Blogs > Cliopatria > The Duality of the Southern Thing

Aug 7, 2006 7:06 pm

The Duality of the Southern Thing

"The past isn't dead," as William Faulkner put it,"it isn't even past."

Not surprising that the one rock group around now really writing and performing from a condition of steady contact with that truth is a Southern band, the Drive By Truckers, most of its members from Alabama:

Ain't about excuses or alibis
Ain't about no cotton fields or cotton picking lies
Ain't about the races, the crying shame
To the fucking rich man all poor people look the same....
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.

Some interviews with DBT are now available at this National Public Radio page. You can also download a recent live show there -- including the great song "Sinkhole", which is sort of what punk rock would sound like if it had been invented by Okies during the Great Depression.

I often think that DBT is the one band whose members have probably read The Mind of the South by W. J. Cash. But they are downstream from the history that swallowed Cash up:

Four generations, a whole lot has changed
Robert E. Lee
Martin Luther King
We've come a long way
rising from the flame
Stay out the way of the southern thing....
Not that everything they write (or most of their work, even) explicitly faces the history of the region. But even a number like "My Sweet Annette" -- a beautiful, sad song about love going in an unexpected direction -- has echoes of the past. The narrator is recalling a moment of his life as a young man in 1933, a time when people had already lost the innocence they knew"as children back before the war."

UPDATE: The strength of DBT is that it has three very capable songwriters. The youngest is Jason Isbell, who sometimes seems like an old man in disguise. Check out this video of his song about the death in Iraq of someone from his hometown. (If Isbell released a solo record, I would be in the store waiting for it the day it was released.)

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Scott McLemee - 8/6/2006

Yeah, "George Wallace" makes me want to read a biography of him. As DBT tells it, he was, up to a certain point in his career, actually pretty progressive on race for a man of his generation -- but when he lost a campaign to someone who played the segregation card, that settled it.

So he's in hell for being an opportunist: "Throw another log on the fire boys," sings the devil, "George Wallace is comin'..."

Rob MacDougall - 8/5/2006

I love the DBT! And yeah, they're steeped in both Southern history and the history of Southern rock - the two coming together, of course, in two linked songs on their Southern Rock Opera: "The Three Great Alabama Icons" (that would be George Wallace, Bear Bryant, and Ronnie Van Zant, for those just joining us) and "George Wallace" (you've got to love a song that is, more or less, a qualified defense of Wallace, yet is sung from the point of view of the Devil, preparing to welcome Wallace in Hell).