So you wanna be…a Southern Chef?

Hey Y’all,

This is the part of my weekly blog where I get to make excuses for why I self-published so late, even though A) this isn’t for school, B) is not something I’m getting paid for, and C) not really a big deal to be late (except to my friend Jaci, a loyal re-poster who hates when I’m late). But I get to tell you some of the things I did each week that pushed my blog back. This week I took my niece to the zoo for her birthday, caught a cold, and also caught the baseball pennant race in person. So, I didn’t get to cartoon until Thursday, but I think you’ll like some of the ones I came up with.

This week’s topic is yet another “horizon expander” as I take on a topic I normally don’t write about. I will be discussing and satirizing the wonderful world of television chefs from a Southern perspective. During the past decade TV Cooking went from an obscure public access style exercise into a big cable TV ratings bonanza thanks in no small part to several Southern cooking personalities. So it’s definitely topical, “Dixiefied” enough, and thus ripe for The South Will Blog Again treatment.

Thing is the only Food Network show I like to watch is Italian themed, and well I’m not much of a cook (I’m sure you can figure out which show I’m loyal to). In any case, although I’m not a “Foodie”, I do in fact enjoy devouring Southern cuisine, and I think I’ve noticed the thing about our food and culture which makes our people do so well on Food TV. It’s kind of like my post about Southern writing only far more delicious. So without further rambling ado I bring you…So You want to be a Southern TV Chef?

–  Southern Blogger

It's only a small fire don't worry

If You Have to Die of Something, it Might as Well be Jambalaya

According to doctors and nutricians it’s pretty dang dangerous to grow up in the South. We are rated as the most obese region of the country and all the delicious things we like to eat contain copious amounts of “bad stuff” like salt, grease, sugar, and butter. I think those are the four Southern Food Groups. Also, when it comes to our food, if it can be tried it’s been fried. Our national (yeah I said national) dish is Barbecue, and we like to wash it down with generous amounts of that “Champagne of Dixie” Sweet (and oh so sugary) Tea.

So is this blog post going to be a treatise on health food and the dangers of an obese America?

No…ha ha, that’s not what we do here. In fact, if you MUST die of something it might as well be Southern food…fried chicken, BBQ, pork ribs, brisket, hush puppies, mac and cheese, fried catfish….and on and on and on.

We have excellent cuisine down here and it didn’t take the TV execs long to figure that out. But the key to Southern cuisine and Southern anything is authenticity. I may sound like a broken Hank Williams record, but I’m going to say that every week if I have to. There is what the rest of America THINKS the South is and what the South REALLY is. As always I’m here to lampoon both. But it any case, real Southern cuisine is as good as it is because it comes down to us from the ages.

The Gospel According to Justin

Sounds biblical don’t it? Like our music, Southern food reflects a society that is far more racially and ethnically diverse than the rest of America realizes.  Our cooking reflects West African, French, Native American, British, and Mexican styles. It is the same blend of cultures, classes, and regions which produced blues, Gospel, country, jazz, and rock music we discussed two weeks ago, and the literature we talked about last week.

If you are lucky enough to be invited over to a Southerner’s house for dinner, and I’m talking about one who can really cook, pay close attention. When a Southerner is cooking, they aren’t just cooking, but showing and telling their family and regional history. You can learn why something is cooking a certain way, or eaten on a certain day, or the religious or cultural customs behind a dish.

Pay close attention to any cookbooks. A real Southern cookbook won’t be fancy. It won’t be purchased at Barnes and Noble and especially not Cracker Barrel. In fact, the word “Southern” won’t appear on the cover since it shouldn’t have been purchased at all (much like Johnny Cash never had to sing about how Southern he was). What a real Southern cookbook will look a lot like is a five generations old family Bible. And the analogy isn’t too far off. You’ll see various hand written recipes and notes from relations long since passed away. The pages will be browned and torn. The binding will be held together by threads and “West Virginia chrome” (Duct Tape).

You CAN judge a cookbook by its cover (or lack thereof)

Point being, any authentic Southern TV chef got to be where he or she was because of the people who came before them. You can be sure that their food, if truly Southern, was bequeathed to them by others who could never imagine that their folkways and foodways would one day make millions. If the TV chef is any good, they’ll keep true to that.

The first and greatest of all Southern TV chefs represented this best. His name was Justin Wilson. If anyone deserved to live forever it would be him, but sadly he passed away a few years ago. You might remember he had a cooking show years ago on PBS. He always wore his red suspenders, jeans, and some sort of Western style tie. If you could invent a person who looked like the embodiment of Louisiana it would be him.

