A blues potluck. Fiddlers. The Beatles. Many hours of music. Hank Williams’s birthday. A party at The Jaybird. Video. More.

There’s a lot of good music in this post.

I’ve uploaded, for you to stream anytime online, several new and old episodes of my radio show: check out last week’s blues potluck episode, with exclusive performances by Alabama blues artists; or this look at Alabama fiddle traditions, with guests Joyce and Jim Cauthen; or this wide-ranging tribute to The Beatles, with soul, funk, and classic country takes on the Beatles, plus covers from Cambodia, Ghana, and more — or celebrate Hank Williams’s birthday this week with a truly epic Hank-a-thon from 2013 or with our Hank Death Show from last December.

Also in this post: details about this Saturday’s Blues Potluck at The Jaybird, a fitting big finish to our beautiful Jaybird year.

1. First, the radio shows:

For the last two weeks on The Lost Child, we’ve dug pretty deep into the roots of Alabama music. Two weeks ago, Joyce and Jim Cauthen joined me to talk about their work, over the last 30+ years, documenting and preserving Alabama’s fiddle traditions and tunes. We listened back to some of their original field recordings, talked about some of their favorite old-timers, and enjoyed some of their own live music in the studio. We also investigated the history of “The Lost Child,” the tune that gives this radio show its name.

Last week, the show turned its attention to Alabama blues, with music from these great performers: Clarence “Bluesman” Davis, Jock Webb, Elnora Spencer, Rob Harris, and Sam Frazier, Jr. — each of whom you can hear at The Jaybird’s Blues Potluck this coming weekend (Saturday, 9/22/18). All the music in this hour was either recorded live at The Jaybird (thanks to Dennis Tyler for the recordings) or was originally performed and broadcast live on past editions of this radio show. It’s a special hour. On the Jaybird recordings, you can hear the energy, warmth, and good humor of that room; near the end of the show Elnora Spencer brings the house down. On the Lost Child segments,  you can hear these players discuss the meaning of the blues, as well as their own personal roots in the music: Clarence “Bluesman” Davis describes growing up in Eutaw, Alabama, and having to decide between the blues and the church, while Jock Webb and Sam Frazier describe the rich music communities of Rosedale and Edgewater, Alabama, where they first encountered the blues in backyard parties and neighborhood shot houses. Along the way, of course, there’s a lot of great music.

And more Alabama music(!): since this week marks the 95th anniversary of the birth of Hank Williams, I’m posting once again the three-hour tribute I put together for Hank’s 90th. Included in this show is a mighty mix of rarities and classics, reminiscence from old friends, covers from a wide range of artists and genres (soul, gospel, funk, country, conjunto, 1960s Thai pop, and more), a look into the Hank’s musical roots, live and rowdy recordings, historic radio broadcasts, and other musical offerings. And, on a darker note, here’s my Hank Death Show, featuring excerpts from Hank’s funeral, songs about his death, and more.

For a long time I’ve been meaning to do a Beatles tribute show, and a few weeks back I finally did. Check it out here.

These radio hours posted online represent just a fraction of the shows we broadcast over the airwaves. You can hear new episodes of The Lost Child every Saturday morning (9 to 10, Central) and Tuesday night (11 to midnight) on Birmingham Mountain Radio. Thanks for tuning in. Thanks for telling your friends.

2. Back, now, to that Blues Potluck: 

On September 22 of 2017, some friends (Lloyd Bricken, Lillis Taylor, Glory McLaughlin (my wife!)) and I kicked off a year of events at a new space we were calling The Jaybird. Our goal was to create a season of special events rooted in grassroots community, creativity, and the arts. We’ve had an extraordinary year of monthly concerts, bimonthly art shows, and much more along the way — poetry, zines, workshops, books, food, craft fairs, and other collaborations and gatherings. This weekend — on September 22 of 2018 — we’ll have one more Jaybird concert; it’ll be a doozy of a thing, and the perfect way to ring out our Jaybird year.

