Generation X Deep South

Lollapalooza ’92

by Foster Dickson

It was about the best eighteenth birthday present I could have hoped for: tickets to Lollapalooza in the summer of 1992. The two Atlanta shows were happening August 20 and September 1. The second date was a no-go, since college classes would have started by then, but the August show was possible. As a surprise, my high school girlfriend not only got us tickets, she also got us a ride and a place to stay in Atlanta. Everything was covered, I only needed a few bucks for incidentals— an optimal situation for a broke teenager with no car.

The Atlanta shows were about two-thirds of the way through the tour. We had seen an MTV News story about it, which had me stoked about the music and the midway, especially the Jim Rose Side Show. Of course, the line-up was solid: Lush, Pearl Jam, Ice Cube, Ministry, Soundgarden, Jesus and Mary Chain, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. The previous year’s line-up seemed better – Jane’s Addiction, Rollins Band, Butthole Surfers, Violent Femmes – but the one in ’92 was nothing to sneeze at. I was most excited about Pearl Jam.

I had (and still do have) a feeling that my birthday present made me an interloper on what was supposed to be a girls’ trip. The ride was with my girlfriend and her two best friends, and the place to stay with one of the friend’s mother. Two days before the show, we hopped into a Monte Carlo SS and left Montgomery for one of Atlanta’s multitudinous suburbs. I didn’t know these people we were staying with, but when we got there, the family had a full house. We would be sleeping in nooks and crannies, and as the boyfriend of one of the female guests, I was assured that any ideas I might have about romance on the sly would be noticed and thwarted.

If romance was on my mind earlier in the evening, it certainly wasn’t by the time I laid my head down. That night, getting ready for bed, was one of a few times as a teenager that I had a gun stuck in my face. The family only had one bathroom inside – for themselves, a couple of kids, and us – so I was told by the mom that I could go outside and down the back stairs to an empty basement apartment to brush my teeth, etc. However, she was unaware that Drunk Uncle, who was permitted to sleep off a bender down there, had come in the garden gate. He was in there when I started – completely innocently – trying to get the chain-locked door open. I became aware of his presence when the butt-end of a shotgun smashed my hand, followed by the business end coming out of the darkness toward my face. I stumbled backwards as fast as I could, hands raised in the air, and explained who I was and what I was doing. From the dim doorway, he growled, “Go piss in the yard,” then slammed the door. Thank God that drowsy drunk decided to ask questions first and shoot later. We both realized, I think, that he was a split-second away from killing me. Back in the house, they could tell something was wrong with me and wanted to know what happened. I told them, and our friend’s mother glared at her husband, who’d apparently not shared that his brother was staying the night, too.

With a day to spare before the concert, Little Five Points was on the agenda first. My inaugural visit to Criminal Records was mind-boggling. The place was new then, founded in 1991, and I’d only seen indie record stores like that in the movies. Music stacks upon music stacks. Posters on every wall. We had a small independent in Montgomery called Back Trax, but most of our record stores were corporate, located in malls or strip malls: Camelot and Turtle’s. To a music guy, Criminal Records was heaven. To a broke teenager, it was a look-but-don’t-touch experience. Soon, I was hauled away because the girls wanted to go look at clothes. (They actually had money to buy things.) I followed for a moment then excused myself to detour into a bookstore I saw.

It was a weekday, so it wasn’t abnormal for a bookstore to be empty, but this place felt immediately uncomfortable. The young woman behind the counter just eyeballed me when I said hi. That’s odd, I thought. (In the South, people greet each other, it’s what we do.) Then she watched me carefully as I ambled through the small, labeled sections: Afro-American, Women, Gay . . . In the era when political correctness was born, I quickly realized what was going on and knew I should leave, but not before making a wise crack about not being able to find the straight white male section. The grouch behind the counter didn’t appreciate my presence or my joke, but she did do me the courtesy of accepting them both silently. She seemed to take the same attitude about my unwelcome presence as the sleeping drunk the night before: this too shall pass. Thankfully, she wasn’t armed.

