. . . it is a piece of rank materialism to attempt to duplicate some earlier form, because of its delight . . . without realizing how empty a form is without the life that once supported it.
Lewis Mumford, The South in Architecture
You think I’m dumb, maybe not too bright
You wonder how I sleep at night
Proud of the glory, stare down the shame
Duality of the Southern thing
Patterson Hood, Drive-By Truckers, “The Southern Thing”
With sabers and sticks we run to our peace
Kept undisclosed and told a vague memory
And in this dejection lives a connection
Tied to your vain silence and all my resistance
Katie Crutchfield, “You’re Damaged”
Clarksdale, Memphis, and Muscle Shoals – the road to rock music runs through the South like a muddy red river through a pine forest.
Alabama’s contribution began in prewar race and hillbilly records, the roots of rock in blues and country. Later, Hank Williams and the staple of Muscle Shoals artists produced spare music which expressed the emotional truths of rural Southern life.
In the 90s, an end-year baby boomer from the Shoals, Patterson Hood, formed a band, the Drive-By Truckers. Hood wrote songs that rocked in the manner of other Southern bands – Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet – yet said something deeper about “the Southern thing.”
Hood also explored new forms to express these lived-truths.
A new Southern sensibility has arisen with roots not only in Hank, and Muscle Shoals, but also in Southern Gothic literature and folk art. A cross-disciplinary renaissance in Alabama arts and design which has captured imaginations far beyond the Alabama state line. Whether its the art work of Wes Freed (shown above), the graphic design of Standard Deluxe, the fashion design of Billy Reid, or the architectural design of the Auburn Rural Studio, there’s a cross-disciplinary regional sensibility at work here.
Coming in Part 2: Waxahatchee!
Thanks to Wes Freed for permission to use his print, “Ramblin’ Man” to lead off this post. You can see more of Wes’ great work on his website, Willard’s Garage.
© Donald E. Armstrong and Material Practices, 2013