For Saturday’s Blues Potluck we’re inviting back to the Jaybird all the blues artists who have played our stage in in the last twelve months. The gates swing open at 5; music starts at 5:30; dinner will commence at 6. We’ll start with an acoustic set of music, outside. As the night gets darker and the music gets louder, we’ll move inside, from 7 ’til 10. We’ll probably hang out for a while.

I, for one, can’t wait.

To be clear: it’s a real potluck. If you’re in town and plan to come, bring a dish to get $5 off the $15 cover. (We’ll be eating all night, so even if you arrive after the dinner bell rings, I guarantee your food will still find a stomach.)

I’ll be writing more here soon about our Jaybird year, and about what you can expect from this space in the future. But I’ll end this post with some glimpses of the artists you can plan to see if you come out and join us this Saturday.

Thanks, y’all.

Here’s Sam Frazier, Jr., with his song “Inherit the Blues”:

Here are Clarence “Bluesman” Davis and Jock Webb at the 49 Navy Tavern in Pensacola:

… and at the Carver Theater, for an event with the Alabama Folklife Association:

Last year, Elnora Spencer flew down to Argentina for a series of shows. Here she is with the band Fede Telier:

… and here she is at The Jaybird in February: “If Loving You is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right.”

Every Wednesday night, Rob Harris leads the house band for the open mic at the Red Wolf Lounge. Here’s some video from the Red Wolf, with Rob and Jock Webb:

And one more time: You can hear all these artists on last week’s edition of The Lost Child radio show, streamable anytime right here online.

Our sponsor for this event is Dorsey Cox Design and the Stream.

Thanks to Yellowhammer Creative, for one more great poster:

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There’s a lot to take in in this post. We live in a beautiful world.

If you’re in driving distance of Birmingham, we hope to see you Saturday.

Listen! Choking on the Ties that Bind

One or two Saturdays a year, the radio station computer becomes overwhelmed and ornery and attempts to sabotage my show. This was one of those Saturdays. After some initial glitches, I went on the air late and briefly recovered — and then the last chunk of the show refused to air at all. I was pretty bummed; I’d been looking forward all morning to the Swamp Dogg tune coming at the end of my hour.

You get a chance to hear each Saturday’s show every week on the Tuesday rebroadcast — eleven to midnight, Central, on Birmingham Mountain Radio — and tomorrow night I’ll play a corrected version of this Saturday’s program. But in case you’re not awake at that hour, I’m posting the whole show, as it was meant to be heard, right here. Click the link to listen anytime. Share it with your friends. And so on.

Some weeks my radio show has a theme. Other weeks it doesn’t. The unthemed shows try to cover a wide swath of downhome American roots music in its many forms. This one features old-time fiddling, Alabama country brass bands, one-string guitar blues, and conversation with Blind Willie McTell, recorded by John Lomax in 1940 in an Atlanta hotel room. There’s also music by Dan Penn, Link Wray, Peg Leg Sam, Rose Maddox, and the Louvin Brothers, plus a radio broadcast from Hank Williams. Also, that Swamp Dogg. And more.

Here’s the link, again: The Lost Child, Episode 312, “Choking on the Ties that Bind.”

P.S. / Also:

Since today’s Labor Day, a couple of work songs, as bonus:

If you’ve never seen this video of Lee Dorsey singing “Working in a Coal Mine” in a British record store please watch it.

And lest you think it’s all(!) hokum, I should mention that Lee Dorsey’s life and music was always deeply rooted in work. Dorsey served in the military and, as “Kid Chocolate,” was a successful boxer. He studied auto repair on the G.I. Bill and got work at a garage owned by the New Orleans DJ Eddie the Whip; he made a bunch of records and scored several unforgettable hits (including the song above) and is remembered as one of the great New Orleans singers. In the meantime, he opened his own garage, advertising himself locally as “the best body man in the Ninth Ward.” Internationally revered for his records, he ran the shop up until his death. A lot of Dorsey’s songs —  “Work, Work, Work,” “Gotta Find a Job,” and others — dealt with what it was to work, and Dorsey knew what he was singing about.

There are, of course, a ton of coal mining songs out there. A lot of them have come to us by way of Hazel Dickens, one of my musical heroes. Here’s one of them, “Coal Tattoo”:

And here’s a great union song from Hazel:

Maybe next year for Labor Day, I’ll host an hour of work songs, or even an hour of coal mine songs (West Virginia and Kentucky have produced a lot of those, but Birmingham has produced a few of its own as well).

