When I was six years old, I shot a man. People think I am joking when I say this, as I do occasionally, if prodded, in a group that wants to talk guns or hunting or the excesses of the rural South. It has been nearly twenty years since I discharged a firearm or spent any time in a deer stand or duck blind, yet I am considered an authority on such matters, since I live among people who are not.
The amount of blood pooled up on the Deep Ellum street that evening in March 1931 shocked even those city folk who labored with pig stickers and hooks at the Dallas stockyards. A drunk man bleeds faster, more voluminously, than a sober one, and the heat radiating from the earth that Saturday would have hurried along the lifeblood—an unfortunate confluence of factors.
The greeting on the face of the valentine, You Dumb Bell, says more about my mother than about the recipient—my father, the putative “dumb bell.” The valentine is in the shape of a dumbbell, the weight used for exercise and made popular during the time my mother gave the valentine to my father, the early 1930s.
A story by Manuel Gonzales from our Summer 2016 issue.
Not that if I’d known how much my grandma loved her frozen yogurt I wouldn’t have brought her some froyo every now and then, which was the other thing I was thinking, which was why I said, “Well, yeah, Mom, of course. You know how much I love Grandma,” which wasn’t a lie exactly because when I thought of her, I loved her, just that I didn’t really ever think of her.
One of my tasks as curator of the Alan Lomax Archive is to manage its YouTube channel. Several years ago, I noticed a particular strain of commentary recurring on the five clips that compose the recorded output of an utterly obscure and equally affecting singer-guitarist named Belton Sutherland, whom Lomax met in rural Madison County, Mississippi, in 1978.
A Points South essay from the Kentucky Music Issue.
Over Labor Day weekend last year I called a distant cousin, Mitch Cundiff, to ask if he could take me to Paradise. The old town is just a few miles from his home in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, where my grandmother grew up. He told me he was happy to, but there was nothing there to see. “It’s like the John Prine song says,” he explained. “They hauled it away.”
A Points South essay from the 100th issue.
He used “Niggertown” to make the hearer reconcile the word with the man using it: Lolis Edward Elie, this civil rights lawyer, this man of letters, this collector of fine art and old jazz records, this gourmand, this voracious reader of smart books and drinker of cold Champagne. He could easily have erased the old neighborhood from his biography. But what would be the fun in that? For my father, life began, and would always begin, in Niggertown.
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.