SoLost is the original video series by The Oxford American that celebrates getting lost in the American South. SoLost is an off-kilter video journey through the side roads, backrooms, cellars and psyche of the modern South. With subjects prospected by master image-maker and Southern back-roads champ Dave Anderson, we delight in the tastes, sounds and myriad cultural delights of this our glorious landscape. Join us every month as we unveil a new episode of SoLost: artful, online video shorts that explore the complexity and vitality of the American South.
Intriguing phrase, but what does it mean? Well, at a small factory in scenic East Nashville, there are cocoa beans (South America's best), multiple tons of beautiful old candy-making machines and several Johnny Cash-lovin' grown-up skate rats making thousands of the tastiest, most unusual chocolate bars & sundry chocolate items you may ever ingest.
Called Olive & Sinclair and founded by boyish chef-with-a-major-sweet-tooth Scott Witherow, the artisanal Tennessee chocolatiers are among the South's first "bean-to-bar" makers of chocolate bars. They're certainly the first to buck the chocolate powers-that-be and make their chocolate with that old Southern staple: pure brown sugar.
Witherow & co. are growing by leaps and bounds and winning over all kinds of chocolate lovers, including Ms. Gwyneth Paltrow, who fell for their chocolate while on location shooting a film in Nashville and promptly shipped hundreds of bars off to friends.
SoLost decided to head to East Nashville to explore O&S's small but intriguing haunt and to find out the answers to the big questions like: "How could you guys be so skinny?" and "What's the most trouble you ever got in with sweets?"
Is one video worth a thousand bites? Probably not, but we did our best. Sink your teeth in, whydontcha?
As lonely Maude Owens Malone toiled away on the North Texas tenant farm she shared with her husband and three boys in the 1930s, little did she know that the sorrowful song fragments of old hillbilly and gospel songs she sang to comfort herself would inspire and lead her youngest child to the pinnacle of country music scholarship many decades later.
The first member of his family to attend college, Bill C. Malone quickly became known as a local authority on hillbilly music while attending the University of Texas in the early 1960s. As an amateur performer around Austin, Malone began sharing local stages with a number of soon-to-be musical luminaries, including a young Janice Joplin. Malone, an aspiring historian, was soon encouraged to pursue his own musical scholarship of country music—a subject that had never been given serious attention in the world of academics.
His dissertation on the subject became the basis for his first book, Country Music, U.S.A. (University of Texas Press, 1968), and made him something of a household name in country music circles. Now, fifty years and many books on, Malone's body of scholarly work has earned him a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of American Music, among other commendations. No less than Larry McMurtry has said of Malone, "If anyone knows more about the subject than [Malone] does, God help them."
In a less-than-predictable outcome, Malone has ended up in Madison, Wisconsin, with a radio show of old-time country music that has made him something of a local cult hero. SoLost headed up to Madison to see what the fuss was about….
Is it her schoolgirl laugh? Her regal elocution? Her quiet beauty? What is it that makes an ancient woman like Helen LaFrance so mesmerizing?
Maybe it starts with her memories. Over nine decades of them. The memories she turns into paintings. Like she always has. The paintings that stay with you—as though you have no choice in the matter….
Peacefully ensconced in a mundane wing of a Kentucky retirement home is ninety-three-year-old Helen LaFrance. Like she has since she was a little girl, she paints. And paints. And paints and paints and paints. Ever since the day she caught the aroma of a crayon handed to her by her mother (the same mother who, when the family couldn't afford supplies, ground up dandelions to make paint for her little girl).
The academics call her a folk artist. A "memory painter." As in—she paints her memories. Memories of a childhood on a farm and a nine-decade life spent in the rural world of Western Kentucky. They name her in the tradition of Grandma Moses. Of Clementine Hunter. The context is helpful to others, but seems of little relevance to Helen. She just paints and practices her strong Christian faith.
One senses that she knows her days are shorter now. She's thinking about the afterlife. About how she has lived and what it adds up to. With typical modesty, she tells us, "Every day I think I'll paint something worthwhile one of these days…."
David Moore (aka DayDay MoeMoe aka Umburkus) is -- as they say -- a unique bird. In this case, a bird with plumage of gorgeously stained wood panels, recycled oddities, strings (of the dulcimer variety) and no small quantity of what he -- ever-so-delicately --describes as: "crap."
There's a lot of crap. Beautiful crap. Not crap at all, really. Art. Instruments. A place to set your beer. You know.
How to describe our hero... Musician? Artist? Furniture maker? Visionary hermit? All-of-the-above? Yes, all-of-the-above. That would be it. Hidden away in a secretive corner of a haunted-looking house in the fading Delta cotton town of Rosedale, Mississippi, Mr. Moore seems equal parts R. Crumb, Daniel Johnston and Boo Radley -- with a dose of PT Barnum thrown in.
Indeed, he's a hard one to explain. The inquisitive, anarchic child of a family that once held considerable sway here, Moore now lives alone in a house covered in vines and filled with his own artwork alongside untold numbers of sweetly-unnerving semi-collectibles, a trusty dog and -- of course -- myriad musical instruments and furniture of his own invention; including his signature "Schizoid Zither" aka "Boing Box" aka "Buzzstick." But he's not just making them. He plays them too. And the music is spectacular.
Don't pretend you've heard it before though. You haven't. And don't act like you'll forget it. You won't.
When we say there are very few places like Tiny Town, understand that we say it without an ounce of irony. Tiny Town is magic. We're not going to tell you any more than that. We hope you'll watch in wonder. We certainly did.