Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Waxing Southern

I've been listening to a lot of bluegrass lately. A friend got me into Brown Bird in particular, although The Civil Wars, Sarah Jarosz, Crooked Still are all also on the playlist, and I'm now obsessed.

There's something about the music that is uniquely southern. Brown Bird in particular features droning fiddles, sudden changes in rhythm. It creates a music that's warm and eerie and sensual. Those of you who have been in the south during the summer know the weighty feeling of the hot humid air, so thick that it embraces you, the pressure of crickets and cicadas as the night pulses with their chirps. Summer in the south is not calm; nights are full of life and noise and nature. Days are quiet, full of sun and chirping, as  the sun bakes you and everything waits for night and cooler air. Good bluegrass captures this.

It's not surprising, then, that southern literature also works to capture this. My brain works oddly about some books and southern literature more than other genres; I tend to remember very little of the plot or characters, but instead grasp a feeling or a single scene. Absalom, Absalom is a meeting at night in a dark forest covered in kudzu, The Awakening is a feeling of flatness tinted blue. Beloved (my book from two weeks ago. I'm behind on blogging, but on top of reading) is three women dancing at twilight. Beloved deals with the concept of magic, the thought that anything can happen when you combine dark sultry nights with horror with love. I struggle with interpreting it, coming to any easy place in my mind for analysis. Instead I mainly just stop at the top level of emotions and wonder how you can begin to comprehend the plot, and the existence of a system that allowed for the easy destruction of the humanity of all involved.

I wonder if this is part of the duality of the south, the cheerful songs with runs and light strings and the songs of death and betrayal and odd rhythms and clashing harmonies. It is a region of such beauty and such life. The mountains, rather than intimidate you with their height and peaks, soothe you with their curves, the fog drifting around the peaks, lulling you into a feeling of safety and security. Behind that, though, are stories of violence, misunderstandings. It is a land that lends itself to extremes.

And yet, as someone who grew up here, it's hard to reconcile these feelings with the suburbanization and the aging hippies and the artists. I only hope we don't lose the artists or the storytelling or the mystery to the everydayness.


HomeImprovementNinja said...

Did you manage to check out the Bluegrass festival in DC this past weekend? It was a blast.

Rebecca said...

I did, but I spent a lot of my time in the beer line. I did get to listen to the last band, although my friend and I decided that the instruments were awesome, but the vocals were hit or miss.