movie: Walking Tall (1973)

walking tallIn this movie, Buford Pusser returns home, after a stint in the Marines and a career as a wrestler, to McNairy County, Tennessee with his wife and two children. The town has changed since he’s been away. Almost immediately, he gets beaten nearly to death at a bar where he busted the house cheating at craps. The sheriff wants nothing to do with the case, and tells him to drop it. Buford returns to the juke joint to beat the crap out of his attackers in turn; represents himself at trial for assault charges, and wins; and then goes on to run for sheriff, and win.

As the spunky new sheriff, Buford is determined to run the gambling, prostitution and illegal stills out of his home county. Corruption runs so high, however, that he is nearly a one-man crusade. He has a staff of deputies, a few of whom are loyal. But it’s uphill work.

This plot is based on a true story, and here I’ll confess that my interest is not in this movie in its own right. Instead, I am fascinated by the larger debate this movie is a part of: the legend and history of Sheriff Buford Pusser, in its various representations. I first heard of Pusser and Walking Tall in a couple of Drive-by Truckers songs. (Regular readers may recall this is my favorite band.) In “The Buford Stick,” I heard the perspective that Buford Pusser was a crooked sheriff and a bully, messing around with a system that had worked just fine before he came along, thank you. Or, from the lead-in to “The Boys From Alabama”:

We’re gonna take you up to McNairy County, Tennessee
Back in the days when Sheriff Buford Pusser ran things around there
Sheriff Buford Pusser was tryin’ to clean up McNairy County, Tennessee
From all them boot leggers that was bringin’ crime and corruption
And illegal liquor into his little dry county
And for his troubles he got ambushed, and his wife was murdered, and his house got blown up
And they made a movie about it called “Walkin’ Tall”
This is the other side of that story

And that’s what I knew about the movie.

One of the many things I love about the Truckers is that they are unafraid to look at the complexity of the real world, its ugliness, and they don’t turn to the easy out of choosing sides: they are neither consistently pro-establishment nor anti-authority, because it’s not that clear-cut, is it. In the case of Sheriff Buford Pusser, with these two songs, they experiment with the perspective of McNairy County’s criminal element – or, to put it another way, “a hardworking man with a family to feed.” In other songs and other cases drawn from real life, the Truckers continue to question corruption in positions of authority.

The movie shows Pusser in an on-balance-positive light; among other things, he pushes (not always gracefully) for civil rights for the black residents of McNairy County. But even in this portrayal, there are disturbing glimpses: he is not a fan of rights for the (alleged!) criminals he pursues, and I didn’t enjoy the scene when he is arresting a prostitute and slaps her ass. This history, like so many in life, was probably pretty complicated, with good guys and bad guys on both side of the law – or, good and bad within each guy.

I love this stuff: layers, ambiguity, and especially the intersection of art (movies, songs) and deeply serious real life. This is probably a great example of the interdisciplinary nature of life. (Even a teaching opportunity!) Literature and other creative, fictional forms comment on life, which responds to literature.

So I found the viewing experience engrossing, for reasons outside the movie itself. The movie itself is fine, and interesting; it certainly paints a picture of a time and place. And I think even without a backstory that it should provoke some consideration: like, just how “good” are the good guys? A social study, to be sure. I’d recommend this for any number of audiences.

Rating: 8 routine matters.

movie: The Secret to a Happy Ending (2009)

From the band’s website:

This is a film about the redemptive power of rock and roll; it’s about the American South, where rock was born; it’s about a band straddling the borders of rock, punk and country; it’s about making art, making love and making a living; it’s about the Drive-By Truckers. This film documents the band and their fans as they explore tales of human weakness and redemption. With unparalleled access, this documentary encompasses three critical years of touring and recording as the band struggles to overcome trauma and survives a near breakup, in a persistent search for a happy ending.

secret to a happy endingThe Drive-by Truckers are one of my favorite bands and one that has had an impact on my life and how I look at my world. It is a love I share with the Husband. We saw this movie in a theatre when it came out to town, back in Houston. We bought a copy of it on DVD, too, and now I am in this writing class and working on a long essay about the Truckers and what they mean to me; so as research, we watched the movie again at home.

Obviously and basically, I love the movie because it is a distillation of the band. The filmmaker was lucky to have the Truckers’ cooperation, and followed them to several shows, recording live footage; and interviewed all the band members repeatedly, as well as some of their families. Cultural authorities like a university professor (and obvious DBT fan) and music writer get screen time as well. This is a fan’s documentary, and I think fans can’t help but be pleased by it. Non-fans are liable to become fans… but then, I’m biased.