What made Justin Wilson cool wasn’t just his fantastic cooking, or his trademark look, or Cajun accent. It was his love for his people. When you watched Wilson’s show you didn’t just get a cooking lesson, but the stories behind Cajun cuisine and a little about the dialect, legends, and culture that they contributed to America. Wilson loved cooking not just because he wanted to share his food, but because he wanted to keep his family culture alive. It was his duty to do so “I guarantee it”.

The first and greatest Southern TV chef

Did you know one of Southern Blogger’s good friends (also listed on the blog roll) bounced on Justin Wilson’s knee as a baby? It’s true as her mother was his ophthalmologist. That’s the second coolest family story of hers next to having a great-great grandfather smoke a poltroon in a duel.

The Secret Ingredient is Love

Wilson showed America just how much Southern cooking is a labor of love. To me nobody better shows that Southern love for cooking today than the Neelys. I’ve watched “Down Home with the Neelys” a few times. I immediately caught two things: First, I don’t think there’s a married couple on TV real or fictional more in love with each other than these two. Maybe the key to their bliss is the family who bakes together stays together. The second thing I’ve noticed is they are the kind of people I’d like to be invited to church by because you know you’d find some salvation when they invited you home afterward for supper. It should also be pointed out that like other great Southern cooks you have to have a fine pedigree. When your father (and father-in-law) is the proud founder and owner of Jim’s Interstate Barbecue in Memphis, you are bound to be a dang good cook.

Love means never having to say you're sorry (for licking the icing)

While the Neelys have great personality when one thinks Southern TV chef and personality one thinks of Miss Paula Deen. Paula Deen is her own institution now, well on her way to Southern Mogul status like Oprah Winfrey. Yet she created her empire from the bottom, making lunches and starting a family restaurant as a young divorcee at a time when being young, divorced, and a Southern female left one few options.

I think behind the “y’alls” and the “mmmms” and the paeans to butter is the story of a survivor. Through sheer personality and force of will this Southern lady has risen from obscurity to mega stardom. When I first saw her on TV she reminded me of several friends’ aunts. In fact all of us have two or three aquaintances much like Paula Deen. But that was her secret, to get on TV, be herself, and remind everyone of their Southern aunt. That takes a lot more business savvy than meets the eye.

This is not Southern dialect, it is its own language

Paula Deen’s cooking, and indeed the cuisine of our entire region has come under attack recently. But what else is new? Just about everything Southern tends to get attacked by those who don’t understand it. The thing to remember about our buttery, sugary, fried region of the country is moderation. Much like a glass of fine Southern bourbon won’t make you howl at the moon, Southern food eaten in moderation won’t kill you neither. In fact, it’s a lot better for you than eating potato chips, fast food, and TV dinners. It is in short, comfort food, and it is indeed comfort for me. Any time I’ve spent a significant amount of time away from the South (anything more than three days is significant) the first thing I do when I get back home is get me some Southern cooking. After the first bite of corn bread and first sip of sweet tea, I’m back…and everything is right with the world again!

The personification of evil to Anthony Bourdain

I’m glad to have brought you this three part series. Next week we shift gears again and return to my “How To” guides with…HOW TO SURVIVE DRIVING THROUGH SOUTH GEORGIA. I won’t be late too this time, I promise.

-Southern Blogger

Advertisements

So you wanna be…a Southern Writer?

Hey y’all,

O procrastination ye art with me again.

Yep, writer’s block and having somewhat of a weekend has pushed this post back a few days. I’m trying to expand my horizons (and hopefully my site stats) on The South Will Blog Again with some different subjects. Today, I’m going to tackle that pinnacle of Dixie high culture known as Southern Literature.

I’ll be honest with y’all, this is tough for me. I’m not the huge fan of Southern Lit many of you would expect me to be. For one, I think the biggest fans of our regional literature are usually Northerners (more on why that is later). Second, I’m trained as a historian, so 95% of what I read, and have always enjoyed reading, is non-fiction. Third, I went to Ole Miss.

Now, Ole Miss is indeed a great institution to study Southern Lit, perhaps even the greatest. But THAT is the problem. When you attend the University of Mississippi you get “force fed” a lot of it, and I do mean A LOT. I don’t care if you are studying anthropology, history, political science, or sociology you will end up reading William Faulkner at least ONCE during the semester. And that got old. It’s sort of like William & Mary graduates I know who don’t like colonial history much. You can’t really blame them.

So for awhile I tended to eschew Southern Lit even though I learned a bit about it. Now, years later, I like it and appreciate it much more, and indeed Faulkner’s “Intruder in the Dust” is my favorite book of the 20th century.

