Nonfiction: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

I have a lot in common with Vance.  We are roughly the same age.  We both grew up poor hillbillies.  We both had a beloved older sister.  One set of grandparents was very important to both our lives.  We would both go on to attend elite law schools and marry good women.

There is also a fair amount we don’t have in common.  Unlike Vance, I grew up in the Appalachian Mountains proper.  Unlike Vance, I grew up in a stable, two-parent home.

Unlike the vast majority of people who have written about Hillbilly Elegy, I visited Jackson, Kentucky and Middletown, Ohio.  Vance’s grandparents left their home in Jackson to go to Middletown for work.  Vance grew up in Middletown taking frequent trips back home to Jackson to see family.  It wasn’t that onerous for me.  I drive through Ohio and Kentucky several times a year trekking between the place I live in the Rust Belt and my home in Appalachia.  Oddly enough, that drive takes me the same amount of time as the drive between Middletown and Jackson took Vance’s grandparents (roads have improved considerably in the interim).  I took an unplanned trip home without the wife and baby this summer after my mom fell and broke her hip, so I took the scenic route on the way back and very briefly visited Jackson and Middletown.  Interspersed throughout my post are pictures from that trip.

Middletown

Continue reading “Nonfiction: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance”

Music Monday: Colorado Kool-Aid by Johnny Paycheck

While we’re on the topic of the joys of Colorado Kool-Aid, lemme turn you on to an underappreciated example of the bar fight ballad sub-genre of country music: Colorado Kool-Aid by Johnny Paycheck.  (It is a larger sub-genre than you might think, because, well, country music.  To hear it from the belligerent drunk’s perspective, I recommend this Hank Williams song.

I mostly stick with Colorado Kool-Aid Light.

Continue reading “Music Monday: Colorado Kool-Aid by Johnny Paycheck”

Film: Smokey and the Bandit

This is the libertarian song of my people.

Every trope in Smokey and the Bandit was done to death in the 70s.  It’s easy to forget just how damned good Smokey and the Bandit is.  It’s a car chase movie, but it’s not just a car chase movie, which elevates it above its closest competitors, Vanishing Point and the original Gone in 60 Seconds.  Of course Vanishing Point wasn’t just a car chase movie either, and for all that Vanishing Point was my dad’s favorite movie, it is Smokey and the Bandit that is a movie about my people.

The premise is simple.  Big and Little Enos Burdette bet legendary truck driver the Bandit that he can’t get from Atlanta to Texarkana and back, picking up a load of Coors beer in Texarkana, in 28 hours.  That’s 900 miles each way, with 400 illegal cases of beer in the back for the entire return trip.  That’s over 60 miles an hour for over 24 hours straight over 1970s highways. The law is broken as soon as the Coors beer crosses the Arkansas state line.

Bandit recruits his old running partner Cledus to drive the truck.  He will run blocker in a 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am (a choice that would influence many of my high school classmates).  Bandit provides Cledus with the perfect explanation of his motivation:

“How come we doing this?”

“Well, why not?”

“Well, they said it couldn’t be done.”

“Well that’s the reason, son”

Continue reading “Film: Smokey and the Bandit”

Life in the Mountains After Coal

I spent last week in Canmore, Alberta.  Canmore is a little mountain town nestled just inside the Canadian Rockies shortly before you reach Banff National Park.  I didn’t know ’til I got there that Canmore used to be a coal mining town.

Queen Victoria herself granted a charter for coal mining in Canmore (well, she probably in reality had little to do with it . . . but it was issued in her name).  The first coal mine in Canmore was opened in 1887.  Canmore remained a coal mining town for the next 92 years.  I might not have realized the history but for happening to be in town on the 40th anniversary of its last coal mine closing.

The entrance to Canmore’s last coal mine. It is sealed off a few feet in.

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Music Monday: Early Jimmy Buffett

I spent the past week in the Canadian Rockies.  Like most people, when I am in the Rockies my thoughts turn to Jimmy Buffett.  No?  More of an island vibe?  Buffett wasn’t always a man-made island of self-parodying merchandizing empire.

I saw someone remark somewhere that Jimmy Buffett was Kenny Chesney before Kenny Chesney was Kenny Chesney.  Like Kenny Chesney, Buffett’s music suffered from self-imitation of his own self-curated island image.  More surprisingly, like Kenny Chesney, Buffett has roots in country music.

Michael Streissguth’s Outlaw was one of my vacation reads; Streissguth mentions Buffett as one of the young, hip songwriters who descended on a pre-outlaw country Nashville.  The country influences were more evident in his early work and, frankly, it was his better work.

Continue reading “Music Monday: Early Jimmy Buffett”

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