In the meantime, one more time, do check out this show that meant to air on Saturday.

And tune in this Saturday: my guests Joyce and jim Cauthen will talk about Alabama fiddle traditions, play some live tunes in the studio, and share some of their unreleased field recordings of Alabama fiddlers. It’ll be a great time, with no technological glitches.

Thanks, everybody. See you soon.

Book of Ancestors: William Levi Dawson

William Levi Dawson, the latest from my Book of Ancestors, a work in progress:

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I started the
Book of Ancestors  a few months ago. It’s divided into three sections — “Family,” “Music,” and “Movement” — and will feature tributes to a range of “ancestors,” both literal and figurative, all from my home state of Alabama. (The “Movement” subtitle refers not only to figures from the Civil Rights Movement, but to a range of social movers whose lives represent numerous sorts of momentum, progress, and positive change.) I plan to be working at this off and on for a good little while, and thought I may as well post occasional developments here.

I made this tribute to Dawson last night while listening to his Negro Folk Symphony and to performances of the Tuskegee University Choir, recorded under his direction. I’d never heard of Dawson until very recently. A few weeks ago I came across this description in the WPA’s Alabama guidebook, first published in the 1930s:

William Levi Dawson, director of the School of Music and the choir at Tuskegee Institute, is probably the State’s leading contemporary composer. Born in Anniston in 1899, Dawson has written in all forms and won the Rodman Wanamaker contest for composition in 1930 and 1931. Among his works are Negro Folk Symphony No. 1, first performed by the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra in 1934, “Out in the Fields,” and “Ain’-a That Good News,” a cappella choruses, and “Break, Break, Break,” a choral with orchestra. Maude Cuney-Hare, in Negro Musicians and Their Music, estimates that Dawson is the first among “present cultivated Negro composers of whom much may be expected in the way of producing what will be the future American music.”

Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony was a huge deal when it was first performed. It was lauded by Alain Locke, one of the principal architects of the Harlem Renaissance, singled out as both a masterwork in itself and as a harbinger of great things to come. The original Philadelphia audience broke custom by erupting into applause more than once before the first performance was finished; when it was over the crowd called Dawson out for multiple bows. Performances followed at Carnegie Hall, whose crowds were similarly enthusiastic and unrestrained. Listeners across the country tuned in to hear the piece performed live over the radio waves. “One is eager to hear it again and yet again,” cheered a critic for the New York World-Tribune. A review in the New York American newspaper declared it “the most distinctive and promising American symphonic proclamation which has been so far achieved.” It was 1934, and Dawson was a black man from Alabama; his achievement was an historic one.

In the original program notes, Dawson wrote this:

“This Symphony is based entirely upon Negro folk-music. The themes are taken from what are popularly known as Negro spirituals, and the practiced ear will recognize the recurrence of characteristic themes throughout the composition… . In this composition the composer has employed three themes taken from typical melodies over which he has brooded since childhood, having learned them at his mother’s knee.”

Two years before the symphony’s debut, Dawson had explained his ambitions to a reporter for the Associated Press. “I’ve not tried,” he said, “to imitate Beethoven or Brahams, Franck or Ravel — but to be just myself, a Negro. To me, the finest compliment that could be paid my symphony when it has its premiere is that it unmistakably is not the work of a white man. I want the audience to say: ‘Only a Negro could have written that.”

Regrettably, in the years since its debut, Dawson’s landmark work has faded into obscurity. Dawson remained a respected public figure for years to come, but not for his orchestral compositions: under Dawson’s direction the Tuskegee University Choir gained international renown, touring and broadcasting widely and performing for the likes of Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt. Dawson emerged as an influential choral arranger and composer, and many of his spiritual arrangements have became American staples. He revisited and revised his original symphony several times in the years after its debut, but his attentions no longer centered on orchestral composition. In recent years, a few scholars have wondered over the gradual neglect of Dawson’s symphony and have advocated for its place in the American canon (see, for example, Gwynne Kuhner Brown’s “Whatever Happened to William Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony?” or John Andrew Johnson’s “William Dawson, ‘The New Negro,’ and His Folk Idiom”). While many of Dawson’s choral arrangements are still performed today — his most active lingering legacy — the name William Levi Dawson has been largely, and unjustly, forgotten.

