Where I Come From: Stories from the Deep South
© 2020 Rick Bragg
What a joy Rick Bragg is to read! A native son of Alabama, Rick Bragg is a journalist-turned-folklorist in the tradition of Kathryn Tucker Windham, who here collects a series of articles inspired by the people and places of the Deep South (sans Mississippi, amusingly), resulting in a title of steady humor and down-home nostalgia. I’ve previously enjoyed his tribute to his mother’s cooking, and an oral-history reflection of the fate of a mill village, but this varied series of vignettes will keep me digging into Bragg’s bibliography.
Most of the pieces are fairly representational of what I’ve come to expect from Bragg. There are the semi-biographical musings, as Bragg tells stories about characters in his family or his youth. ‘Characters’ are usually people, but not always; many of them are dogs, and one frequently-hailed character in this collection is a now-shuttered hotel in New Orleans. Although most pieces have a Bama connection, Bragg’s love for New Orleans manifests itself repeatedly in fond vignettes set in the city, and a few other places of the Deep South receive attention as well. There are odder ducks in the collection, like Bragg’s letters to Santa…..and Santa’s reply! Several pieces hail southern luminaries after their deaths; Bragg’s friendship with Pat Conroy and his one encounter with Harper Lee are the basis of two such items. As a whole, Bragg’s latest is a fascinating hodgepodge of topics, from the opening tale of his hooking an already ill-tempered goat while fishing, to his ruminations on the popification of country music.
While I’ve not read many of Bragg’s works (this makes three), I readily admire his celebration of the South’s unique quirks that leaves politics where it belongs — outside. Even when his people are an absolute mess, he still looks on them with love, reminding me a bit of Bill Kauffman’s affectionate tales of Batavia that wander in through all his writing. Bragg sums up his appeal for me in a short piece on why he writes about ‘home’ — so he knows someone is, so the stories of characters of common clay won’t be forgotten. Bragg always reminds me of a world that’s fast fading away, one in which no everyone has been homogenized by the television to think and talk in predictable patterns. The people and places he brings to mind are those that were Characters, who gave to the world real joy in their diverse quirkiness.
It sounds like a delightful read! I love meeting “characters”; they are the truly creative thinkers. My older relatives from Appalachia have stories about eccentrics in the family (good and bad, haha).
“the popification of country music” – Can’t remember if I mentioned this before, but there was a good Ken Burns documentary about Country Music recently. I didn’t watch the entire series (16 hours in true Burnsian style) but they went into this subject towards the end.
I haven’t watched the series, though I’m curious about it given Burns’ reputation. Arguably it’s been happening since at least the early nineties — when I go back and listen to some of the artists I remember, like Shania Twain, I wonder why they were on the country stations to begin with. (I still like Shania, though. :D) There’s a kind of tackiness even to the commercial country music that’s free of pop & rap inffuences….there’s a lot of ‘identity’ music, let’s say, where the entire point of the song is this weird narcissistic adulation of being “country”. It sounds nice, but it’s missing…soul, or muscle, something real. Fortunately there are still guys and gals out there singing the ‘real’ stuff…Cody Jinks, Aaron Lewis,..
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