So, excuses (and introduction) out of the way, I shall channel my inner Willie Morris and bring you my guide to good Southern Literature in case you WANT TO BE A SOUTHERN WRITER.

(click on any picture to enlarge and read text)

Blogging is VERY hard on a 1940s typewriter

You Wear White After Labor Day and Drink Bourbon for Breakfast

In order to be a good Southern writer you have to look like a Southern writer. Remember, almost all of the publishing houses are in New York. New Yorkers don’t want to see some “Southern” writer walk in and look all normal. Normal doesn’t equate good “Southern” literature. Listen to me carefully…this is between us…if Yankees begin to realize that the South is pretty much like the rest of the country, only with a bit of a drawl, then they won’t spend their money on our books. To them, we are living in a kudzu filled jungle with snake wielding preachers,  ravenous marauding mountain men, chainsaw wielding retarded cousins locked in basements, and eccentric plantation dwellers hell bent on gossip and guff. As long as we “play possum” and look and sound eccentric they’ll never actually BELIEVE we’re quite ordinary. Then you can write anything you want.

Take Tom Wolfe for example. Mr. Wolfe comes from my neck of the woods near Richmond, VA. Long ago, and he tells this better than I, he decided to wear a white suit. Now years ago, white suits were common in the summertime in the South but not so much up North. It was kind of like seersucker is now. In any event, he kept wearing them day after day until he became “that man in a white suit”. The white suit became his personality until he had the years on him to develop a good personality of his own. He was and remains a great writer but you see the white suit got him in the door. And no matter how much he cracks jokes, and satirizes the left in savvy “radical chic” Manhattan circles, his soft drawl and white suit keeps getting him invited to all the best parties. Everybody likes a guy in a white suit, and he can then say and write anything he wants. Pure genius.

Wolfe taught me the importance of a good trademark. My own is to wear a bow tie, although people seem to be copying me now. Oh well. But once you have a trademark, you must own it, and then you can be as “Southern” as you want.

William Faulkner had a few trademarks of his own. He is almost always depicted smoking a pipe. The pipe was and remains to a lesser degree a symbol of outmoded sophistication. Remember, a good Southern writer can be sophisticated, but it is best if that sophistication is a product of a by-gone era, like white suits, and bow ties.

Faulkner also had another trademark. He was never seen too far away from a nice bottle of bourbon. Now lots of famous writers have taken a dip or two into the “fire water”. But remember, you are reading this to become a “Southern” writer. To be a Southern writer you need to stick with bourbon or mixed drinks that are bourbon-derived such as the mint julep.  If a Southern writer then goes out on a bender and causes a scene, if he’s found with a bottle of bourbon, it can be written off as “research”. But other drinks? Be wary! Could you imagine a Southern writer stumbling through town drunk off of Appletinis?

No sir!

By the way Faulkner once wrote that “civilization begins at distillation!” And doesn’t that just sound like something a Southern writer is supposed to say? See, he knew what he was doing.

It's been said Faulkner received a lot of help from bourbon

 Say Your Mother was a Fish and you’ll Win a Pulitzer

Once you have established the proper eccentric attire and personality you will be able to start writing. There you will undoubtedly face the dragon of writer’s block. If so, remember to write about places, things, and funny characters that you know. True, in reality much of this will be pretty boring, so you will need to embellish. But remember you have that trusty bottle of bourbon I told you about. That should help turn Sam the nice Grandpa at the Feed Store, into “Jeremiah Sam” the Shotgun wielding prophet and so forth.

You can get weird and grotesque at this point too. Now, now, I know that most of us down here are law abiding God-fearing people. But, and this is key, Yankees think we are all hiding some dark, hidden, sinister secrets. So the weirder and more insane your characters are the more “Southern” you will seem. You might just get a Pulitzer Prize out of it. If you rise that far you can write any crazy ole thing you want and call it “stream of consciousness”.

By the way, stream of consciousness does not work for undergraduate creative writing assignments. In school you have to write about how much you communicate with trees. Or at least I did, but my Grad Student teacher was English so maybe that was why.

If you're reading this blog instead of the book you might fail the class

Okay, so now I’ve got you set on how to look, act, and write. The next part is much trickier. And that is how to market yourself.

Now some of you are saying “but I want to write REAL Southern literature, and be true to myself and my art”. To that I reply “Hogwash!” I’m trying to tell you how to become a great Southern writer. To be that, you have to be an erudite backwoods philosopher with a penchant for corn liquor and grotesque characterization. And you do that for one thing and one thing only, to make money. If you want to write for people and not make any money and say whatever you want, then start a blog…

Wait…

In any event, once you’ve published your first piece you have arrived on the scene. But you haven’t made it just yet. To really MAKE it you have to have one of your books be adapted into a movie. This is good for several reasons. First, since only 3% of Americans read books, your work will then be viewed by millions more people. Second, you’ll be able to hobnob at better parties around eccentric movie people who are more interesting and better looking than eccentric book people. Third, you’ll be able to criticize the adaption of your book (even though you helped write the screenplay) giving you more sympathy and credibility in the publishing world.