So here he is, in my growing Book of Ancestors.

More to come.

Stay tuned.

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P. S. Want to see more things like this? Stay in the loop by following the blog: you can sign up on the top, righthand side of this page (or scroll to the bottom, if you’re viewing on a phone) to receive new posts in your email inbox. You can also follow @lostchildradio on Instagram and “like” my book and/or radio show on Facebook. You can also(!!) purchase my book with Alabama jazzman “Doc” Adams online or at your local bookstore. Heartfelt thanks, sincerely, for any / all of the above.

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A year or two ago my family and I watched for the first time together Little Shop of Horrors — easily my favorite musical, and a great movie, too, from director Frank Oz. You may remember there’s a kind of doo-wop Greek chorus in it, inspired by the “girl groups” of the sixties; watching the movie inspired me, later that night, to draw a couple of those original groups. After that I put them aside until this just week, as I scrambled to get together some works for my art show, which opens this(!!) Saturday. I added the Chiffons to the two groups I already had (the Ronettes and the Crystals — I had to throw out a kind of disastrous Supremes, saving them for another project, some other time), and I fashioned them all together into a single tribute. Here’s the week’s progress and final result:

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I’m excited to have my first-ever public showing of my drawings, something I thought I’d never do; I’m only doing it now thanks to the encouragement of some very fine friends. And I’m delighted to show these drawings alongside the photography of Jared Ragland, an artist whose work I very much admire. If you’re in Birmingham, I hope you’ll come to the opening: it’s at The Jaybird this Saturday, August 11, from 7 to 9. We’ll have music provided by djcasequarter (the illustrious Kevin Nutt), and a short set too from Tiny Montgomery. We’ve got the ingredients for a very fine night.

(For more drawings, see this previous post, or this one.)

P.S. Usually I write here about the outsides of empty cardboard boxes — but stay tuned in the next week or two for a post about the insides of this cardboard box, which arrived at our house yesterday — and about whose contents I’m positively giddy.

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P. S., also: For the last thirty days I’ve been posting to Instagram daily photos I’ve taken over the years of boiled peanut stands and boiled peanut signs. Today marked the last day in the series, with this portrait of the artist, a photo taken in Florida a few years back by Susan Shoemaker. To see the whole set — as well as additional drawings not seen on this blog, and posts about my radio show and the roots of American music — check out @lostchildradio. Thanks, everybody.

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Letters to Norah

1.

This week, my step-daughter Norah is away at camp. So, apparently, are her guinea pigs, Sylvester and Sebastian, who’ve been sending her letters. Hopefully, she’s having as much fun as they are:

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2.

Speaking of letters to Norah, here’s something I’ve been meaning to share — somewhere, with somebody — for nearly two years.

At the start of her third grade year, Norah was worried about needles: a year before, kids had been able to take a spray of flu mist up their noses, instead of rolling up their sleeves for the usual flu shots. But for 2016 the mist had been declared ineffective, and school systems were requiring the shots again.

Norah wasn’t having it. She went to her room and carefully wrote out a letter expressing her concerns. Then she sent it off to the Jefferson County Department of Health.

Needless to say, we did not expect a response. But a few days later, a letter addressed to Norah appeared in our mailbox.

Here are both letters in the exchange. If you have any doubts that there are beautiful souls left in our world, please read the thoughtful, inspiring response Norah received from a stranger, a doctor and public health official from Jefferson County, Alabama; be sure to read through to the last couple of paragraphs.

We really weren’t sure just where to tell Norah to send her letter, but clearly it wound up on the right person’s desk. I like to imagine the care with which Mark E. Wilson, MD, a busy man, sat in his office and composed these words. Watching Norah open and read the letter remains one of my favorite family memories to date.

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Norah got the shot, without complaint.

