Just when you think things like RTP and Zach Galifiankis have erased the Southern Gothic myth, here comes the kudzu-choked months of July and August. The weepy, blurred horizons return. Cemeteries clog with deep shadows and eroding barns and farmhouses disappear behind waves of tranquil mimosas and magnolia.
I’ve run from Faulkner’s vanishing-South theory all my life. Same as I have vainly distanced myself from the Beatles’ legendary Abbey Road. That album wafted through the late-1970s, especially it’s luminous medley on Side Two. It is sixteen minutes’ worth of drenching, fading sunlight, drowsy folks with too much or too little money, errant women hopping through bathroom windows, and finally a burden that is too much to handle.
I have spent years trying not to listen to the medley, or any of Side Two for that matter. But every summer, as the cicadas screech louder and louder, I find myself putting it on for a spin. Quietly. Often in the dark, on a Sunday night still early enough for people to be coming home from church.
A Southern Gothic lullaby.
Lester Bangs called Side Two “a disaster.” When I first heard it, maybe eight or nine years old, it was a playful follow to the first side’s octopus garden and the violent Maxwell. It dried up like summer rain inside my skull. I went back to pop music and then punk rock and lord knows where those handful of songs went until they resurfaced.
Every seventeen years the locusts return. Something like that. It’s like you can’t stop reading Flannery O’Connor even though you want to, even though she may be over-heralded and too often recommended, you see her characters from coast to mountain top. Lurking. Sneering. Gossiping. Hating. Eating. Praying.
And maybe I was in a barbecue place and it came over the rusty ceiling speakers: “Mean Mr. Mustard” or “Polythene Pam.” The Beatles were a part of my childhood. All my brothers had all of their albums. Just like all of the cemeteries has all of our ancestors. Everybody who hates the Beatles knows at least four of their songs by heart.
I went to Saxapahaw and wanted it to be the coolest experience since I first noticed there were pictures in cathedral windows. I remain undecided. You go to a dirt track stock-car race and you can’t leave without leaning one way or the other. Same thing if you stand beside a belching Farmall, covered in dust, and wait for a trailer filled with peanuts to dump. Some Southern things are fabricated to look Southern.
Memory contains all you need to know. If memory lies, there’s a good reason for it. So anybody over the age of forty knows that when he or she first heard the Beatles crawl through “Carry That Weight” they were timestamped. What I’m saying is, is that Side Two is one of the most Southern Gothic recordings of the 1960s. Just because it strains to be more than what it is, knowing it is pressured by its own past to remain a public spectacle.
Don’t get me started on Canned Heat or Credence Clearwater Revival. They remind me of RTP.
Causes Sean Jackson Supports
PFLAG, Amnesty International, AA, Catholic Social Services