So to make a good Southern book that will be adapted for Hollywood, you’ll have to work much harder on your characters. One shortcut I would suggest is to create parts for Robert Duvall. If you create a character and can close your eyes and hear and see Robert Duvall playing the part in film then you have a winner. I kid you not, although technically a Yankee (but of Southern ancestry) Mr. Duvall gets Southern accents (and there are hundreds) right. He plays strange Southern characters perfectly. Remember To Kill a Mockingbird? Great book, great film, and it was capped off by Duvall’s portrayal of Boo Radley. He did a phenomenal job and he didn’t even speak.

Film adaptations are great for another reason. People who didn’t know who you were will then go out and find your book and read it. They will fall into two camps. Camp one will be the nerdy people who will champion your cause and say the film (which you also wrote) wasn’t true to the author’s intent. Camp two, will be the people who think your “book sucked” and Tom Hanks totally saved it on screen. Either way as long as the check clears you should be happy.

Axe wielding Bible salesman battles the Klan in small-town Arkansas

But film adaptations are no match for the REAL key to long term literary and financial success. To achieve this you must have your book selected for Oprah’s book club. Oprah has a lot of power. You know you have a lot of power when you don’t need a last name. Every woman in America has been programmed to do whatever Oprah tells them. And every man married to that woman has been programmed to do what she then says. So if Oprah picks your book as her feature book of the month you are set for life. Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy and others (all amazing writers) sold 10X the books post-Oprah. Even Faulkner became a best seller again decades beyond the grave. If you do make an appearance don’t forget your trademark wardrobe and “Southernisms”. Oprah will play along and get what you’re doing. She’s from Mississippi after all.

This is the key to a successful book! They don't teach you this in grad school.

Friends, if you follow these steps you will become a great Southern writer. You will create a fictional world full of scamps, scoundrels, and scalawags, that will charm the rest of the nation and the whole world. You might even get enough Yankees to buy your books that they will take a pilgrimage down South to see “what inspired you”. And that is good for our economy down here. (See: Oxford, Mississippi).

In all seriousness, I firmly believe that within each and every Southerner is a good storyteller. Although in truth we realize that our region is more similar to the rest of the country in reality than in print, there are some things pretty special about our culture. Our way of life is slower, our traditions are held dearer, and our crazy relatives and self contradictory ways are pretty dang funny. We do have a story to tell even if we embellish it for the Northern folks. For embellishment and tongue in cheek humor is really what Southern writing has always been about.

If you’ve read this far I hope you got that!

Your audience still won't understand where you come from

Well, I think I got over my writer’s block. Next week I’ll tackle another topic new to me as I’ll bring you the third article in this series with SO YOU WANT TO HAVE A SOUTHERN COOKING SHOW.

Until next time,

-Southern Blogger


So you wanna be…a Country Music Star?

Hey Y’all,

It’s good to be back again friends. This week we will leave the SEC and begin a new series. And this week, I’m back on track (sort of) making my Monday deadline. I’m sure many of you think Southern Blogger can pop out cartoons and stories in a hurry (or my inflated ego assumes that), but you may be surprised to know he often suffers from writer’s block (and also suffers from the habit of referring to himself in the third person). So here I am on this virtual cartoon barstool, for this week’s post, attempting to figure out how to write a good country song.

It ain’t easy.

Sure it’s easy enough to write a clichéd country song. “My woman left me for my dog and I have no beer…wait…I have no truck to find a woman…no the woman drove the truck to run over my dog….no no…I don’t have a dog or a truck but my woman looks like one….”

See…even that’s pretty tough…and I’m running out of ink and bar napkins.

Of course, if I was a crass commercial country music fan I could churn out a song pretty easy. I could brag about how country I am in the suburbs of Nashville, or could write about honky badonkadonks (thereby officially burying a slang word), or could glean from the latest pop styles and throw in a faded steel guitar to pass it off as country.

Yeah I could do that, and make a lot of dough, and I could also draw smiley faces on celebrities, charge you for the privilege and call it a blog…

But I have too much integrity for that and so do you gentle readers!

Nope, we’re going to go deep into our Southern roots and our grandparents’ record collections and discover what makes a REAL country song…one that has heart, brings tears, raises cane, and will last for decades.