Alabama Road Trip (Summer 2018)

A heads up — this is kind of a long post, compared to most of the others. Included herein: a visit to Folklore Brewing and Meadery; “The Hugging Molly”; YellaWood lumber, the richest man in Alabama, and a small-town downtown’s weird revitalization; Eufaula, Alabama’s historic Jewish cemetery; deer and kudzu; a quick drive through Smut Eye; boiled peanuts. If you only have a minute or suffer from a short attention span, I think the photos from the Jewish cemetery are the highlight, and you’re welcome to scroll straight to them. It was our visit to that cemetery that inspired me to write about this drive.

 So:

Once a year my wife Glory goes to this big convention of Alabama lawyers, and I get to ride along. Every year it’s on or near the ocean, and while she’s shuffling from one hotel conference room to the next I get to spend the day reading and writing and walking on the beach, eating long lunches or checking out the local record store. At the end of the day we are given free drinks and have the rest of the night to find and eat as much seafood as we can.

It’s not a bad deal.

But what I want to write about here is yesterday’s drive back from this most recent trip to the beach. (“Yesterday,” now, is a few weeks ago; but most of this was written a day after the trip, so I’ll let it stand.) We decided that going and coming we’d stick as much as possible to the state and county roads, avoiding the interstates and taking in as much of our state as we could. On the way south we drove through Selma and Oak Hill and McWilliams, down through Enterprise and Brewton and on into Florida, where the convention was held. We didn’t make many stops on the way down, though I did get out of the car long enough to take a few photos of this old gas station, covered in Biblical and all-American texts:

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After our last day at the beach, we consulted my Alabama Gazetteer, one of my favorite, handiest possessions, for an alternate route home. We left the beach too late to get too far, and we ended up for the night in Dothan. They were having a Fourth(ish) of July celebration at the fairgrounds, complete with seed-spitting contest and talent show, but we decided food and drink were a greater priority and, alas, we never made it to the fairgrounds. I’d be sorrier to have missed it if we hadn’t let our GPS direct us instead to the Folklore Brewing and Meadery, which lies some distance out of town and is situated on somebody’s old family farm, and which, it turns out, is a pretty magical place. They make good beer (I especially enjoyed the Front Porch Pale Ale) and all kinds of muscadine mead(!), and their kitchen made me the best hamburger I’ve eaten in a very long time. A couple of sisters, maybe 20 years old and billing themselves as The Sisters, played guitar and keyboards and sang Gnarls Barkley and “No Scrubs” and a medley of “House of the Rising Sun” and “Jolene.” People sat around smoking cigars, available for purchase at the counter, and there was lots of good dog watching. After the sky got dark we could hear and occasionally see, over the trees, the fireworks from the fairgrounds. We sat and played a couple of long, high-scoring games of thirteen-card gin rummy.

It was a beautiful night.

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The next morning we did finally stop at the fairgrounds to gawk at its enormous peanut — they love(!!) peanuts in Dothan — before hitting the road eastward and north.

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Our route took us through Abbeville, Alabama, which bills itself as the “Home of Huggin’ Molly.” As you approach, there is this unsettling welcome, which seems depict a wild-haired madwoman with outstretched arms, chasing a small child:

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(I couldn’t help but think of the recent controversial drawing that got a political cartoonist fired from his longtime gig at the Pittsburg Post-Gazette, the one that shows, on a yellow roadside caution sign, the black silhouette of our president snatching a small child from her fleeing family. Of course, any perceived similarity is only coincidental; the child-snatching menace seen here is no president but someone or something called “Huggin’ Molly.”)

We’d already noticed a billboard, a few miles back, for a Huggin’ Molly’s hot dog joint in Abbeville, but this image demanded a little online research and a detour in our drive. It turns out there’s an old story parents in Abbeville used to tell their children, about the “phantom woman” who chased after little children who stayed out too late at night. If she caught them, she’d give them a terrifying hug and scream in their little ears. A 2017 article on al.com offers further details:

“One version of the story claims Molly was the ghost of a woman who had lost an infant who dealt with the tragedy by hugging local children. Another states Molly was a professor at the former Southeast Alabama Agriculture School who was trying to keep students safe by keeping them off the streets at night.” According to the legend, she was “as much as 7 feet tall”—and, other than whatever trauma her hugs and screams may have inflicted, she was on the whole good-intentioned and harmless.

