Generation X Deep South

tidbits, fragments, and ephemera 30

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


The Superdome in New Orleans, opened 1975

excerpt: “After reaching an agreement to build a stadium, the NFL awarded the area a team, the New Orleans Saints. Construction began in August 1971 and was completed by August 1975. Due to its massive size, the dome stadium was named the Louisiana Superdome. The Superdome covers 13 acres and is 27 stories tall. From the outside it looks like a massive spaceship.”

Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler album, released 1978

Sung by Texan Kenny Rogers and written by North Carolina-born Don Schlitz, this album’s title song garnered the two men tremendous attention. It got radio play on country and pop stations, and resulted in a TV movie with Rogers playing the lead. The only other hit on the album was “She Believes in Me.”

The Indigo Girls play their first gig, 1981

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, “Emily Saliers was born July 22, 1963, in New Haven, Connecticut, and moved with her family to Decatur when she was in the sixth grade. At Laurel Ridge Elementary School she met Amy Ray, who was born April 12, 1964, in Atlanta, and was then in the fifth grade. The two formed a friendship, and they later discovered their complementary musical talents—Ray’s brooding voice and edgier style balanced Saliers’s vocals and folkier leanings. In 1981 they played for their first live audience: their high school English class.”

The deadline on the Equal Rights Amendment expires, June 1982

When the deadline for ratification of the 1972 ERA passed in the summer of 1982, the amendment basically died on the vine. The ERA would have guaranteed protections against discrimination based on sex or gender, but it did not become law. Almost all of states that did not ratify the ERA were in the Deep South.

 


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.

Louisiana, ca. 1980

During the time that Generation X was growing up, Louisiana had a population of 4.2 million people, nearly 1.1 million of them under age 15. This means that the GenX population in the state was higher than average, about 25% as opposed to around 20% in other Southern states. 

No GenXers had yet finished high school in 1980, but to look at Table 201B in the Detailed Population Characteristics: Louisiana census report, there were about 65,000 fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds in high school in 1980, alongside 1,700 thirteen-year-olds, 224 twelve-year-olds, and 24 eleven-year-olds. (Those along with another 9,500 sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds who would have been born before 1965.)

For whatever reasons, population growth in Louisiana was almost nihil in the 1980s. Though the state population grew from 3.644 million in 1970 to 4.206 million in 1980 – a 15% increase – there were only 4.219 million in 1990. That means that growth in the 1980s only amounted to 0.5%— basically stagnant. (As a comparison of how low that number is, Louisiana’s population in 2000 was 4.468 million, which constituted growth of 6% over 1990.) 

Compared to states like Alabama and Mississippi, Louisiana had a more diverse population. In the state, 2.92 million people (69%) were white, 1.24 million (29%) were black, and just under 100,00 (2%) were Hispanic. (Asians / Pacific Islanders did not show up as group on this report.) Over 85,000 Louisiana resident were “foreign born,” and about half of them lived in New Orleans. Nearly one-quarter of the state’s immigrants were Europeans, though over 22,000 people had moved to Louisiana from Asia, more than 21,000 from Central or South America, and over 2,000 from Africa. 

Among the events in Louisiana in the early 1980s that garnered national attention were the 1980 Lake Peigneur disaster and the 1984 World’s Fair. The former event was described this way by US News:

A Texaco oil rig in the middle of the then-shallow lake punched a hole in a subterranean salt dome being mined by Diamond Crystal Salt. The oil rig began listing, causing those aboard to head for shore. They looked back to see the rig disappear into the lake and saw a whirlpool that sucked the entire lake, including 11 barges, into the vortex. It also pulled in 65 acres of lakeshore, including Bayless’ new home and much of the garden.

The latter was also described as a disaster in its own way. Despite real effort put into its planning, attendance was low, a failure attributed to the fact that it was scheduled at the same time as the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Outside of those two events, Super Bowls XII and XV, in 1978 and 1981, were played at the SuperDome, which opened in 1975.

Perhaps Louisiana’s most famous GenXer would be Shaquille O’Neal, if he were actually from Louisiana. Though he played basketball at Louisiana State University (LSU) from 1989 until 1992, Shaq was born in 1972 in New Jersey. If not Shaq, then the most famous might be any of these native New Orleanians: Harry Connick, Jr. (born in 1967), Tyler Perry (born in 1969), or recently appointed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett (born in 1972). Country singer Tim McGraw and Phil Anselmo (of the metal band Pantera) are also late-’60s babies from Louisiana. 