For that we need to understand what makes a real country song and singer work.

–  Southern Blogger

(Click any Picture to Enlarge)

Cloth Napkins: Why you can't write country music in a fancy restaurant

Sharecropper’s Sons and Coal Miner’s Daughters

If I had to put the key to a good country music performance into one word it would be “authenticity”. Country music is about life; its joys and sorrows, ups and downs, wild times and hangovers. It is one of two musical genres that sum up the self-contradictory nature of Southern culture. The other form of music that does this is blues.

In reality country and blues are at their roots the exact same music. To me a good country artist is a white man who sings the blues, and a good bluesman is a black man who sings a country song. The point being they are the same genre (one Scotch-Irish twang and the other West African call and response) segregated by record labels back in the day. Consider that Ray Charles’ “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music” owes a lot to Hank Williams, and Hank Williams owed a lot to the black bluesmen he listened to in Alabama, who in turn borrowed from Appalachian Irish balladeers, who in turn owed a lot to African rhythm and so on and so on… (I will devote an entire piece to the blues at a later date).

Good country singers also come from somewhere. And that “somewhere” is usually nowhere. We only know of Dyess, Arkansas because of Johnny Cash, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee because of Dolly Parton, and Butcher Hollow, KY because of Loretta Lynn. These artists escaped the sharecropping, economic depression, and isolation of their communities yet never entirely “left” home. They struck out to survive, but would never have made it without their home experiences. Seeing the key to the contradiction here? Even some of the best “country” music can come from “un-country” places. (See: Springsteen, Bruce/ New Jersey).

What you thought the Van Lear Rose came from 5th Ave?

The Wild Side of Life

Good country music reflects the heart of America. It also reflects its dark underbelly. Country artists often write of dark times and dark places precisely because they have been to those dark places themselves. Many of the most famous country stars (and stars of any genre for that matter) have been self-destructive. Their lives are often sad, we wonder what went so wrong for them, we lament the wasted talent, yet also forget that the very trouble, pain, and heartbreak that destroys such lives and wastes such talent produces compelling lyrics. Again, we are self-contradictory people.

Take George Jones for example. I dare anyone to find a more authentic voice out there. George Jones has lived a thousand lives and you can hear them all in his voice. He grew up in the roughneck parts of East Texas, survived the chair throwing honky tonk scene, a stint in the Marine Corps, and the trouble that follows young stars who make it big quick in Nash Vegas. The man’s blood is made up of one half Jack Daniels and the other half sorrow. He is our genre’s Keith Richards. And he has survived, thrived, and been to hell and back.

Consider the heartbreak that comes through in the songs “The Grand Tour” and “He Stopped Loving her Today”.  Others may have written his songs, but the listener suspects that George at least lived them. The rocky love and hate relationship between Jones and erstwhile wife and fellow legend Tammy Wynette is also quite compelling in song. She tried to change him, he drunkenly refused, she threw away his car keys, and he drove to the liquor store on a lawn mower. You can say Tammy Wynette was wrong to “stand by her man”, but you forget how tough Southern women are. George may have thrown bottles at her, but you can be sure she picked them up and threw them right back!

George Jones: Country Music's Keith Richards

Seeing the Light after Saturday Night

No one better illustrates the pain, suffering, and lost promise of a life cut short than country music’s greatest legend Hank Williams. Dead by 29, Hank wrote so many chart topping, genre creating, standard setting songs, he has gone down in history as the “Hillbilly Shakespeare”. Doubtless many of Hanks fans, most of who came to know him in song decades after his passing glory in the life and lyrics of country music’s original outlaw. But they’re only hearing half of the lyrics…

The key to understanding Hank Williams and indeed to unlocking much of the enigma of Southern culture is to understand that after Saturday night comes Sunday morning.

Hank Williams may have “Honky Tonked” with a “hot rod Ford and a two dollar bill” and “bawled his woman out every night after loving her every morning” but he paid the price. And he told you in song. Hank understood he was a sinner and that sin was punished. Whether through divorce proceedings, custody battles, hangovers, and heartbreaks, he paid a price for his exploits. And in song you also hear of hope…hope of forgiveness and redemption through an authentic religious belief. He lived it up on Saturday night but on Sunday morning he “Saw the Light”.