According to the article above, “the legend of Huggin’ Molly is unique to the Alabama town of Abbeville,” but it seems to have a slightly wider provenance than just that — and in some of her variations, the Hugging Molly (the the, I think, makes it way creepier) has a more sinister edge than in those Abbeville parents’ cautionary tales. On an ancestry.com message board, we find this—

“I am looking for information on something or someone my Grandmother used to talk about when I was a little girl. My Grandmother was born in 1906 and grew up in Mobile, Alabama. She mentioned, more than once a story about a woman who walked the streets at night and killed men. She was called the hugging Molly. My Grandmother said she killed the men by hugging them. This story creeped me out as a child and I never forgot it. Has any one else ever heard of this? I would greatly appreciate any info.”

The same writer eventually followed up in her own thread, with some answers:

“I finally, after all these years found out what the “Hugging Molly” was. I ordered a book called Gumbo Ya Ya off the internet. It was first published in 1945. It has all kinds of Louisiana folk lore in it.

“The Hugging Molly was in there. The HM was actually a mentally disturbed man who would hug women on the street. He dressed up in a white sheet or robe and would very strongly hug women at random. He never hurt anyone, but many black women were afraid of him because the white robe or sheet made them think he was part of the clan [sic].”

Yikes. A woman hugging men to death. A mentally disturbed man, hugging random women. Strongly. In a white robe.

Welcome to Abbeville!  

The ancestry.com thread also does contain a couple of references to the Abbeville variant, endorsing the tamer version of the Huggin’ Molly story, the one sanctioned by the local Chamber of Commerce, in which Molly’s function is simply to keep kids off the streets (and, these days, to lure tourists to buy Abbeville hot dogs). And there’s this:

“When I was thirteen, my family moved from California to Dothan, AL. I heard the legend of Hugging molly when I moved there from a girl that lived in my neighborhood. I was very skeptical, having never heard people believing in such silliness. So, I decided to go in the woods with this silly girl. We were just walking around when this girl who seemed to be made of red light came towards us with her arms outstretched. She was moving very fast. We ran and I never ventured into the woods again. I often wonder if I just had an overactive imagination or something.”

Hm. One wonders.

One way or another, it seems that Molly has become a central piece of the small town of Abbeville’s recent re-branding — all thanks to Jimmy Rane, the local treated wood magnate, and Alabama’s richest citizen. If you live in or near Alabama, you’ve probably seen Jimmy Rane on billboards or on TV; he’s the owner of YellaWood treated lumber,  an international company, and the star in a series of epically ambitious, kitschy Western-themed YellaWood ads, like this:

Jimmy Rane, it seems, carries a weighty influence in his hometown. It was Rane who opened the downtown restaurant Huggin’ Molly’s, and Rane who engineered the “Home of Huggin’ Molly” welcome sign on the edge of town. And it’s Rane, too, who’s responsible for tricking out downtown Abbeville with loads of vintage neon signs: as we drove through the little downtown, we noticed a cool old sign for Buster Brown shoes and were impressed it had survived all the years intact — until, a few seconds later, when we started to notice vintage signs over just about everything and realized that, though some of them might have been original to Abbeville, others must have been brought in more recently, as the local leadership refashioned the place into a nostalgic 1950s downtown.

Again, we take to the internet. And again confirm that it’s Jimmy Rane — and his soft spot for kitschy ‘50s memorabilia — that’s at the heart of the town’s weird “revitalization.” From what we can tell, the man is a much loved figure in Abbeville; he’s made the little town the headquarters of his hugely successful company, and he’s given loads of money to student scholarships and to the Republican party and Auburn University. And he’s sunk chunks of money into the town itself, seeking to turn it into a tourist stop (his efforts did succeed in luring us off the main road). He helped restore the looks this cool old downtown theater, where he hopes to one day show It’s a Wonderful Life and John Wayne movies and the like.