 

Generation X Deep South

An editor’s reblog: “How Cool It Was— Back Then”

The following was originally published by editor Foster Dickson in January 2013.


There’s been a lot of heavy stuff to write about lately in the Deep South . . . race in politics, controversial legislation, and the death of a talented writer. Here it is, the heart of the winter, nearly a full month into the dead season with more than two months still to go until spring, and I’m looking for something good to talk about.

So, what better way to take my mind off the mean ol’ present by waxing nostalgic about the good ol’ past. I’m about a half a year late writing about this one, but not too long ago I read that last May marked the 35th anniversary of the release of the classically zany film depiction of the Deep South in the late ’70s, Smokey and the Bandit, starring Burt Reynolds, Jerry Reed, and Jackie Gleason. If you’ve never seen this movie, shame on you! And frankly, the only thing I respect less than a Southerner who has never seen this movie is a Southerner who has only seen the censored TBS version that used to air on lazy Saturday afternoons, the version where Sheriff Buford T. Justice keeps using the overdubbed, heavily censored epithet “scum bum” (in the place of “sumbitch”).

Where I come from, we grew up on this movie, its sequels, and other movies like it. There was nothing any of us wanted more than a black Trans Am with T-tops. Smokey and the Bandit even made driving an eighteen-wheeler seem cool. Growing up working-class in the Deep South in the late 1970s and 1980s, the kids in my neighborhood felt like we were part of the coolest thing going on the planet Earth when we watched the TV shows and movies that showed all these wild, law-breaking Southerners.

Smokey and the Bandit was released in 1977, and its sequel in 1980, and were egged on in popularity by the instant-classic Jerry Reed song “East Bound and Down.” (Sadly, in 1983, an attempt was made at Smokey and the Bandit 3, which didn’t have Burt Reynolds in it, but we’re going to ignore the fact that that piece of shit was ever made.) We couldn’t get enough of them! We watched them when we could, talked about them all the time, and even played games in the yard and on our bikes pretending we were playing out the movie, the Bandit being chased by Buford T. Justice.

And that wasn’t all we had to bolster our grade-school Southern pride. The TV show, Dukes of Hazzard, set in the fictional Hazzard County, Georgia, ran from 1979 until 1985, also pushed forward by its theme song, written and performed by Waylon Jennings – Just a good ‘ol boy . . . never meanin’ no harm . . . – and by overplayed images of the General Lee flying through the air to make the ultimate getaway. What could be cooler than running from the cops and getting away every time?

Or what about the 1982 Kenny Rogers racing-themed movie Six Pack. We already knew Kenny Rogers from his songs “The Gambler” in 1978 and “Coward of the County” in 1979. So when Six Pack came along, it cemented his coolness with us.

(And even beyond the South, this period was the heyday for glorifying wacky depictions of working-class folks and rednecks in TV, film, and music. Think about Clint Eastwood’s 1978 classic Every Which Way But Loose and its 1980 sequel Any Which Way You Can,  the 1980 John Travolta movie Urban Cowboy, the short-lived trucking-themed TV show BJ and the Bear, and the 1975 song “Convoy” by CW McCall.)

Let’s just say it was a good time to be growing up redneck. All that stuff brings back memories like you wouldn’t believe! Now, figure this: if the Bandit and Snowman were bringing back that Coors from Texarkana to Atlanta, they would have been driving right across the Deep South: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. In our real lives, we recognized those winding two-lane backroads that seemed to roll out aimlessly through the green spaces between towns. Those side dirt roads and old rickety bridges lined with scrub trees and old barns where the Bandit and the Duke boys made their getaways— we knew those, too, as the washboard paths to our families’ fishing holes and hunting camps.

And for us boys, who didn’t even understand at that tender age why we cared at all, our conceptions of what a fine woman ought to look like were formed by what we saw of Carrie (Sally Field) and Daisy Duke (Catherine Bach)— and by that Farrah Fawcett poster that every boy in America owned back then, but that’s a-whole-nother story. Every Friday night when we watched Dukes of Hazzard we got that little glimpse of Daisy Duke in her red bikini standing in the middle of road. We didn’t know why we were glad that Daisy Duke came on the screen in her short-shorts, we were just glad.