Yes a Hillbilly Shakespeare would know about the duality of man

Staying True to what (Pigeon) Forged You

You don’t have to necessarily be a hell raiser in order to be an authentic country star. Some stars have stayed true to their Sunday school raising their entire careers and have been no worse off for it musically. Take for example Dolly Parton. Dolly’s career has spanned over four decades. She started out as a talented duet partner, then branched out as a chart topping pop country solo artist, then became a movie star, then entrepreneur, and finally has returned to her roots (do wigs have roots? I think so) to just plain be Dolly again (not that there was ever anything plain about her). She has kept the same husband, stayed out of trouble, made millions for her hometown, and has never lost that sass and class that makes her the spiritual embodiment (okay you can throw a joke in here if you must) of Southern womanhood.

Consider this…her partner and mentor for years on the country scene was the king of hillbilly “bling” Porter Wagoner. Porter discovered Dolly when she was a shy country girl and turned her into a big star. She eventually left on her own but penned the tune “I Will Always Love You” as a tribute to him. It is one of the greatest country love songs of all time, and it was about a platonic relationship.

I wonder if that suit was as hard to make as it was to draw?

Image isn’t Everything (Outside of Music Row)

Whether you “Walk the Line” or are the type that would rather “shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die”, to be an authentic country voice you have to be somebody rather than just play somebody. Take for example Johnny Cash. Now Johnny Cash didn’t exactly live out each and every word of his songs. Had he done so he’d have been doing far more concerts at Folsom Prison since he’d have been doing life there. The key to Johnny Cash and why he has nearly universal appeal is his empathy.

Cash may not have been locked away in San Quentin, but he’d spent enough days in jail to know what it meant to be behind cold, steel bars. He wasn’t a forgotten Pima Indian war hero like Ira Hayes, but he knew the highs and lows of going from obscurity to fame back to obscurity. He’d been a sharecropper’s son, seen his brother die young, spent lonely nights abroad, fought internal demons, popped pills, smashed out lights and bottles, and lived to tell about it. He could preach to the sinners because he knew he was as big a sinner as them all.

If someone asked me what America “sounds like” I’d put a Johnny Cash record on as the soundtrack. His voice connects us to our past yet remains for all times. Yet many of today’s “country” stars, some of them quite “Big” and quite “Rich” simply want to CASH in on the “man in black” logo, the aura, the “street cred”. But you can’t become Johnny Cash in a Music Row studio, GQ photo shoot, or mall kiosk. You have to LIVE it.

This is what "walking the walk" looks like!

So friends, to write a good country song, observe the world, experience it, empathize, then sit down, and spill your troubles (just try not to spill your Beam). If we can learn to do that, we can all write our own country song…LIFE. Oh…and go grab me some more bar napkins please.

Thanks again for reading!

– Southern Blogger

NEXT WEEK: So you Want to Write…a Southern Novel


Guide to the SEC…Playing Well (and not so Well) With Others

Hey y’all,

As I’ve mentioned before I learned a lot of things from my time at Ole Miss. Besides bourbon smuggling, bow tie wearing, frat tabbing, mud riding, bottle throwing, fight song singing, and hob knobbing, I learned the art of procrastination.

Yep, it’s Tuesday night going on Wednesday as I’m writing this. Two days late. My excuse(s)? Well I was out of power, then restored to power, then had to help someone move (esp. since he’s the reason I got to post last week), then indoctrinated my nephew for his birthday by taking him to a baseball game and converting him to SEC football, and then there were all the games on TV…and…and…

Well, I’ve finally finished my cartoons and am ready to bring you my third and final installment of the “Guide to the SEC” Trilogy (although there may be prequels at a later date). In this issue, which I dedicate to fans, students, and alums of the other 11 SEC schools, I will tell of the things I’ve learned from watching, arguing over, and fighting in, games with y’all. While we may have been on opposite sides of that “war” we call Saturday football, we as fellow warriors share some of the same stories and observations. Such as…

(Click any Picture to Enlarge and Read Text)

You can be a little too color coordinated!

Down Here Some Folks Take Football Seriously, Very, Very Seriously!

The first SEC game I ever attended was in the Fall of 1996. After spending my first two Ole Miss games watching cakewalk opponents (yes Ole Miss once took care of those easily) I was a tad overconfident in my school’s ability to defeat any foe. And then came Tennessee. It was going to be a home game…but the home game was played in “neutral” Memphis (much closer to Oxford, MS than Knoxville) and you know we had that “home field advantage”.

Well folks, I learned quickly that when you step two yards into the state of Tennessee, you are in Vols Country. And by Vols Country I mean folks decked out in orange so bright it makes your eyes bleed.  I also realized that a school on probation, with walk on players, which Ole Miss had to deal with due to certain infractions, was no match for a Peyton Manning Tennessee squad. Yep, that Peyton Manning.