It was a good day, though, and it got better when we found out – Lord knows how – that Pearl Jam was playing Masquerade that night under the pseudonym Mookie Blaylock. Back then, Masquerade was the South’s Mecca for fans of what was becoming known as “alternative.” It was an ugly, flat-black beacon to underground music, a former mill that was turned into a concert venue in 1988. Fans of Atlanta Hawks basketball will know Blaylock as number ten . . . like Pearl Jam’s album title, Ten. Back at our friend’s mom’s house that afternoon, we called Masquerade to ask how to get tickets. You come down here at showtime, a male voice said. Eighteen to enter, twenty-one to drink. There was a problem. I wasn’t eighteen yet, and the three girls were. I asked for the phone and said sheepishly, “Hey man, I’m with my friends here, and we were thinking about coming down there, but I don’t turn eighteen for three days . . .” Then come to a show in three days. Click. He hung up. I know there was gnashing of teeth after that phone call, because my girlfriend’s friends wanted for the three of them to go to Masquerade and leave me at home. It would have sucked, but I’d like to think I’d have understood. Ultimately, my girlfriend prevailed by pleading that this was my birthday trip, and we all stayed home that night. It was a letdown, but after all, the main thing – Lollapalooza – was the next day. We needed our rest . . .

Most of Lakewood Amphitheater was a huge, tiered semi-circle of green grass, which meant general admission and sitting on the ground. The venue opened in 1989, so it was new, too. Concerts rarely came to Montgomery, Alabama, and even if they did, it would be one or two bands. Crowds of a couple-thousand tops. This was something else entirely. At home, we were among the weirdos, but here, we were country-come-to-town.

Walking into Lakewood that morning, we’d never seen so many freaky-looking people. Dyed hair, tattoos, and facial piercings are common in the 2020s, bu they weren’t in 1992. Only select groups had these things: punks, bikers, prison inmates, circus performers. We were none of those, just some slightly seedy drama-club kids from the capital city of the old Confederacy. I believed then, and still do today, that people choose to look like that so others will stare or gawk, so I’ve got no tolerance for the indignant “What’re you lookin’ at?” Be who you are – fine by me – but don’t expect to blend in. There was lots of that at Lollapalooza, where folks like us were commingling with folks that looked like they’d just left Burning Man. The true outsiders were the handful of preppies and frat boys, and it was pleasing in some way to see them unsure about being outnumbered by people they would normally exclude, ridicule, or abuse. We at least felt like we belonged there.

The day was bright and sunny and hot, and Lush kicked off the show. In the middle of the crowd, a swirling pit had already begun. It was the biggest one I’d ever seen, as someone accustomed to small shows with local bands and maybe a hundred people in the audience. No, this was a vortex of young humanity, all jumping around with elbows flying. In the days of blue jeans, boots, and no shirt, I asked my girlfriend if she would excuse me for a moment. I stripped my t-shirt and took off. It wasn’t hard to get in to that mass of thrashing bodies, but it was hard to get out, as faceless entities on the outskirts shoved me back in a couple of times. I returned winded and a little beat-up but smiling, catching my breath to go again.

That pit became part of the show during Pearl Jam’s set. As he was wont to do, Eddie Vedder came down off the stage during one of the songs, sprinted through the front-section seats, and flung himself into the pit. From where we were, we could see people trying to jam themselves in there with him. It looked like a punk-rock black hole that was expanding by sucking up what was around it. Then, suddenly he emerged and once again took off running, this time to the amphitheater’s back wall. With a little help, he climbed up there and got ready to dive. The crowd cheered! Some other poor sap got up there, too, and raised his arms triumphantly, unaware perhaps that no one was cheering for him. When Eddie Vedder jumped, a small group caught him, and he took off again, returning to the stage. When that nameless dude jumped next, no one caught him, and he hit the ground. I’d never before and have never since heard thousands of people gasp like that all at once. The band ended their set with “Baba O’Riley.” Good choice, gentlemen, very nice.