I like that the movie captures a moment in the life span of this long-lived band, reviewing the early years (including the band Adam’s House Cat, where the two lead men, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, originally played together) and then getting into a few difficult years, when bassist Shonna Tucker and guitarist/singer/songwriter Jason Isbell divorced, and Isbell left the band. (He’s had an impressive solo career since. Look him up.) One of the things I’ve come to love about DBT is how many layers there are to love, investigate, and appreciate – like the people involved. The story of Shonna and Isbell breaking up is maybe none of my business; but you can bet all the band’s fans followed it and had feelings about it, nonetheless. For the record, I blame no one and wish them both the best.

It’s a hell of a good movie, and even if you’re not a Truckers fan, I think it’s a fine documentary about rock-and-roll (and other things too). It pulls my heartstrings.

Rating: 9 songs.

I hope this is not too off topic, but I want to share a short piece that didn’t make it into my longer essay about the Truckers and their impact on me.

I have a large tattoo covering my right arm and shoulder: a tree and its surroundings and inhabitants: fallen logs, grasses and flowers and mushrooms, a bunny rabbit, a snake, a squirrel, a turtle, a weasel, a fat yellow songbird. On the front of my shoulder, the tree’s branches part around a Cooley bird. Around the back of my shoulder, wrapping onto my back, a black owl with red eyes flies away, departing. It’s the same owl that my husband Chris has tattooed on his left bicep, flying above a leafless tree on a burnt yellow desert and under a spooky moon that looks down with knowing eyes and a slight smirk.

These tattoos borrow images from Wes Freed, a Virginia-based artist who has drawn all the art for all the Drive-by Truckers’ albums, posters, website art, promotional material, backdrops, and etc. since time immemorial (or at least the Southern Rock Opera album of 2004). He is the band’s brand. In a documentary about the Truckers called The Secret to a Happy Ending (whose cover art he also created), he says: “It’s always about the music. The music is the most important thing. But there’s so much going on with the records. It’s cool to be able to have the opportunity to illustrate the songs. That’s cool.” Wes Freed. I love that his named is a sentence: Wes Freed; or else a description: Wes, Freed. And the songs are themselves filled with dark and toothsome images. I did my own (very poor) copy of Freed’s illustration of “The Wig He Made Her Wear,” a song based on true current events in which a Tennessee preacher’s wife kills her husband: in court, her lawyers then displayed “them high-heeled shoes and that wig he made her wear,” as evidence of how abused she had been before she just snapped. Freed portrays a woman in a see-through negligee and high-heeled pumps, blue hair piled and stacked high, holding a shotgun whose smoke swirls around to caress her against an enormous yellow moon. A monkey in a fez cavorts behind her. I’ve looked and looked for Freed’s illustration of this song on the internet, but it seems to have disappeared; all I have is my poor imitation.

Thanks for reading.

a few more photos: Drive-by Truckers in Nashville

Following up on my earlier Walk About Town post, Husband has graciously shared with us a few pictures he took with his magicphone. Thanks, Husband!

John Neff on the guitar

John Neff on the guitar

left to right: Brad Morgan on drums; Patterson Hood on vocals/guitar; Mike Cooley "the stroker ace" on vocals/guitar; and David Barbe on bass, recently replacing Shonna Tucker who we miss very much.

left to right: Brad Morgan on drums; Patterson Hood on vocals/guitar; Mike Cooley “the stroker ace” on vocals/guitar; and David Barbe on bass, recently replacing Shonna Tucker who we miss very much.

Neff on steel guitar

Neff on steel guitar


Lovely pictures, Husband. Thanks for sharing!

A Walk About Town: Nashville

A Walk About Town is hosted by Natalie over at Coffee and a Book Chick.

Y’all, I had the *BEST* time last weekend! Husband and I flew to Nashville on Friday afternoon to catch not one, but two back-to-back concerts by our favorite band, the Drive-by Truckers. And not only were the shows great, but we found the city to be very pleasant and attractive (although cold), and with some neat things to see, too.

For example: did you know that Nashville is “the Athens of the South”? I didn’t. We visited Centennial Park, the setting for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition of 1897 (the state’s 100th anniversary was actually in 1896, but it took them a little while to get the fairgrounds together!) – think Chicago World Fair (of the same time period) but on a statewide scale. They had a great many exhibits, including an Indian Village and a Chinese Village, etc. which would not pass PC-muster in modern times; and the park is still lovely today. But the real draw for me was the Parthenon. That’s right, Nashville boasts the world’s only full-size replica of the Parthenon of Athens.