I should tell you before that date I used to like the color orange and the song “Rocky Top”. In fact Rocky Top is quite stirring the first time you hear it played by their band. But they play it after every first down, 3 yard run, kick return, timeout, fumbled snap, punt, TV timeout, and so forth and so on. After a 48-3 drubbing I can still see Peyton’s throws and hear that dang song in my nightmares.

Yes folks they take their fight song and blaze orange very seriously. And it gets worse when you head into Neyland Stadium which I finally managed to do last year. I was a little blueberry in a bowl of oranges. Ole Miss stunk the place up and I heard Rocky Top a lot.

Yet every team in the SEC has their traditions they take seriously. My own school in fact used to before the current administration came to power.

Take for example the University of Georgia. Those Georgia folks are quite fond of a canine called UGA. “Uga” is bulldog royalty. I think they might be on their 10th one now. His dog house is larger than the school president’s and possibly Hershel Walker’s. Students must clear the path lest he be forced to move his paws and exert himself too much. I believe he even has graduate assistants who must taste his food lest any Harvey Updyke type have any nefarious ideas. And to all of us in this conference this is quite understandable. Especially fear of crazed “Bama” fans.

Speaking of…of all the crazies in the SEC they do crazy 100 x worse in Tuscaloosa. Winning 7 or 14, or 106 national championships (depending on who you ask) brings you a lot of fans. The drunkenness that comes from winning is far more potent than any smuggled 4th quarter bourbon.

My first live experience with the “Bama-Waggoners” came during my sophomore season (yeah I said season). By then, I had a few games under my belt and understood the tailgating culture, and what to expect from visiting fans as far as parking, partying, trash talking etc. At least I thought I did. Most visiting fans would arrive on Friday before a Saturday game. We knew as students that our own administration would sell us out and our commuter parking in order to cash in from the visiting RVs. That was fine by us since it gave us a legitimate excuse to skip class (esp. since we were already planning to do). The Bama fans came in quite early, as in Tuesday night, Wednesday morning early. They took over our entire campus with fleets of RVs. I had to walk an extra 30 minutes to get to class and was late a few times.

So folks, by my account I had every right then to spend the next couple of nights making noise in the Bama RV park, esp. at 3 AM, and pilfering annoying RV magnets. Yes I admit it, but remember, there’s also a statute of limitations! And yes they beat us, beat us bad, with Shaun Alexander, and I got even madder. My roommate and I had quite the collection on our fridge.

(you should definitely click on this picture)

I bet they even have a dog named "Houndstooth"

Football Brings Out my Inner Jerk

As you can already tell, college football brings out the inner jerk in your normally mild mannered and polite Southern Blogger. As I became more adept at SEC culture and had attended a few years of games I became more familiar with our opponents. I would research them weeks before the game. By research I mean learn all the gossip, scandals, and funny player names to use against them. I also had my standby taunts.

For example, it always annoyed me that we could never beat Auburn. At the time we were at the same level as them. Same type of team, same personnel, same type of fans, same record, they even had our former coach. And yet, we’d lose to yet another school from the state of Alabama, and I’d be pretty ticked. So when I exited the stadium to their trash talk and to their plethora of pom-poms (no one loves pom-poms quite like Auburn) I would throw back the only thing I had left, a cheap yet effective shot. I’d yell “Roll Tide”. It never failed to bring out scowls and epithets.

But Auburn was mild in comparison to my utter contempt for LSU. Man oh man, was LSU my favorite game. I’m talking a real rivalry, one in which you had a real chance of being arrested or put into a coma. Their fans and students would drive up from “Red Stick” pretty early in the week. I could tell many of them would be out looking for a fight. They’d go into stores and restaurants in Oxford ready to start trouble. And trouble would ensue to be sure.

During games in those days, as mentioned before, our student sections were near each other. I’d see dozens of people getting carted off to jail on both sides, and hundreds of bottles and cups whizzing through the air. I even got hit by friendly fire.

This incident really happened in 1998. Yeah I did some throwing.

And they were obnoxious! (Well so were we ha ha) Once after a touchdown one of their students stole Colonel Reb’s cane (10 years before he became our chancellor) and was dancing profanely with it. For the first and only time in my life I rooted for Cobra Security and police brutality. One of our guards who looked like he used to play football, leapt into the crowd, threw a few punches and the cane was retrieved. Anyway we won some and lost some, but I hand it to the LSU faithful…they were the most fun to hate on. Which reminds me that…

No Matter What, Some Folks Will Just Plain Hate You!

Yes, by hate I mean Mississippi State. State has a complex. They are the “people’s” college, the land grant school that represents all of Mississippi…or at least Mississippi’s cattle industry. And they emphasize this point with their enthusiasm for the cow bell. Cow bells were illegal, but so was bourbon and that always got by the geniuses at Cobra. They’d ring them and clang them, and belt mono-syllabic (that means one-word for those of you from State) insults and cheers.