Throughout the rest of the day, we were up and down, sometimes sitting in the grass to listen to music, sometimes on the midway for food or fresh ideas. One of the vendors sold these vitamin drinks that looked and tasted like an Orange Julius, so we got one. The energy boost was stellar, especially in that August heat when having food sitting in your belly wasn’t a great idea. But the crash from that frothy drink was terrible. So strong that my girlfriend fell asleep during Ministry’s set! I don’t remember much about the afternoon bands, though I do recall Jesus and Mary Chain being dull. The main memory I have is of a small group of guys sitting in a circle near us who lit up a joint to pass it around. Being from the Bible Belt, I wasn’t accustomed to seeing people smoke pot out in the open like that, so I must’ve been staring. One guy caught me looking, then half-smiled and shrugged. His gesture said, Hey, we’re going to smoke this thing, and you might be a narc who just busted us, but I hope not, and even if you’re not a narc, I’m not going to share with you, so it is what it is.

I also remember being thankful when the sun went down. One thing about the grass at Lakewood, there’s no shade, and it was late August. The last act to go on was Red Hot Chili Peppers. They were supporting BloodSugarSexMagick at that time and were at their peak of fame. I wasn’t really a fan, but when their videos started to come on MTV, I thought, “It’s Razzle from Suburbia. Huh . . . he plays bass in a band.” They ended their set that night with hats that were on fire, but the guitarist’s went out. I felt bad for him, because I figured that was a big part of their planned theatrics.

Before going to Lollapalooza, the only other concert I’d ever been to was Cinderella and White Lion at our agricultural arena. It was pretty exciting when two hair-metal bands came to town in 1989, and that parking lot was full of shirtless dudes with mustaches and mullets and doo-rags. Lollapalooza in Atlanta was a whole different affair. I can’t estimate crowd sizes at all, but thousands were there that day. Every alternative personality type you can imagine: goth kids in all black, skaters in baggy pants and oversized t-shirts, white Rasta-wannabes with long dreads, punks in Docs and spikes, college hippies with hacky-sacks. And us.

That show was on a Thursday, we drove home on Friday, my eighteenth birthday was that weekend, and my first day of college classes came on Monday. Life changed then. High school was over, and so was everything that went with it. My relationship with my high school girlfriend didn’t last long into the fall, and my freshman year ended up being a disastrous series of bad decisions, knee-jerk reactions, half-understood situations, and ill-considered antics. I think sometimes that that year went so badly because, at Lollapalooza, I saw what I wanted the next phase of my life to be like, then it wasn’t like that at all. Growing up in Montgomery, Alabama was a sore disappointment to a kid with higher expectations of culture than football, NASCAR, and Bassmasters. Lollapalooza, by contrast, was the dream. But the thing about dreams is: they are brief, then they end, and reality sets back in.


 

Georgia, ca. 1980

In 1980, during the time that Generation X was growing up, Georgia had 5.46 million people living there, just over 1.33 million of them under age 15. This Georgia of Generation X’s youth was generally not-diverse, but relative to other Deep Southern states, the immigrant population was larger. In the state, 3.95 million people (72%) were white, 1.46 million (27%) were black, and 61,000 (1%) were Hispanic. (Asians / Pacific Islanders did not show up as group on this census.) 91,000 people in Georgia were “foreign born,” compared to 33,000 in neighboring Alabama. (Put in context, Georgia’s had 40% more people than Alabama, but its immigrant population was almost triple Alabama’s.) About one-third of Georgia’s immigrants were Europeans, almost a quarter had moved from Asia, more than 18,000 came from Central or South America, and nearly 2,800 from Africa. And a broader array of languages were spoken: about 400,000 people in Georgia spoke a language other than English at home. 

This was a period of heavy in-migration for Georgia. From 1970 to 1980, the overall population grew from 4.59 million to 5.46 million. Table 195 in that 1980 census shows that Georgia averaged 12,000 – 15,000 immigrants every five years from 1950 to 1974, then that rate doubled between 1975 and 1980. Also in 1980, where about half of Georgians (2.65 million) lived in the same house they had in 1975, about ten percent (581,000) had moved to Georgia from another state since 1975. But it’s worth nothing that 339,000 of those 581,000 moved from other parts of the South. (You can read more about Latino immigration specifically on the New Georgia Encyclopedia website.)

