June 18, 2008

Occasionally Music: The Death of the Rural South?

USA Today has a pretty good article on the demise of small towns in the South.  I knew things were bad but I didn't know they were this bad:
This speck-on-the-map town, once Alabama's third largest, is home to fewer than 400 hardy souls. It has four tiny churches: Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian and Episcopalian.

Through the years, so many people have left that members of different churches worship together so they can keep the congregations going. They call themselves "Methobapteriapalians." Says Maxine McClusky, a member of Gainesville Baptist and St. Albans Episcopal churches: "Sometimes on Sunday morning, it's just one or two of us and the preacher."
Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians worshipping together?  My mind boggles to think of how they navigate the liturgical minefield of deciding what ends up in the communion cup.  All bad jokes aside, and while it is nothing new, this is a fairly depressing article to me.  As I've mentioned before, I'm a product of the rural south, with all the baggage and benefits that are incumbent upon that heritage, and I still have an immense fondness for the small town of my birth as well as the plethora of others like it scattered across the southeast.  The article touches on all the classic pitfalls of the death of rural America: the move from rural agriculture to urban industrialization, a legacy of unresolved racial tension, the empty downtown storefronts and the depressing reality of having to leave a place you are rooted in so that you can feed your family.  

Bleh.  It put me in a melancholy mood and when I'm in a melancholy mood and thinking of my roots I usually listen to Emmylou Harris's "Red Dirt Girl."  This could be the anthem of the "black belt" and considering she wrote it while driving through that region, where her own roots lie, I suppose it might as well be.  There are some near perfect lyrics in here:
She tried hard to love him but it never did take
It was just another way for the heart to break
So she dug right in.
But one thing they don't tell you about the blues
When you got em
You keep on falling cause there ain't no bottom
There ain't know end.
At least not for Lillian

Nobody knows when she started her skid,
She was only 27 and she had five kids.
Coulda' been the whiskey,
Coulda been the pills,
Coulda been the dream she was trying to kill.
But there won't be a mention in the news of the world
About the life and the death of a red dirt girl
Names Lillian
Who never got any farther across the line than Meridian.
Man, that is good song writing - give it a listen:

PS - I'm actually more optimistic about the fate of the rural south, and of rural America in general for that matter, than I have been for a while.  I think that there are some things converging globally and locally that are going to make our rural towns more viable options than they have been for quite some time.  A confluence of technologies that allow you to be absent from the urban cityscape while still connected to the marketplace and sustainable living preferences that are more readily achievable in a rural setting which I think may combine to bring about a rural renaissance in America's small towns - especially for those that find themselves 2-5 hours outside of metropolitan areas.  At least that is what I try to convince my wife. 


Scott said...

"Methobapteriapalians" - my wife says that sounds like an upcoming drug.

Anonymous said...

If you can handle a little country music check out Alan Jackson's "A Small-town Country Man." A less depressing commentary.

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