Yesterday, the Washington Post’s Book World editor, Ron Charles, applauded the Oxford American’s Spring 2017 issue (which hits newsstands today) and joined us in celebrating the magazine’s twenty-fifth anniversary. “Here’s to the next 25 years of great writing and striking photography from a tough… | Mar, 2017
The most familiar Mississippi blues story starts in the Delta, where African-rooted field hollers evolved into haunted guitar masterpieces that traveled to Chicago and became the electric core of rock & roll. But there are lots of other stories, and this one is blue in another way. It is about the songs of the lowdown characters who ruled the lumber and levee camps, the honky-tonks and jukes, from the Gulf Coast to Memphis. And about the dozens, which has carried their tradition into the twenty-first century.
I’ve spent a lot of time recently listening to Bob Dylan’s second album. Not Freewheelin’, the LP with him and Suze Rotolo on the cover and “Blowin’ in the Wind” in the grooves. That’s the one we know, because a couple of songs off it were picked up by the Chad Mitchell Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary—and then by everyone from Bobby Darin to Marlene Dietrich—and Dylan was hailed as a poet and the voice of a generation. But before that happened, he’d spent a year working on a follow-up to his first LP that displayed very different skills and inclinations.
The exhibition is a sort of Faulknerian stream-of-consciousness narrative, moving seamlessly from subject to subject. Tattered orange and red dishtowels on a clothesline, each piece of cloth shot through with holes; a line of railway freight cars shrouded in the evening light of the Mississippi Delta; thin shadows cast on brown cinderblocks below a periwinkle-blue sky. The bohemian and gothic Souths collide in Eggleston’s photographs—his bright colors and distinct perspectives imbue rusting signs and aging buildings with a spiritual, emotional darkness that speaks to a decaying world of an older South fading into suburbia and industrial development.
Daddy’s truck was one of those places—like a grandmother’s house, a real and actual soul food restaurant, or a barbershop owned by an older black man who guards the radio by silent threat of the revolver in his drawer next to the good clippers—where one could reliably expect to hear either (and only) 1070 WDIA or 1340 WLOK. It was the other side of sound, the other side of Southern blackness, a steady if muffled undercurrent that persisted and quietly buoyed new generations.
I live five miles from where the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel tragedy unfolded, along the New River Gorge in Fayette County. Hawk’s Nest is an extreme in a class of extremes—the disaster where truly nothing seemed to survive, even in memory—and I have made a home in its catacombs. The historical record is disgracefully neglectful of the event, and only a handful of the workers’ names were ever made known. What’s more, any understanding of Hawk’s Nest involves the discomfort of the acute race divide in West Virginia, seldom acknowledged or discussed. Indeed, race is still downplayed in official accounts. Disaster binds our people, maybe. But what if you’re one of those deemed unworthy of memory?
Native to the Northeast, photographer Shane Lavalette developed his intimacy with the South primarily through the region’s traditional music, including old time, blues, and gospel. The themes and stories passed down in these songs became Lavalette’s natural entry point for the project One Sun, One Shadow.
On view right now at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University is a crucial exhibition for these times. Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art is a necessarily broad group of artwork that takes the South as its subject and approaches it from a wide array of viewpoints.
Algia Mae Hinton, the great blues guitarist and banjo picker, lives in Johnston County, North Carolina. It’s a short drive from Raleigh and Durham but feels rather far from those cities, with their food trucks and breweries and warehouses refitted as condos—the latest iteration of the New South, one might say, except one finds the same pattern in Brooklyn or the Bay Area. In Johnston County you drift back to an earlier era.
A graphic essay from the Fall 2016 issue.
When European settlers bought Kentucky County, before Kentucky and Virginia split along the Appalachian mountain range, a Cherokee chief warned they were purchasing dark and bloody ground.
The story Bassekou Kouyaté wants to tell is simply this: it was cotton that brought the blues from Mali to America, and it was the ngoni—the West African lute that is a predecessor to the banjo—that brought the songs. Kouyaté would like to make a film about this story—one told, for a change, from an African perspective.