Nashville's Parthenon in Centennial Park

After the Exposition, it was allowed to crumble and decay, ivy crawling up its walls, but they later restored it and just in the last 15 years built their full-size replica of the 43-foot-tall statue of Athena that resides within, making it a still more faithful copy. Also within are replicas (also full-size) of the fragments of the pediments of Athens’ Parthenon; the originals now reside at the British Museum. I am a fan of Ancient Greece, and this was an absolute treat for me. Husband was patient with me and even found it a little bit interesting himself I think!

the western pediment depicts Athena battling Poseidon for the right to patronage of this new city. (guess who won)

the eastern pediment depicts Athena's birth - you recall, she sprang fully-clothed and arms from the head of her father, Zeus.

the statue of Athena. they are careful to explain that the gaudy face paint and gold leaf is believed to be historically accurate.

the statue of Athena. they are careful to explain that the gaudy face paint and gold leaf is believed to be historically accurate.

And finally, the rest of the park was a nice outdoor space but not so pleasant while we were there at just-below-freezing temperatures and a biting wind. The Canadian geese (accompanied by mallards in the scenic waterway) did not mind so much.

Canadian geese - they let us get very close. quite tame, of course. I'm sure they're fed by a lot of tourists

can I show you one more picture of the Parthenon?

From Centennial Park we moved on to Antique Archeology. If the Parthenon was my choice, this one was Husband’s; he’s a fan of the show American Pickers, and this is one of several (I think) of their stores where they sell the goods they “pick.” It was funny to see the scene; what presumably used to be an antique shops or good-junk shop is now kind of a theme park for fans of the show. One whole wall is t-shirts. It was packed (on a Saturday – of course) and we didn’t stay long but Husband got a souvenir koozie and we had a nice chat with an employee. Here is Husband’s arty shot of the window sign:
just don't look if it hurts your face

just don’t look if it hurts your face

The building it was in was really cool.
Marathon Automobiles houses Antique Archeology

Marathon Automobiles houses Antique Archeology

From there we needed a break, so hit up Blackstone Brewery, where we had several good beers and a great lunch. Our bartender, Chris, was very friendly, and I do appreciate a chatty bartender as Husband can attest. It was a perfect way to warm up and while away our afternoon before napping and heading out for live music. Look, they even have a little library nook!

lovely! no actually we sat at the bar.

I did get around to reviewing the pub on Beer Advocate, where I’ve gotten lazy and done less reviewing in recent years. I don’t know if you can still view reviews there without logging in, though. It’s free to set up an account, but not everyone will want to. Try here and let me know. If you’re looking around, I’m texashammer and mine will presumably be the most recent Blackstone review at least for a little while.

But what of the live music, you say? That was our whole original reason for being there! I don’t really have too many pictures to share from that part of the weekend, for one thing, but I’ll tell you the story (and save the best picture for last).

We saw both shows at the Cannery Ballroom, which despite getting mixed reviews we found a great place all around. Beers are waaay cheaper than at the House of Blues in Houston where the Truckers have been playing every time they’ve been to town in recent years. (Boo hiss HOB.) The sound was good. (I finally remembered my ear-plugs on the second night!) Friday night’s opening act, Nikki Lane, was great – a country singer-songwriter with a gender-equal band and kind of a loungey feel to her twang. Saturday night’s opener was The Bobby Keys Band, and they were rad, too. The Truckers absolutely killed it; these were two of the better shows I’ve seen despite Cooley being (ahem) a little buzzed on Friday night. Both nights they played us an encore that must have been 30 minutes long – a real treat. My only complaint is the 9 or 10 songs I counted that we heard both nights. This is a band with too much material – even having lost bassist and songwriter Shonna Tucker recently (sob!) – to give us repeat material. But they’re all good songs. (If you want to hear about the night from someone with better rock-show vocabulary than I have, there’s a pretty good article here.)

And here is the highlight: both nights I hung around after and got to talk to steel guitarist Johnny Neff, and he was so nice! People, I tell you I’ve been milling about after these shows for years, and this was my first reward. On Saturday night he even let me take a picture with him!

me with steel guitarist John Neff!

Johnny! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. Keep up the good work!

Sorry for the long post but what a super great weekend I had. Thanks for the Valentine’s Day present, darlin! We love Nashville and I can’t wait to go back. Anybody else get up to anything cool this week?

Cirque du Soleil: Ovo!

Last Tuesday night, March 29, the Husband and I went with my parents to see a Cirque du Soleil show called Ovo. Oh my! What to say to describe this? I had never seen Cirque before, and knew it was something very impressive and unique, but I don’t think I was prepared. And I’m not sure I can paint it for you if you’ve never seen one of their productions. But I shall try.

