A Points South essay from the Spring 2019 issue
My family has laid claim to a variety of nationalities and regional affiliations, yet there are still questions I reflect on from time to time regarding my own claim to my current home. Am I a Southerner, and do I have a right to call myself a Southerner? Will others recognize me as a Southerner, despite my lack of accent and because of my Asian face? And what does it mean to take on this identity—what does it mean for me to claim Dixie?
This story was originally published on OxfordAmerican.org in 2012.
In underground music circles, Dex is a legend. During the late ’80s and ’90s he fronted North Carolina’s fabled Flat Duo Jets. They were a raw, influential two-piece who blended surf, rockabilly, blues, hillbilly, garage, and country into a savage, one-of-a-kind slurry that paved the way for twenty-first century roots-rock duos such as The Black Keys and The White Stripes.
A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.
As deeply in love as I was with blaring guitars, exploding amps, and metallic raving, I’d also been listening to James Taylor’s more intimate style of music since his first album, James Taylor, came out in 1969, issued by Apple Records, the Beatles’ label. I owned a prized 45 of the original (and still my favorite) version of “Carolina in My Mind,” the song on which Paul McCartney and George Harrison (“the holy host of others standing ’round”) played bass and sang harmony. “I was homesick when I wrote it,” Taylor has said of the tune that he composed in London. That number made even us sixth-graders at Glenwood Elementary indulge in a kind of premature nostalgia. Kids we might have been, but we too could hear the “highway call”; we too could see those “geese in flight and dogs that bite.” The lyrics and melody induced in us an aching yet pleasurable homesickness for the place from which we hadn’t yet departed.
A feature short story from the 100th issue.
When the real estate agent first drove us up the gravel driveway, I felt I’d been to this place before. I wasn’t sure at first, for I’d first been there at night. Over fifteen years before. A dinner of academics after a lecture at UNC on Southern food. I was still living in New York then, and found the idea of owning a two-hundred-four-year-old restored farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by cornfields to be the height of fancy. Nothing in my future. Much too Town & Country for my tastes. Back then I fully expected to die on the twenty-first floor of a high-rise in the middle of some urban engine. How odd.
Mentor to Alice Gerrard, beacon to all of us North Carolina folkie wannabes, revered by those of us with any musical knowledge, and—music’s highest compliment—sung by many of us who don’t know how we know the words. This Chapel Hill woman is the very heart of what we call Piedmont blues.
At nineteen, I imagined living alone as a luxurious dream waiting in the distance after college—all the dishes would be mine, all the space mine. Instead, I feel alone and infested. I return one night and yank on the pull-string light in the kitchen and cockroaches scatter under the fridge.