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I do hope Jimmy Rane brings some longterm, meaningful prosperity and life to the town he clearly loves. But I have to admit that the new, old Abbeville kind of gave us the creeps; maybe it was just that it was a Sunday and everyone was at church or in bed — but with all the vintage signs and empty streets, we felt like we’d stumbled into an abandoned theme park, or some kind of a spotless 1950s ghost town. And so we hit the road again, before the Huggin’ Molly screamed into our ears.

*

We stopped a little later in Eufaula for lunch, and on our way out of that town we happened across the beautiful, old Fairview Cemetery, and — on the far edge of its grounds, overlooking Lake Eufala — this: “The Jewish Cemetery,” established in 1845 and restored and rededicated in 1987. The dead there included Jews born in Alsace, France; Poland; Bavaria; and other points of origin — immigrants who died not only in Eufaula but in Georgia and Kentucky and other places across the South and who, one way or another, ended up here.

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There was a lot of history in this graveyard, and history I’d honestly never considered: there were two soldiers buried here who’d fought for the Confederacy, and one of the graves was flanked by both the American and Confederate flags.

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A Confederate flag in a Jewish cemetery is something we hadn’t expected to see, and it made me curious about the Jewish history of the Confederacy. There is just a handful of books on the subject: among them, Robert N. Rosen’s overview, The Jewish Confederates; a reader, Jews and the Civil War; and a few biographies of Judah P. Benjamin, a “rare Sephardic Jew in the Old South and a favorite of Jefferson Davis,” the so-called “brains of the Confederacy,” who served posts as the CSA’s attorney general, secretary of war, and secretary of state.

There are also sections of Odd Fellows and Masons buried in Fairview Cemetery. Here’s one of the Masons’ headstones.

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And once, too, there was a “Negro Cemetery” included on a hillside. But those graves, now, are nowhere to be seen, and a historic marker in their place tells us this: that the names of the dead are “known only to God,” “the wooden grave markers which located the burials … long since vanished.”

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Any drive through the South invites us to consider the ways in which public memory is constructed, the ways in which the past is memorialized, enshrined, entombed, redacted, and revised. In one town, an entire community becomes invisible, anonymous, and lost, replaced eventually by a lone historic marker. A few towns over, a pseudo-history is fashioned from tube lights and antiques. And so it goes.

And meanwhile: there is a lot of natural beauty in Eufala, a place I’d never visited before. I could stand to spend some more time there, taking it all in. A little trail off the Jewish cemetery leads through the woods, down to a paved walking and biking path, bordered on one side by the lake and on the other by a mountain of kudzu. In the kudzu we came across four deer, three of which you can see here, just before they disappeared back into all the encompassing green.

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Here’s more of the view around there:

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After Eufala, we had to make better time back to Birmingham, so there weren’t many more stops. We did drive through the neighboring communities of Smut Eye and Blues Old Stand, two of my favorite-named Alabama towns. We barely missed the town of Mathews, where some of my ancestors came from, a destination for another day’s drive. The okra stew I’d slurped down in Eufala had kind of made a mess of my stomach, and I spent a good stretch of the afternoon’s drive hunched over in the passenger seat, moaning softly. We picked up the interstate in Montgomery, and for an hour everything looked like everything else again. Then we were home.

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We had a good time at the beach; the water there was so clear that you could wade into it up to your neck and still clearly see your feet below you in the sand. But the highlight of the trip may have been the two days with Glory in the car. We learned a lot we didn’t know about our state, ate some good food, shot the breeze, and heard Loretta and Conway on Dothan’s “country legends” radio station.

Oh, and this:

For as long as I’ve been driving a car, I’ve made a point of stopping for boiled peanuts, anytime I see them for sale. For almost as long as that, I’ve been taking pictures of the boiled peanut stands where they’re sold, and of the signs that advertise them. Sooner or later, once the collection gets up past a hundred photos or so, I plan to compile them all into some public format. I’m almost there, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, for the last month of the summer, I’ve been posting a boiled peanut photo a day to my Instagram account. You can follow along here.

Our drive through south Alabama did turn up a few boiled peanut shots I can add to the collection. Like I say, they love their peanuts in (and around) Dothan:

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Thanks for reading. Peace.

