I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its luster, and was faded and yellow…I should have cried out, if I could. ~ Great Expectations
The following is a sad remembrance but it ends on a happy note. I don’t expect my readers’ forgiveness for the debaucherous parts; I wasn’t always virtuous in my youth. I only ask you make allowance for my circumstances as a young military man, subject to the ravenous pressures of that class, and raised without the defensive knowledge of Christian chivalry…
Years ago, my sister and I, along with a handful of devout college students, went to a Charlie Daniel’s concert in West Virginia. The students weren’t as enthusiastic about it as I was. They were dressed nicely, signaling to the world their aloofness to redneck culture, while I, caught up in the excitement of seeing one of my heroes in person, was dressed as a caricature of rural manliness. I recall having on a camouflage vest, bare armed (to show off adolescent strength), jeans, and to proudly top it off, a Confederate flag ball cap my grandfather bought me.
“You should have dressed better,” one of them said. On the drive to the concert he told us all about the popular 90’s music he listened to and how “alternative rock” was better than country. Joke was on him; when we arrived, I fit in with the blue collar crowd and they all stood out.
We got there late and ended up at the back of the auditorium. But as we were sitting down, I heard angelic voices from the stage. Two beautiful young blondes, The Larkins, were singing bluegrass, one playing the mandolin, the other on the violin and backup vocals. Keep in mind, readers, I grew up in a predominately negro area where the only people who knew about bluegrass were the old folks. Seeing those girls up there, proudly singing the music of our people, overwhelmed me. I was fascinated. I think I was in love…with which of them, I didn’t know or care.
I was transfixed the entire set and only snapped out of it when they traded places with Charlie Daniels, who emerged from behind the curtain to thunderous applause. A few songs into his performance the very angels themselves, Tina and Shaunna, came through the back doors and sat next to me – two empty chairs between us! I couldn’t believe it. The miracle extended further when, during the upbeat songs as the audience jumped to their feet, swaying, clapping, and dancing to the tunes, the two girls did likewise, smiling at me, the nearest one even rubbing against me in the fray. The electricity, readers!
“Hi,” she said to me, smiling sweetly, as she turned to her sister, giggling. They knew what they were doing; I was at their mercy. Sadly, it ended all too soon when the girls’ father(?) beckoned to them and, just like that, they were gone. One, I’d swear it was Shaunna, waved bye to me as they exited.
What a pleasant memory. I was still a novice in my ability with the banjo (haven’t progressed much since), but bluegrass had always been a deeply personal form of music for me, and they, those melodious sirens, were the embodiment of Appalachian spirit. At least, they were to me, and throughout the years that followed, I’d remember them that way often; mischievous, playful, and alive.
Years later, I joined the Navy and after a particularly arduous sea mission, our ship pulled into an Islamic port for supplies. Endless ocean was replaced with endless desert, the jewel of which was a small village we called “The Sandbox.” The Arab salesmen tried their best to supply us with a taste of luxury. One of their tents was set up as an electronics depot. I dropped in and rifled through a pile of CDs, tossing aside dozens of odd middle-eastern music, and suddenly, out of the mix, there was a picture of the two Appalachian angels, staring up at me. They had made an album! I purchased it immediately and throughout the rest of the deployment, played it over and over in my rack at night. So odd to find a taste of home so far away from the Blue Ridge. I was a little confused, though; their album was described as “country-pop” and had no bluegrass at all.
Months later, back in the States, I went to visit my Navy buddies down in Jacksonville, NC. We engaged heavily in alcohol, our debauchery landing us in a local country bar called the Tarheel Opry House. All manner of wild dancing was taking place on the floor, a mix of line dancing, honky-tonking, flat-footing, and who-knows-what all, combined with negro hip-hop tunes. A nasty amalgamation. We’d go every night and make nuisances of ourselves.
One night, we had to pay cover charges because some band was playing…as you all might have guessed, yet another miraculous coincidence: it was the two Larkin girls. This time, however, their family band had been replaced with hired country musicians, and instead of bluegrass, they played country-pop and rock covers. My excitement quickly turned to confusion. During a lull in their set, I yelled “Above it All!”…a song from their album, and hearing me, they laughed and one of them explained they were saving their original songs for the end of the performance.
My confusion sobered me up and by the time they were finished, I walked over to where they were sitting. I looked to the guitarist and said, “You were great, man! That one solo you did was amazing!”
“Oh yeah?” he replied sardonically, as he put out his cigarette, “What was so great about it?”
“Um…” I didn’t know what to say.
“Well ya’ll were great too!” I said, turning to the Larkins. “I was kind of hoping you’d do some bluegrass though.”
Tina, if I recall, looked at me with a blank, tired look.
“Don’t ya’ll do that anymore?” I asked, confused.
“No” she replied, with no hint of conversational grace and in a tone hinting she wanted no follow up questions.
Their eyes had lost their sparkle and no hint of mischievous grins showed on their faces. They looked worn down, cynical, and…soulless? Their manager thrust an autographed copy of their album into my hands and looked around for other fans. I took the clue and left, downcast, embarrassed by my own naivety. And so went my vision of the Appalachian spirit.
The music industry devours pretty young girls – to this day (I did some Googling before writing this), they’re still plugging along, playing small shows at bars and festivals. One of them, Tina I think, is married now. I hope, owing to their failure to rise into stardom, they’ve been able to overcome the savaging influences of pop-culture and regain a semblance of their youthful spirit. If they had become superstars they’d likely end up like Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift, or any one of the myriad of deflowered, degenerate white girls paraded before Americans on a daily basis. So I pray, for their sake, God has mercy on the Appalachian angels and gives them a hearth, home, and children instead of fame.
Yes, that encounter put me into a disillusioned and cynical state about beautiful women who ought to belong, if not to me, at least to the culture that gave them birth – belong to it, nurture it, and encourage it in its difficult trek through modernity. Instead, they abandon it for the dark arts of negro-worship, exhibitionism, and smoke-filled bars where debauchery and licentiousness leak into the sawdust floors, and all the purity of cultural expression is lost to a cacophony of devils.
But I said this ends on a lighter note…
At the Charlie Daniels concert, I dressed like a rural American to show everyone my relation to that culture. But I discovered that the clothes don’t make the man; it’s the man’s heart that makes the man. It was a hard lesson to learn, hard because it means, as our Lord has said, the path is very narrow. Without having a heart for our people’s history and our people’s love of God, we’re not really connected to them.
What’s true of men, I’ve learned, is also true of women. Just because girls play traditional instruments and sing traditional songs, maybe even dress in traditional clothes doesn’t mean they’re really white girls. Doesn’t mean they embody the spirit of Appalachia. Unless they have a heart for their people, they’ll easily fall away when faced with the consuming fires of popular culture.
…and there are some women out there who wont fall away. There are some who love and remember.