And then there’s Atlanta. According to Wikipedia:

Atlanta’s population grew steadily during the first 100 years of the city’s existence, and peaked in 1970 at around 496,000. However, from 1970 to 2000, the city lost over 100,000 residents, a decrease of around 16 percent. During the same time, the metro area gained over three million people, cutting the city’s share of the metro population in half, from over 25 percent in 1970 to around 12 percent in 2000. However, the city’s population bottomed out in 1990 at around 394,000, and it has been increasing every year since then, reaching 420,003 residents in 2010.

In the chart below that passage, which cites the 1990 Census as its source, we see a chart about racial dynamics there. In 1940, Atlanta was two-thirds white and one-third black. By 1970, it was roughly half-and-half. By 1990, the city was two-thirds black and one-third white. So, as Georgia’s Generation X grew up, the city center shrunk but the outer-ring suburbs grew exponentially.  

Of course, lots of things were changing about Georgia, including state leadership. From 1967 until 1971, the axehandle-wielding segregationist Lester Maddox was governor, then he was replaced by moderate Democrat Jimmy Carter, who would then be elected president in 1976. When the ’80s began, the job was held by George Busbee, who the New Georgia Encyclopedia described like this: “He gave the state eight years of effective, low-key leadership and ranks among the most popular and least controversial of modern Georgia governors.” 

However, all controversy was not gone from Georgia. Larry Flynt, the publisher of the porn mag Hustler, was shot in Lawrenceville in 1978 by the same white supremacist who shot Vernon Jordan. There were also continued Civil Rights protests, in the small town of Wrightsville in 1980 and Forsyth County in 1987. 

On the brighter side, a new music scene was developing. Widespread Panic played their first shows in 1982 in Athens. REM, The B-52s, and The Side Effects were all playing early gigs at that time, too. There was also Augusta native Amy Grant, whose first album came out in 1979. Through the ’80s, she became popular among the Christian rock crowd and had some pop hits as well.

In the early 1980s, the state also experienced the great heights in college football. The Bulldogs went undefeated and won a national championship in 1980, with freshman Herschel Walker in the back field. In 1982, Walker would win the Heisman Trophy. This was the era of Vince Dooley, who coached UGA from 1964 until 1988. The Bulldogs were ranked in the top five every year from 1980 through ’83.

In 2020, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution offered “Flashback photos: 40 years ago, Atlanta and Georgia in 1980.”


You can also read “ca. 1980” posts on Alabama and Mississippi.

tidbits, fragments, and ephemera 16

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.


Jim Clyburn elected president of South Carolina’s Young Democrats, 1972

Though Clyburn is not a GenXer, his election in this case shows a marked difference between the Southern politics that the Boomers were familiar with – in South Carolina, that meant Strom Thurmond – and the politics that Generation X became familiar with. For older Southerners, the Democrats were the party of segregation, but it had become the party of Civil Rights by the 1970s. Clyburn rose through the ranks of the party, and as a congressman has been credited with garnering many Southern black votes for Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 election.

Mississippi University for Women in the 1970s and ’80s

Showing perhaps some degree of change in Deep Southern culture, Mississippi State College for Women was renamed Mississippi University for Women in 1974. Then, MUW began admitting male students in 1982, and in 1989, the school got its first female president, Clyda Rent. Since its founding in 1884, there had been three female interim presidents who served brief terms before her. Since 1989, only one of the six presidents has been male.

The Todd Road Incident and Leadership Montgomery, 1983

Montgomery, Alabama is well-known as the site of Rosa Parks 1955 arrest and as the destination for the 1965 voting-rights marchers, but fewer people know about the city’s ongoing racial divisions, which continued. The Todd Road Incident involved the shooting of a black teenager by police officers who did not identify themselves as such. In the wake of the controversy, the organization Leadership Montgomery was formed, in hopes of addressing the issues that led to these situations.

“Flashback photos: 30 years ago, 1990 in Georgia” from ajc.com


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.