— Burgin

P.S. “We picked up the interstate in Montgomery, and for an hour everything looked like everything else again.” Perhaps this is not entirely fair: I’ve just driven up and down this road so many times I barely notice its eccentricities. As interstates go, there’s actually a good deal to take in. There’s a water tower in the shape of an enormous peach, and a big sign that reads “GO TO CHURCH OR THE DEVIL WILL GET YOU.” And speaking of Confederate flags, there’s a giant, obscene one on a hill: menacingly, cockily, defiantly huge, a gross display of my state’s worst impulses at work. This stretch of I-65 goes by several names, advertised along the way: somewhere between Prattville and Clanton, for example, the “Hank Williams Lost Highway” becomes the “War on Terror Memorial Highway.” It’s unclear where one ends and the other begins. But here’s what Hank Williams says, for whatever it may be worth (in a song he made famous, but which singer Leon Payne wrote):

Now, boys, don’t start to ramblin’ round / on this road of sin, or you’re sorrow bound
Take my advice, or you’ll curse the day / you started rollin’ down that lost highway

That’s all for now. See you around.

Note: If you like this sort of thing, you can support the endeavor by doing any of the following: follow this blog by signing up on the righthand side of this page; follow @lostchildradio on Instagram; or “like” my book and/or radio show on Facebook. You can purchase my book with Alabama jazzman “Doc” Adams online or at your local bookstore. Heartfelt thanks, sincerely, for any / all of the above.

Tom Joad’s Last Words

Saturday was the 106th anniversary of the birth of Woody Guthrie, and (to celebrate) on The Lost Child I played about an hour’s worth of Guthrie’s Library of Congress recordings, his epic 1940 series of sessions with folklorist Alan Lomax. At the end of the show I slipped in, also, a couple of excerpts from “Folk Songs of America,” a radio broadcast from later the same year, in which Guthrie appeared as guest, trading songs with Leadbelly.

One of the songs from that old radio program — and the performance that ended my own show, last Saturday — was “Tom Joad,” in which Guthrie distills The Grapes of Wrath‘s 700 pages into a seven-minute, 16-verse ballad. He borrows the melody from “John Hardy,” the outlaw song, and the tune frames Steinbeck’s Dust Bowl refugee — and, by association, a whole generation of real-life migrants — as another kind of outlaw-hero. (Similarly, Guthrie would rework the popular ballad “Jesse James” into “Jesus Christ,” reading the New Testament, too, as an outlaw tale.)

Near the end of Steinbeck’s novel, the protagonist Joad — inspired by the Christ-like Preacher Casy, and on the run for his life — gives a farewell speech to his “Ma.” His words go like this:

“Well, maybe like Casy says, a fella ain’t got a soul of his own, but on’y a piece of a big one — an’ then—“

“Then what, Tom?”

“Then it don’ matter. Then I’ll be all aroun’ in the dark. I’ll be everywhere — wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’ — I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build–why, I’ll be there. See?”

Henry Fonda made the speech famous. Here’s how it goes in John Ford’s 1940 movie of the book:

And here’s how Woody Guthrie boils all that down into song:

“Ever’body might be just one big soul
Well it looks that a-way to me
Everywhere that you look, in the day or night
That’s where I’m a-gonna be, Ma
That’s where I’m a-gonna be

Wherever little children are hungry and cry
Wherever people ain’t free
Wherever men are fightin’ for their rights
That’s where I’m a-gonna be, Ma
That’s where I’m a-gonna be”

I suppose Woody Guthrie (who was something of an outlaw, himself) is in all those places too, now, today. He’s well worth looking for and listening to, and fighting alongside.

So happy birthday to him.

Here’s “Tom Joad”:

P. S. If you like this sort of thing, you can support the endeavor by doing any of the following: follow this blog by signing up on the righthand side of this page (you’ll get about 2 posts a month in your email inbox); follow @lostchildradio on Instagram; or “like” my book and/or radio show on Facebook. You can purchase my book with Alabama jazzman “Doc” Adams online or at your local bookstore. Heartfelt thanks, sincerely, for any / all of the above.