Jazz states, soul states, even rock n' roll states...

Four years ago, I was living in Seattle, in the heart of hipster haven, high atop Capitol Hill. I danced in the streets with my neighbors and hugged strangers and reveled in the joyous celebration of living in one of the cities which made up what the news media at the time lovingly referred to as the "Urban Archipelago" - the parts of the country which had voted, overwhelmingly, for Barack Obama.

I should say right now this post isn't going to be a partisan rant. I'm framing my point here. Stay with me. (Or go read something else.)

Anyway, back then, I shook my head at the southern states and the states in the middle of the country as they determinedly turned red, one at a time, on election night. Holding on to antebellum ideals, I thought. All those poor, sad, ignorant southern souls who were too busy shining their guns to care that a new day was dawning in progressive America. Blah blah blah. 

But now I live in a Carolina. Granted, it's the more progressive of the two - there are parts of this Carolina which fought with the Union in the Civil War. The town I live in has worked hard to earn the moniker "Cesspool of Sin," which was thrust at Asheville in the throes of a marriage equality debate over there in Raleigh earlier this year. When I drive outside of town, I see rebel flags everywhere. Hell the other day I saw a bumper sticker that showed a rebel flag and then said something like "If you're offended by this, it's because of your own ignorance." 

Interesting point there. I'm just gonna let that go. 

The other day, news broke that Texas had filed a petition to secede from the US. I ignored it. Certainly it's not the first time. Then someone tweeted that there were more than a dozen states petitioning for secession, and North Carolina was among them. I clicked on the link, because if I'm going to be forced to live abroad, it will be either in a beautiful tropical paradise, or a place where people speak a foreign language and make exceptional pastries. I have no interest in living in a "foreign" land without even leaving my house.

The site to which the link sent me was housed on the White House domain - a page called We The People, which allows anyone to start a petition about anything. If you want the administration to even think about responding to your petition, you have to get 25,000 signatures. Basically, it's a way for us average citizens to feel like the government is listening to us, and a way for the government to placate people who are frustrated about something.

North Carolina had more than 12,000 signatures when I looked. Many of them were from people who live in other states. I rolled my eyes and went back to looking at Facebook. Of course, Facebook had a slew of people freaking the fuck out about Texas wanting to secede. So I did the math (or, as President Clinton would have it, the arithmetic) and posted my results as my status. The amount of people petitioning for Texas's secession amounted to less than one-quarter of one percent of the entire population of Texas. Why give those people attention? Why not pay attention to the more-than-99-percent of Texans not signing the petition? (My brother-outlaw suggested the secession approval is more like 20-30%, which still...that's 70% disapproval, which is significant.)

Then someone pasted a diatribe they'd seen somewhere else on Facebook. It was, essentially, a letter to the southern and middle states, from the Urban Archipelago. Or, in this case, the person who wrote this was calling their part of the country "The Enlightened States of America." 

Well come on now. That's just silly. 

Since moving to the South, I've spent a lot of time studying the efforts of the Highlander Folk School, granted, so my idea that southern and poor people are just as good as you is largely fueled by the work I've been doing the past two years. But I think it's important to recognize when people are having a worldview problem.

The "red states", such as they are, are hardly wastelands of Neanderthalic ignorance. First of all, contemporary anthropologists have every reason to believe that Neanderthal was a hominid species who actually bred with Homo sapiens, and was every bit as intelligent as we are. They were even crafty and artistic too...So the use of the word "Neanderthal" to write off a population of people is at least very condescending and, at most, quite ignorant in itself. 

My main objection to this rant was that it presumed that the northern and western (i.e. "blue" states) were more intelligent, cultured, and overall important than the rest of us. Oh, and their weather is better. (The rant accused the red states of having all the tornadoes and most of the hurricanes. Um, talk to Brooklyn.) I would counter that by saying the blue states have the bulk of the volcanoes and earthquakes and mudslides and wildfires, while the red states have most of the sunshine and all the nice beaches (where you can actually swim in the water without a coat on). BOOM! Take that blue states. 

Seriously, though. What's the point of this polarization? Why does someone in a blue state feel inclined to write a rant that seeks to diminish the import of half the country? Isn't that quite like some ignoramus right-winger equating women on birth control with "sluts"? Isn't that like a Texan calling the president a Muslim elitist socialist? It's just as absurd and, to me, displays an utter desire to bully the hell out of anyone who's different from you, because they come from somewhere else and see the world in a different way. 

Why do we all feel such a compelling desire to school each other on how ignorant and stupid and backwards everyone other than us is? Just cut it out already. And if you won't take it from me, take it from our president: "The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into red states and blue states - red states for Republicans, and blue states for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and have gay friends in the red states."

So, now that my point is framed and I have, it turns out, delved deeply into a political message, I'm gonna bring it back to the music. Harp on us red staters all you want (on Election night I was in a room full of freakishly progressive people, here in this red state full of Neanderthals), but you can't deny the extraordinary influence of our music. 

So now, without further ado, I give you ten artists from red states who have changed the face of American creative expression. 

