Even when I began my journey across the South to look into the music that helped awaken me, I wanted to hear Van Zant’s former colleagues tell me yes, he was more politically progressive than he originally got credited for. But they didn’t tell me that, because it’s not true. Those of us who have characterized the singer as a misunderstood liberal have done so only to placate our own irrational feelings of shame for responding to the passion in his music. We do the same with the violence and misogyny of hip-hop – or the drama of a Wagner symphony. When we can’t separate the artist from the art, we make the art fit our own paradigms. Rather than accepting the art for what it is, allowing ourselves to feel it without letting it threaten our sense of self, we’re dishonest in our examination of it.

Mark Kemp, Dixie Lullaby

A Soapbox Moment

(steps up onto soapbox)

Racism still exists in this country. If you grew up in the South you’ve likely seen this firsthand in a way many white peopleĀ from the Northeast just haven’t, and it’s uncomfortable to admit a similar sort of discrimination due to perceived differences exists separate from race. My parents taught me the heartfelt if simplistic notion that all people deserve equal respect because all people are the same. It took until college for me to realize that many others of my generation grew up with similarly whitewashed notions of equality and that by layering political correctness onto this flawed idea, we effectively looked down our noses at many who were different. Comfortable in our own perceived correctness, we looked down with self righteous condescension without any acknowledgement of the way we were perpetuating the same unfounded stereotypes while feeling smug in our own superiority.

(steps off soapbox)

We are all people, yes, but we are the products of our upbringing, our choices, our family, our relationships, what we read and learn, and how we respond to things. How I was taught to think, believe, speak, and behave can be changed through force of will and years of practice, but who am I to tell you that my way is the right one? Who am I to judge you based on how you experience the world? If your language is rougher, your expressions unclear, or your vehemence inexplicable, this doesn’t make your experience of the world any less valid or “correct” than mine. I have so very much more to learn, but I’m quite content to acknowledge the limitations to my understanding of the world, and keep doing one thing I do exceptionally well; keep on reading.

Book #4

dixie lullabyFrom Goodreads:

In Dixie Lullaby, a veteran music journalist ponders the transformative effects of rock and roll on the generation of white southerners who came of age in the 1970s–the heyday of disco, Jimmy Carter, and Saturday Night Live. Growing up in North Carolina, Mark Kemp burned with shame and anger at the attitudes of many white southerners–some in his own family–toward the recently won victories of the civil rights movement. “I loved the land that surrounded me but hated the history that haunted that land,” he writes.Then the down-home, bluesy rock of the Deep South began taking the nation by storm, and Kemp had a new way of relating to the region that allowed him to see beyond its legacy of racism and stereotypes of backwardness. Although Kemp would always struggle with an ambivalence familiar to many white southerners, the seeds of redemption were planted in adolescence when he first heard Duane Allman and Ronnie Van Zant pour their feelings into their songs.

In the tradition of Nick Tosches, Peter Guralnick, and other music historians, Kemp maps his own southern odyssey onto the stories of such iconic bands as the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and R.E.M., as well as influential indies like the Drive-By Truckers. In dozens of interviews with quintessential southern rockers and some of their most diehard fans, Kemp charts the course of the music that both liberated him and united him with countless others who came of age under its spell. This is a thought-provoking, searingly intimate, and utterly original journey through the South and its music from the 1960s through the 1990s.

Why This Book: I asked Jenella what book she recommended I add to my Project 42 list, and she gave me her answer in gifting this book to me for Christmas. This, in itself, is enough of a reason for me to include it, but when you add in my own journalistic proclivities and my love of music, this seems like the perfect next book for my project.