For starters, it was really like an old-fashioned circus in some ways. I think I was picturing something more like theatre, in a fancy hall, with the audience in their finery. And they do perform in concert halls and theatres sometimes; but this was a circus tent (“big top”) set up in a very large parking lot (at a horse-racing track). It sounded like a circus when we stepped inside (circus music!) and

one of my favorites

smelled like one (popcorn!) and, well, it looked like a circus – bright colors and vendors and beer and wine in plastic glasses. The crowd was very diverse and variously dressed in more and less formal attire.

As expected, the performers were in outrageous costume. They were a troupe of various insects: grasshoppers, spiders, a ladybug, and more. And their tricks… wow. There were acrobatics and truly athletic feats of flexibility, balance, and strength – like a combination of gymnastics and dance and yoga. There was juggling, dancing, people being thrown in the air and caught and flipped… tumblers… tightrope

unicycle! on a high wire!

walking… and a truly amazing trampoline act. There were trapeze artists swinging above our heads. (The Husband and I were both reminded of the Drive-by Truckers song The Flying Wallendas. Happily no tragedies this evening!) I had not expected to be thoroughly terrified by almost every act! But I was so thrilled and exhilarated, too. There is also a story involved, of the egg (ovo), and all the insects’ interest in it; and there is a love story. But really, this show is short on plot. And that’s okay; the acrobatics and skills and various performances are the whole point.

I’m so glad I got a chance to see this amazing show. It was a very special experience, and the performers are very, very special talented people (and some of them clearly have joints that bend in extra directions, but that’s another issue). What a treat! What a magical night! And how cool and interesting to see that circus performers are still around – I think I had sort of thought that this was a dying or dead industry, but I’m glad that it’s alive and well at least in the Cirque du Soleil company. I was also glad to not see any animal acts; I’m not sure I’m really up for the animal-cruelty questions in a traditional circus, and there was plenty of thrill with these human performers!

back from the weekend, with very little reading, just a touch of Hemingway.

Hello friends. Thanks for bearing with me. Life is busy. I have this job, see. And I’m taking this class in Database Searching which is fab but takes up time. And I’m trying to be back on this bike and train for the Ouachita Challenge, and we took that vacation, and, and. Thanks for bearing with me.

I had a great weekend, very productive. On Saturday I got to ride bikes with the Husband who made it home from Newark earlier than expected; we planted a tree and did some yard stuff; my mother brought us a beautiful quilt she made for us; and I finally photographed for you of a beautiful set of bookshelves the Husband made (several weeks ago now). Pictures:

Mother and Husband with swamp cypress oak and whimsical wheelbarrow herb garden

whimsical wheelbarrow herb garden with dragonfly

Encyclopaedia Britannica bookshelves, courtesy of Husband (please ignore electronic mess)

close-up Encyclopaedia Britannica shelves

beautiful "union" t-shirt quilt courtesy of Mother

This is an elaborate, beautifully crafted quilt made up of (cycling) event t-shirts belonging to the Husband and myself. It is our wedding gift (we will soon be married 3 years, this is not a fast process) from my Mother and it’s a “union” quilt because it symbolizes our union, combining our two histories of bicycle racing as it does. It’s so lovely, we don’t know what to do with the little dogs who like to muss up bedcoverings.

close-up of quilt: notice Chihuahuan Desert Challenge (earlier incarnation of the trip we just took to Big Bend) and above, the Warda Race (earlier incarnation of the race I did yesterday)

Aren’t I a lucky girl? And that was Saturday.

Yesterday – Sunday – I headed out to race Bikesport Presents the Warda Race. Without boring you too much (hopefully), I will say that I have gotten fat & out of shape while being off the bike for an unexpectedly long time this past fall & winter, and I knew this race would be a rude awakening. So, I did the reasonable thing and signed up for not the Category 2 Men, not the Category 1 Women, but the Pro Women’s race. This got me an extra lap of pain and suffering and embarrassment in my currently-undersized spandex. It went as expected. But, this kind of pain and suffering is going to get me back on track. I’m now less than 5 weeks away from the Ouachita Challenge, so it’s time to get to work.

This busy, productive, and happy weekend did not leave time for much reading. I don’t think I did any reading, in fact. So today I’m back on By-Line: Ernest Hemingway, and very happy to be. I shall make a few bookish remarks so this blog doesn’t seem too much a sham, ok?