However, it’s got to be pointed out that Smokey and the Bandit has a limited, regional appeal among men of a certain age. As Exhibit A of what I mean, take this excerpt from an August 2012 article, “‘Smokey and the Bandit’: A Tribute to Hal Needham,” written by senior entertainment writer Mike Ryan of the Huffington Post. After acknowledging first that he had intended to write about another Hal Needham movie, Megaforce, and second that he hadn’t watched Smokey and the Bandit in a long time, he calls the movie “great,” but then ruins it by writing this:

The gist (because you already know this): The Bandit (Burt Reynolds) and Snowman (Jerry Reed) accept a bet to drive from Atlanta, GA, to Texarkana, TX, and back – and bring back with them 400 cases of Coors for reasons I still don’t understand. (I mean, I understand that at the time it was illegal to sell Coors west of the Mississippi river – I just don’t understand because Coors doesn’t taste that particularly great.) And this had to be done in under 28 hours. (According to Google maps, this round trip would, today, take a normal human being 24 hours and 22 minutes to complete if he or she drove at the speed limit nonstop. I assume this is because the American highway system has improved drastically over the last 35 years, not because the Bandit didn’t really drive that fast after all.) Oh, along the way, they meet Frog (Sally Field) who . . . well, it doesn’t really matter, they just do.

After I got through with this part, I quit reading and was sorry that I had started. First of all, Ryan doesn’t understand why, “because Coors doesn’t taste that particularly great.” I’ll tell you why they did it: Because it was cool as hell! That’s why! What did you want them to do, drive over Belgium to bring back some Chimay from the Trappist monks? Second, this guy admits openly that he plugged the Bandit’s route into Google Maps to figure out how realistic the premise really is, then punctuates that shameful confession with the cynical remark that maybe “the Bandit didn’t really drive that fast after all.” Of course he didn’t, it was a freakin’ movie! If you want accuracy, watch the Travel Channel! I rest my case.

You know, if you’re looking for realism, none of these movies or shows are going to be your thing. For example, according to the article, “‘Smokey and the Bandit’: 25 Things You Didn’t Know about the Burt Reynolds Movie,” on the website moviefone.com, here’s another example of a hater posing as a fan:

10. The plot, in which Bandit and Cletus have 28 hours to drive from Georgia to Texarkana, Texas, and return with an illegal shipment of Coors beer, took a lot of liberties with reality. In truth, Texarkana was located in a dry county, so Coors wasn’t legally sold there, either. Also, the round trip would have been only 1,260 miles, not 1,800, making the 28-hour feat a lot less impressive.

Regardless of the haters, it just makes me happy to think about all this stuff— and it makes me sad for people who spend their time tearing it down now. I don’t really care that these movies and TV shows were hokey and kind of weird. They were made for guys like my dad who fixed machinery for the phone company five days a week, drank beer when he got home, and worked on the car on weekends. Going back and thinking about them again reminds me of a simpler time, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when something could just be what it was. There didn’t have to be any fact-checking. Maybe I was just too young to know better, but I don’t think so.

Recently, a friend told me, when I told him that I was writing about Smokey and the Bandit, that Hal Needham made a couple of Bandit TV movies in the mid-1990s. I don’t think I ever saw them and, after he told me that, I didn’t look any of them up. I don’t want to think about what would have been in them. The times had changed. All that magic was gone, I do know that.

When I was looking around for things to write about here, I saw that last year the UCLA Film School held a double-feature screening of Smokey and the Bandit and Stroker Ace, another racing themed Burt Reynolds movie from 1983. I wonder what those 21st-century California film students thought about while they were watching those two movies. The were probably laughing, but not for the same reasons we did thirty years ago. Like I said, times have changed . . . and cynicism has the lead role now.

I don’t have anything really insightful to say about Smokey and the Bandit or The Dukes of Hazzard. I just wanted to take a break from thinking about the crap that’s going on today. We all have to do that sometimes, don’t we?


Read more of Foster Dickson’s writing about Generation X.