Lately The South has been on my mind a lot. I’m elbow deep in my latest writing project, which takes place around the birth of rock n’ roll in various parts of the southern United States. My first novel focused on the pre and post civil war eras, so over the past few years I’ve found myself researching music, history, and people native to the region from the very roots on up. I’ve always been rather enamored by southern culture, and I can’t stop yearning to learn more about the part of the country I come from. It isn’t just a quest for my heritage; it’s something more. There’s something magical about this place, and having grown up here, I see little glimpses of it everywhere. The South has a reputation for its charm…the stereotypical things like the mimosas, the magnolia trees, the live oaks, and the musicians with talents attributed to Sunday services, and homemade guitars on front porches. But why? Why is The South a Mecca for all things quaint? Is it the weather? Is it the sticky steam after a summertime rain? The history maybe? The beautiful landscape from the mountains to the sea? No…it’s none of those things…it’s all of them. It’s charisma…it’s the “x” factor…that thing that makes kisses better in the rain, and makes us lose our minds to the point of skinny dipping in broad daylight. The South has it, and shoots people out left and right dripping with the same thing. Southerners just have a way about them…something that can almost be smelled like honeysuckle in May…something that hangs from them like the Spanish Moss in the low country. It’s just a part of them, a connection to the land itself… and everyone else can see it dancing all over them. It’s as mysterious as creole magic, and as mesmerizing as the sun peeking over a valley in the Great Smokies. It can’t be recreated anywhere else.
Some of the greatest artists in American history from the colonial period, to the jazz age, to the birth of rock n’roll, to today were and are products of The South. If I were to list them all, I’d be writing for a century because the states on the lower right side of the map grow them in their gardens to become superstars. It’s because people write what they know, draw what they know, or sing what they know…and the southerners know soul, grit, and pride…they spill art out of the marrow connected to their bones because they simply cannot help but do so…the “x” factor. Southerners walk barefoot on the land native to the earliest Americans, first discovered by Europeans, once soaked in Yankee and Rebel blood, with secrets of slavery, poverty, and pride buried deeper than the ancestors that lie in the ground. There’s too much in the soil to feel…too much in the stories our grandparents tell us to ignore. There are no shallow waters in the south. The South isn’t charming because it wants to be; it’s charming because it has no choice…bless its heart.
Thomas Wolfe said “Culture is the arts elevated to a set of beliefs”. I love this because it’s true. The actual culture that became The South was the land, the religion, the literature, the war, the weather, and the music rolled into an art form that nobody could deny. It became the mindset. That charm oozing purely out of Dixie became a phenomenon, a way of life, and a belief system. It’s a charm everyone wants a brush with, just to tingle for a fleeting moment after touching it…What is it about The South?