I really enjoy reading Hemingway’s short articles and dispatches. I can’t believe it took me this long to pick up on this little pleasure. I have always loved him and have devoured all his novels, several of his nonfiction works (and I think you really have to love Hemingway to get through Death in the Afternoon – or bull-fighting, perhaps – but I actually did enjoy it), and I THINK I’ve read all his short stories – I’ve got a collection of collections. But somehow this collection of his journalism has eluded me til now.

These are short pieces of writing, covering his international travels, war and international politics, fishing, hunting, and general lifestyle. It seems that then, as now, this man’s life was of some interest; he had outrageous adventures (how much he’s elaborated or exaggerated them, would be a subject for another post) and saw outrageous sights. Hemingway’s fiction was heavily based on fact, and I fear his journalism might be tinged with fiction, especially where the Exploits of Papa are concerned. This is one of the mysteries and controversies of Hemingway. It may not be a popular feminist position to take, but I adore Hemingway for his work, even if he wasn’t a savory character – let alone a good husband. To any of his wives.

I was contemplating today, as I read some hunting-and-fishing stories he wrote for Esquire, that one of the Hemingway’s most beautiful and rare talents, is that he makes me care about things I don’t care about. I don’t care for hunting or fishing. These activities are not interesting to me; and in some cases I find hunting downright distasteful. But when Hemingway describes the way a fish, or a bird, moves, or the battle between the fisherman and his prey a la The Old Man and the Sea, or when he describes the experience of the bottle of icy cold white wine he’s had stuck down in the cold trout stream all day – I can taste the wine, and I care about the fish. He makes me taste and feel things very vibrantly, even things I’ve never experienced. He’s a very visceral writer.

In the same way, I’ve always said one of my favorite things about the Drive-by Truckers is their ability to make me care about things I don’t care about. For example, car racing is not interesting to me. But just about every time I hear a recording of them playing Daddy’s Cup (and I’ve heard it a lot), I cry. Take a moment and listen, yourself. (The video portion of this video is just filler. You’re there for the audio. Close your eyes.)

I’ve even sent the Husband (who does care about fishing) a short article by Hemingway to read, and the Husband, who doesn’t read, did enjoy it. The Husband prefers to DO things rather than sit around and read about them (we don’t watch movies, because two hours is too long to sit down – I love that he’s a do-er), but perhaps he can appreciate that Hemingway makes his reader feel the action, the doing of it.

I may be moving slowly these days, but a nice compilation like this, of short stories, or newspaper articles, or what have you, is just the thing for a part-time reader. Thanks for bearing with me and my busy life, and have a happy Monday!

just a little musing (little a-musing?)

I was intrigued to read today’s post from Thomas at My Porch about grammar (oh woe) because I was also going to make a language comment in today’s post. Mine is not a complaint, though, more of a musing.

One of my favorite bands is the Drive-by Truckers. The Husband and I are a little bit fanatical about them, in fact. This morning on the way to work I was blessed by the iPod which gave me “Thank God for the TVA”, a Truckers song that was written and performed by Jason Isbell who is no longer in the band. So, we don’t get to see it played live. 😦 But I did hear it in the car, and I love it. Here, I found you this recording of it.

The line I’m most concerned with right now says is, “I wanted her to want me so bad it hurt.” I notice some ambiguity here. Let’s use parentheses in the mathematical way: he could mean “I wanted her (to want me) so bad it hurt.” Or he could mean “I wanted her (to want me so badly it hurt).” Does he want, so badly that it hurts, for her to want him? Or does he want for her desire for him to be painful? (I’m leaving aside the grammatical wrongness of “so bad it hurts” – should be “so badly” – but I can appreciate the southern flavor it gives.) This is the same ambiguity we see in pronoun use such as “Maria gave her mother the card, and her eyes sparkled.” Because Maria and her mother are both female, “her” is ambiguous. Whose eyes sparkled? Maria’s, or her mother’s? I think ambiguity in language is generally a problem. If I came across a sentence like the one I just made up in a book I would be frustrated. The purpose of language, after all, is to communicate.

But I guess there are exceptions to my statements, that language is solely a tool of communication, and that ambiguity is frustrating. Because the above line in the song is poetry; it’s beautiful; and the meaning of the sentence works both ways. I appreciate it. I’m okay with the ambiguity; in fact it adds to the song and, what do I know, may even have been purposeful. When is language not just about communication? When you’re passing the time, when you’re trying to look busy, when you like to hear the sound of your own voice, when you’re stalling, when you’re trying to get something you want without someone else noticing they gave it to you. Etc. But also, when it’s poetry. I think Jason Isbell is a poet, and he’s brought us our musing of the day. Thank you Drive-by Truckers.

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