1. Woody Guthrie (Oklahoma)



2. Townes Van Zandt (Texas)


3. Steve Earle (Texas)


4. Hank Williams, Sr. (Alabama)

5. Doc Watson (North Carolina)

6. Louis Armstrong (Louisiana)

7. James Brown (Georgia)

8. Elizabeth Cotten (North Carolina)

9. Leadbelly (Louisiana)

10. The Indigo Girls (Georgia)

In other words, get over it already. Nobody's more important than anyone else. No state is categorically better than any other state. If you can think of 100 things about anyone to complain about, chances are they'd have just as many complaints about you. So check yourself, people, and let's get back to the stuff we agree on. Seriously.

For starters, Appalachia and Texas* make the best music. Period. 

(*I'm kidding. Mostly.)

Views: 486

Comment by Easy Ed on November 14, 2012 at 4:29pm
An interesting take. (wow...the font in the comments box is very strange) But let's consider this...Woody Guthrie got popular when he moved to California, and later NY. Both blue. Townes' lived in Colorado. Sometimes blue, sometimes not. Steve Earle is in NY (now), More blue. Leadbelly was in prison down south, so it took the Lomax guys to bust him out and move him to NY. More blue. The rest I'll concede.
I'm in agreement with you that :Nobody's more important than anyone else. (Except maybe all the rich people, who are much more important.) Any state squabbling seems absolutely counter-intuitive to the concept of these United States. But I'm not joining you on this: "No state is categorically better than any other state." Just like short people, some states got no reason to live.
Comment by Hal Bogerd on November 14, 2012 at 4:54pm

I voted for Obama (again) but the need to mention capital G god by any politician pisses me off:

"We worship an awesome God in the blue states"? I don't!

Me, I'm waiting for the day when I can vote for an atheist woman!

Comment by Kim Ruehl on November 14, 2012 at 5:05pm
Hal - you might get the chance. A bisexual atheist woman just won one of Arizona's congressional seats!
Comment by Hal Bogerd on November 14, 2012 at 5:16pm

I missed that one Kim! Arizona? I assume it must be like NC with small pockets of Blue surrounded by Red.

Comment by Kim Ruehl on November 14, 2012 at 5:50pm
Ed - I submit that Woody was initially popular in CA and NY because he was from Oklahoma. Going somewhere else to make your living doesn't erase where you come from. Ask all parents of the Dream Act youth.
Comment by darren morris on November 16, 2012 at 3:15pm

Most (ahem...progressive) people that I know that are from there (panhandle of Texas for me) are "from" there for a reason.....but they generally ain't there no more. Least I ain't sugar britches.

Comment by Sue Rarick on November 17, 2012 at 6:58am

Being a long time resident of Tennessee and having gone to those Red State bastions of education, New York Institute of Technology and NYU Grad school (4th generation) I find that most people today are like speed freaks.

A quick explanation. A friend decades ago used to say everyone was like a speed freak. They either thought they were the best like a speed freak on a high or they thought everyone was a bigger crap than they were, like a speed freak crashing.

I find that to many people today are like the crashing speed freaks and try to improve their opinions of themselves by finding fault with others. This isn’t just in the United States either. Having lived in Europe and Asia a lot of people in those places are just as bad.

Nobody is as smart as they think they are. When I was very young there was an old man that passed by my uncles Summer house on his daily walk. I would join him and for the rest of the morning we’d walk and talk. He was a retired stock broker and had been the CEO of a major brokerage and I learned a lot. Years later I used to go outside of my condo on the Atlantic City boardwalk and sit on a bench and talk with a couple of the homeless people. I’d buy them breakfast and we’d talk for at least an hour. They had as much wisdom as the very rich stock broker. The lesson learned is that wisdom comes in different packages and to ignore a poorly wrapped package will deny you a great deal of wisdom.

I was just listening to a U-tube clip where Mick Jagger was asked about the difference between the US now and when he first toured here 40 years ago and his comment was that it was a totally different country. Not sure how accurate that is but I do find it interesting that back then the Nixon supporters were telling people if they didn’t like the country they could leave and I just was reading comments on NBCNews.com and some Obama supporters were telling people if they didn’t like the country they could leave. The more things change the more they remain the same.

Comment by Hal Bogerd on November 17, 2012 at 8:08am


I was with you until Mick Jagger. If Jagger is the Alexis de Tocqueville equivalent of the 21st century we indeed are in deep shit.

Comment by Easy Ed on November 17, 2012 at 8:30am

@Sue: I was with you until the term speed freak was used at the end of the first sentence and I was recalling that the first time I ever did speed was in Atlantic City where you had a condo and talked with homeless people and I like that song that Bruce Springsteen did about that town and also the Jack Nicholson movie or was it Burt Lancaster and so the thing about Mick Jagger is that I didn't see the Stones when they played at Steel Pier but I did see Herman's Hermits there and Little Stevie Wonder too with the Count Basie orchestra or maybe Duke Ellington but the more they remain the same is a Led Zep album isn't it? 

@Hal: I've always called him Alex.

@Kim: Maybe you're right about that, regarding Woody's birthplace and popularity in CA/NY. 

Comment by Sue Rarick on November 17, 2012 at 9:14am

@ Hal -- love the comment about being in deep shit... I have a saying that when thrown into shit find the shallow end.


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.