited university, was permitted to testify as a prosecution expert that the crime bore the “trappings of occultism,” including that it had occurred under a full moon near a pagan holiday and that the number of victims and their ages – 3 and 8 – were significant in occultism and witchcraft.

Despite problems with the investigation, the evidence, its collection, and its presentation, they were all convicted. Damien Echols was sentenced to die.

Eighteen years later, in August 2011, the West Memphis Three were freed. In exchange for agreeing not to argue over their guilty verdicts, the three now-grown men were let out of prison. When questioned about the decision to be freed without a formal acknowledgment of an unjust conviction, Echols was quoted as saying, “I am innocent, as are Jason and Jessie, […] but I made this decision because I did not want to spend another day of my life behind those bars. I want to live and to continue to fight for our innocence.”

Among the sources that give greater details and insights about the West Memphis Three are the 1996 documentary Paradise Lost: the Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, the 2000 book Blood of Innocents by Guy Reel, the 2003 book The Devil’s Knot by Mara Leveritt, the 2013 film of the same name, and the podcast The Forgotten West Memphis Three.

An almost summer 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, web links, and images from Generation X’s early years in the Deep South and from today. Below is a sampler.

Epitome Community Coffee Museum and Purple Circle in Tallahassee, Florida (Facebook group)

One of the stories on level:deepsouth that has been visited most often is William Nesbitt’s “At the Epitome,” which is his reminiscence of a popular coffee shop and hangout in Tallahassee, Florida. For those who might be interested, there’s also a Facebook group that shares memories from there.

The Jupiter Coyote Story (January 6, 2021)

The rock/blues/country/jam band Jupiter Coyote started in Macon, Georgia before moving to North Carolina, and put out several popular albums in the 1990s. This four-hour radio show shares some of their music and tells their story.

Toad Suck Daze

The events page is new to “the lists,” and it contains information on the festivals that GenXers grew up going to in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. From that new list, Arkansas’s Toad Suck Daze was founded in 1982 and continues today.


To find out how to contribute to “the lists,” check the submit page.