Man they were annoying! To get to the game you had to run a gauntlet of their sidewalk alums decked in camo and mud. They’d shout stupid nonsense about “Winning the fight” on the field a year ago (they didn’t) and how they were real Mississippi and not into “book learning”. So they were the “anti-college” that represented the parts of the state that don’t get in the travel brochures.

I hated them and everything they stood for. I’d go hoarse making fun of them and quoting from the movies Deliverance and Sling Blade quite liberally. In fact, during my senior year, during an imitation that lasted the whole game, I once had Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade Character “Carl”, apply, graduate, attend graduate school, and become a professor at Mississippi State. Our folks laughed, theirs didn’t get it.

Ughh…State….anyway in my last game as a student me made a 20 point 4th quarter comeback. That was a fond memory.

Sorry Slim, y'all didn't "win the fight" or the game!

For the record I used the same material for Arkansas, esp. after watching in shock as their fans did a call the hogs “Sooey” cheer. Pretty scary stuff. I just emphasized the “Squeal like a pig” Deliverance lines a little more.

Those fans sure were annoying, but that wasn’t half as bad as being “too nice”.

Some Folks Just Don’t Belong…

…in the SEC that is. You come to expect a certain amount of mutual “hate” during games. In fact I thrived on it and looked forward to it. It’s the reason I’ve always found Big Ten and ACC games disappointing. They missed that combat factor.

So I was in for a real shock when I attended my first game at Vanderbilt. Vandy was an ideal locale for a good road trip. Nashville was 5 hours from Oxford, I like classic country music, Vanderbilt was an easy win (back then), and tickets were easy to come by. Real easy.

Nobody went to Vanderbilt games to root for Vanderbilt. Even the city kids they gave thousands of free tickets to. So that was weird, as was fact that the tickets had children’s cartoons on them rather than former players or coaches etc. Even weirder was the first Vandy students I saw while walking up to the game were not tailgaters but “artsy types” in all-black having a street theatre performance. But even that wasn’t the weirdest.

No friends, the oddest thing was the pre-game ceremony. Their band marched over to our section as their P.A. Announcer welcomed us to the game as “guests”. Then they played our school’s fight song. Man, I had NO RESPECT for that. LSU and State would never stoop so low. So after we pummeled them it didn’t feel as fun.

Way to ruin my fun Vandy!

Thankfully a recent return to Vanderbilt showed me some changes. They have more fans, they have SOME students that are like the rest of us, drunk, profane, and into football, and they stopped sucking up to their visitors.

Still there are just some things that shouldn’t be in the SEC. Like the fact that Florida could win championships with a guy who cried and was too touchy feely. Or how Kentucky actually pays their basketball coach more than the football coach (that’s weirder than Vandy caring about academics). But the most un-SEC team to me is South Carolina. Whenever I see them in person or on TV they rub me the wrong way. See, the state of South Carolina is as Southern as it gets. I love Charleston, devour shrimp and grits, agree that Carolina girls are among the best in the world, and can rock out to some Wilson Pickett. So it’s beyond weird that the state that brought us Vanna White and Preston Brooks has a flagship school that raves to techno at the start of the 4th quarter. Their “traditions” seem very recent, very school-sponsored and very Kansas State like. I see lots of gel hair, tight t-shirts, official school sponsored (as in safe and PC) gear, and hear electronic music, choreographed cheering, and a general lack of SEC trash talk.

I don’t know….they’ve only been around us for 20 years. It takes at least 50 to build up a decent rivalry or worthy fight song. Still, if I had my druthers we’d trade them to the ACC for Clemson. At least Clemson gets football culture.

Perhaps you'd be more comfortable in the ACC

Well folks, I’ve prattled long enough about my thoughts on the SEC. Know this, despite it all; I admire the students, alums, and fans of the other schools. Since my gradation from Hotty Toddy U. I can count LSU, Georgia, and Auburn alums amongst my closest friends, talk football every Sunday with my Tennessee Vol loving pastor, had pleasant visits recently to UT, UK, and Vandy, have had friendly run-ins with State grads, and always pay attention when a certain Florida alum is reporting from the sidelines. So despite it all, while I don’t quite count them as brothers and sisters, the other schools’ folks are at least misguided cousins. But hey, that makes us all family.

And whoever’s playing come bowl season, you’ll hear me chant “S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C”.

–   Southern Blogger

Next Week, hopefully on time, I will begin a new series with So You Wanna Write…a Country Song.