Monday, June 18, 2007

A Southern Perspective

I recently took a weekend road trip to the eastern-most tip of West Virginia, to the small college town called Shepherdstown. Residing a few miles from the historic Antietam battlefield, Shepherdstown is, naturally, home to a fairly large Confederate cemetery. I’ve been to my fair share of cemeteries, mostly due to my dad’s unhealthy obsession with the dead of history, but until now I had never been to a solely Confederate cemetery. Keeping in mind what a friend’s Virginian relative had told me about the youth of the South (There may be no truth to this: he had said that few southern boys have not imagined themselves dying for the South, despite the historical outcome), my friends and I took some time to survey the area and soak up the vibes of bizarre futility and useless death.

And then I began to think about how most of the great songs that I know that glorify the South’s cause were not written by southerners, but mostly foreigners. For example, there’s the Band’s classic The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (written by Robbie Robertson, a Canadian), and Elton John’s My Father’s Gun (Taupin/John, Englishmen), both seemingly sympathetic songs for the Confederate cause. To non-American songwriters, an understanding of the southern perspective of the American Civil War should be as foreign as a feud between two rocks on the outer galactic belt. But it seems that many have been able to take the point of view as a compelling and passionate (yet horribly deranged and misguided) voice for a song. A key point, though: both of these songs neglect any mention of racist motives, only nationalistic. For that, there’s always that cantankerous Canuck, Neil Young.


The Band -- The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Elton John -- My Father's Gun
Neil Young -- Southern Man


-Benjy

6 comments:

Jacob said...

Is that you in the first picture? What are you wearing, and why do you ever dress in anything else?

Benjy said...

You like it? My friends in the other pic told me i looked like a forty year old lesbian.

Jacob said...

In that picture you personify sepia, as if all the old Civil War pictures are composed of your sweat and blood. I shouldn't even really be typing this, words cannot adequately describe the beauty of that picture.

derek@fsmail.net said...

The French and the British had a big stake in the outcome of the Civil War: trade, geo-politics and previous links all rolled into a complex relationship with the South. No surprise that there is resonance today (or at least to the 70s).

Anonymous said...

A week between updates? Tragic....

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