Southern Comfort/Southern Conflict
We’re at the Southern Writer’s Conference in Chattanooga this week. Southern Comfort. It conjures up images of whiskey and bluegrass music. Bill Monroe wrote an instrumental called ‘Southern Flavor,’ but half the time I call it ‘Southern Comfort.’ Southerners can play some cool roots music and tell stories and cook pigs. There’s a lot of comfort in the culture, and yet also there has always been great conflict in Southern life.
Even as a kid I thought we had a peculiar institutional gentility that seemed so odd. Some of our comfort was derived from the conflict of others, yet no one openly acknowledged it. We had a black lady named Georgia who worked in our home. I couldn’t understand how anyone could be prejudiced against her, but people were. No one was prejudiced against Georgia’s fried chicken though, I promise you that.
Good fiction has to have conflict, and southern life yielded some powerful writing. Twain once said (paraphrased) “when he saw trouble he’d write his way through it.” I grew up in relative comfort but it was clear to anyone who had their eyes and heart open everyone wasn’t so fortunate. For fifty cents we could play golf all day long, but a black kid couldn’t set foot on the property. Very strange.
In spite of it all, though, people are drawn back to the comfort of home, even if it was conflicted in their youth. I hope nowadays the South can offer all people more comfort than conflict. Guns and violence are part of southern culture too. I realize that’s part of the landscape, and maybe has to be at times, but as for me I’d rather play music. Maybe everyone doesn’t like my music, but that’s okay. Everyone is entitled to their personal preferences. I suppose that would be considered a conflict for some people, but at least if folks don’t care for the mandolin no one dies over it.
‘Southern Flavor.’ (‘Comfort’) It’s a fine old tune. I think I’ll go learn a new version.
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