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Archive for March, 2012

On the eve of a Final Four with no NC team playing (long sigh), it’s good to know that fans in a border state can act every bit as dumb and rednecky as those of us further south.

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Well, hell, y’all, I’ve just started this damn thing and I’ve already had to spend two posts marking passings.

Earl Scruggs died yesterday in Nashville.  If I have to explain to you who Earl Scruggs was, you’re probably not reading this in the first place.  I’d be willing to bet, though, that the majority of people in this country and around the world, when they think about the South, hear Earl Scruggs in their heads.

Harry Crews passed away yesterday, as well.  Next to Crews, Hemingway was an effeminate pretty boy, but Crews also had the self-awareness to say things like, “I like a lot of things that are really not fashionable and really not very nice and which finally, if you’ve got any sense at all, you know, are totally indefensible. Anybody who is going to defend much of the way I’ve spent my life is mad.”

That’s a lot of loss in one day, and I’m not happy about it at all.

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I was 7 years old when I first went to North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  That was long enough ago that the desk clerk at our motel, the girls at the cash registers, even the DJs on the local radio all, to my young Piedmont ears, talked real funny.

My parents explained to me that I was hearing the Outer Banks’ “hoi toide” brogue, that the isolation of the Banks and the Tidewater region preserved the accents of the original English settlers down through the centuries.  My little history-nerd self thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever heard.  (Years later, I was in a hotel room in London, falling asleep with the TV on, when I heard a voice speak in familiar tones.  I sat up, thinking they were talking to an Outer Banker; instead, I saw an old-timer from the west of England.  The accent was essentially the same.)

The British Library has completed a project to determine what Shakespeare sounded like; they’ve “completed a new recording of 75 minutes of The Bard’s most famous scenes, speeches and sonnets, all performed in the original pronunciation of Shakespeare’s time.”  The accent is so different as to be unintelligible at times, and though Scott Simon of NPR compares it to that of the Appalachians, to my (now much older) Piedmont ears, I’m hearing much of the same old “hoi toide.”  (I wonder what milepost the Globe was at?)

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Chipper Jones announced yesterday that this season will be his last in Major League Baseball.

It’s more than a little sad for me – not because I’m such a big fan of Larry Jones, Jr. (I’m still not entirely sure about a grown man going by the name “Chipper” because he was a “chip off the old block”), but because he and I are the same age, and I distinctly remember the hype that accompanied his rookie season, and even though we’ve known for a couple of years that the time for him to hang ’em up was fast approaching, if now is in fact the time for him to hang ’em up, then that makes a statement as uncomfortable as my own aching knees and graying hair.

Did Chipper never get his just due because he played in Atlanta?  Would he be talked about more as one of the great players of his generation if Ted Turner, the Mouth of the South, still owned the Braves?  Was it because he only has that one World Series ring, from way back in his rookie season, that most baseball fans aren’t aware of how spectacular his numbers have been?

Going into the 2012 season, Jones has a lifetime .304 average, with 454 home runs, 526 doubles, 1,455 walks, a .402 on-base percentage and a .533 slugging percentage.  The only other players with those kinds of career numbers?  Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, and Ted Williams.  Note that two of those guys have had movies made about them.  (And Teddy Ballgame should, if they could ever find someone awesome enough to play him.)

Since the mid-1990s, Chipper has been the South’s iconic baseball player, and he played the role about as well as he played the game.

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I don’t disagree with the basic premise of this column by Tina Dupuy – that the South needs to be more welcoming to “durn furriners,” and lay off a few helpings of Ma Romney’s “cheesy grits” – but her statements are so oversimplified that they undercut her argument.

What makes a “real Southern candidate”?  What makes anyone “real Southern”?  Sure, Newt Gingrich was born in Pennsylvania and still talks like he was, but he graduated from a Georgia high school, and then from Emory, and then from Tulane, and lived in the South longer than I have (and I was born here).  Is he still not a “real” Southerner because he doesn’t drawl?  (And, oh my God, am I actually defending Newt Gingrich?  Do I have a fever?  Will someone please check?)

How many of the South’s Republicans these days are “real” Southerners, and how many moved here for work or retirement during the Sun Belt boom?  How many of the voices of Southern conservatism sound more like Newt than, say, Haley Barbour?

How does anyone think saying the South’s economy should be more like California’s is a good idea right now?  (Immigration had little or nothing to do with California’s looming catastrophe, of course, but a better rhetorical strategy might be called for here.)

Some would argue that the South’s rise in the late 20th century was fueled by immigration from the Northeast and the Rust Belt.  Some would argue that this immigration was spurred by the South’s right-to-work laws, cheap labor and land, and the wonders of modern air-conditioning.  Some would argue that the South’s conservatism, nativism, exploitative labor practices, and love of fried foods have deep, deep roots.  Some would argue that any arguments that might pull up those roots will have to be stronger than Dupuy’s.

 

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The sports editor of my college newspaper used to say that Furman Bisher had the best job in sports.  As sportswriter and then columnist for what’s now the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Bisher’s local beat included ACC basketball, SEC football, the Masters, and NASCAR – in other words, the best the sports world has to offer, at least to unreconstructed Southerners.  That’s not to mention Major League Baseball, the NFL, and the NBA.

Bisher died Sunday at the age of 93.  He retired in 2009, after 59 years covering sports in Atlanta, though he’d planned to go to Augusta in a few weeks for the Masters.

He was a North Carolina native who first made his name in 1949, when he managed to get the first (and, it turned out, last) interview with ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson since the 1919 Black Sox scandal.  He was an eyewitness to the birth of NASCAR, and respected it as a sport when most sportswriters thought it was just bootleggers turning left (most sportswriters still do, they just don’t admit it now).  He helped bring the Braves to Atlanta, and co-wrote Hank Aaron’s first autobiography.

Half of those living just west of the Georgia line, though, did not care for Bisher, at least after he went after the Bear in a 1962 essay for the Saturday Evening Post, accusing Bryant of bringing a “new hell-for-leather, helmet-bursting, gang-tackling game” to the SEC.  Bisher wrote, “College football appears to have gone absolutely silly on ‘hitting,’ even at the expense of clever execution.  A new term, ‘hard-nosed,’ is about as common in the conversation of football savants as punting, passing, and praying.”  He did not mean that, I should add, as a compliment.

Bisher was implicated in the later Saturday Evening Post story accusing Bryant and University of Georgia athletic director Wally Butts of conspiring to fix a game, implications that Bisher always denied.  The subsequent libel lawsuits by Bryant and Butts helped lead to the Post‘s demise.

Lay aside the question of whether Bisher’s indictment of “brutal” football was prescient, given football’s current crisis over concussions; or disingenuous, given how brutal a game tackle football has always been; consider, instead, how much of the South’s late-20th century history is on the sidelines of Bisher’s Post column.  When he wrote it, Georgia Tech was an SEC football powerhouse that had a fierce rivalry with Alabama, a reflection of the rivalry between Atlanta and Birmingham to be the “capital city of the South.”  By the end of the decade, Tech had left the SEC, and Bryant had won two national championships (to go with the one he’d already claimed in 1961, and the three more he’d win before retiring) – but Atlanta had the Braves, and the boom, and its “city too busy to hate” image, while Birmingham had the bitter aftertaste of Bull Connor and “Bombingham.”

Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine Alabama fans getting worked up over Georgia Tech like they do over LSU or Tennessee, much less Auburn.  It’s even harder to imagine another city in the South rivaling Atlanta as a center of population or influence.  The roads that led us here forked back in the 60s, though, and Bisher – even if he “only” wrote about sports – was one of those who chronicled the divergence.

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