Last night, watching Jim White cruising the fecund, salvation-starved backroads of the deep South in Searching for the Wrong-eyed Jesus, I kept hazily reflecting back on my own Southern childhood. My folks and I came north to Seattle when I was just four years old. From San Francisco. Yet White’s musing, music-filled backroads travelogue is suffused with so much grit, twang and fiery Pentecostal soul that even a dyed-in-the-woolies mossback like myself feels that certain stirring deep in his Southern roots.
The film itself was made by British filmmaker Andrew Douglas for the BBC, and many of the musicians who play on it (former New York Doll David Johansen, alt-country groups 16 Horsepower and The Handsome Family) are not from the South themselves. Just as all of us have license to get enthusiastically, demonstratively Irish at least one day a year, so anyone feeling that certain strain of dark longing is allowed to draw on their authentically fake Southern roots to express that. This is why Nick Cave’s And the Ass Saw the Angel really is a Southern novel, even though its author is from way down south in Australia. It explains why my in-law with the recurring role on Justified loves to share stories from Kentucky, even though he’s from Portland, Oregon.
Lacking any factual basis, my Southern childhood carries no burden of geographical precision, ranging from the Ozarks to Appalachia, and every bayou, trailer park and holler in between. It stretches from the stark Depression-era menace of Camp Rapture, Texas to the crazed freakiness of Mystic, Georgia; from the foot-tapping front porch fiddle music, to the woofer-thumping beats of the Republic of Stankonia; from the earnest goofiness of a turkey hunter in Vernon, Florida, to the depraved denizens of Boone County. My Southern home is not a paradise on earth, but more like Eden after the fall, where the serpent is Faulker, a writer of such titanic genius he creates his own weather systems, still and hot and damp and charged with electricity. A land of music that carries you to God, and food that speeds you on your way to meet your maker. If you’re from the South, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re not, you probably know as well.
Here’s a little list with music, movies and books from the (Dirty Weird Ol’) South of my imaginary youth: tell us about your own favorite Southern artists.