Sam Burnham, Curator
James Calemine’s latest dispatch at Snake Nation Press has me thinking about the ways the world, specifically The South, has changed just during my lifetime. Change is inevitable, no doubt, and it is even beneficial at least some of the time. Some change really is progress. Some progress really is improvement.
But the amazing photo of the Goat Man, a man out of time in his own era is an even more bizarre vision today. The man who is still a subject of stories and legends some 20 years after his death would likely have no place in our modern time.
He was a native of Iowa who was once married to a Spanish knife thrower 10 years his senior. He left her and their sideshow act after the Depression broke them. An injury back in Iowa led to a religious conversion that, understandably, led him to Georgia.
He’d leave out in that ramshackle wagon, pulled by his trusty team of goats and travel all over. He didn’t just wander Georgia. His stories are told in other states and he himself claimed he had visited all of the lower 48 states. He rarely bathed, he lived off goat milk and whatever else he came across. He wore goat skins and preached fiery messages of repentance in the makeshift revival services in every town he stopped in. He left his wooden plank signs, painted with repentance messages, nailed to trees and fence posts in his wake as he wandered. He was somewhere between a picture and a caricature of John the Baptist.
In the long run, he was a character in a large story that is Southern Culture. He was one of many unique and odd folks who inspired a thousand characters in books and stories by people like William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, and others. People like the Goat Man made the Southern Gothic literary genre possible.
But today our roads are far too busy for a smelly old man on a goat wagon. Our towns are far too refined for his unkempt campsite. Our discourse is far too tolerant to tolerate his fiery sermons. We don’t have the time, the patience, or the curiosity to be bothered by him or his kind.
But he’s not alone. Burwell Stark summed it up well on Twitter: “The South is no longer home to characters like those one would find in an O'Connor short story or Faulkner novel. This is not to our credit.”
While there admittedly are still some wild characters to be found here and there, we’ve lost both the volume of them and the fascination we have for them. A man traveling the road in a goat wagon it a traffic hazard, a nuisance, he’s holding up progress, he’s not living in 2019.
Do we ever ask ourselves if we’re making 2019 the kind of place we wish to inhabit?
This is why we lack modern folk heroes. The Legendary Georgia Goat Man is one of thousands of characters we no longer have. He’s one of thousands we don’t currently deserve.
Sam Burnham, Curator
I shared some of the music that helps me to stir the Christmas spirit but there’s more. I thought I’d add a list of viewing - movies and television - that can help in the same way.
It’s A Wonderful Life - 1946
This movie is one of the mainstays of the season. I know it can seem like a cliche to include it but this movie is filled with the themes that we espouse at ABG. The small town of Bedford Falls, George Bailey and his locally-owned savings and loan, the relationships he and the business have with the locals, the ever present bigger bank breathing down his neck, and his earnest efforts to keep them from taking over his town. It's the power of relationships in a small town and how things can be set right The messages are timeless, Jimmy Stewart is a legend and this is some of his best acting. It’s a Christmas must-see.
A Charlie Brown Christmas - 1965
An animated classic but this one isn’t just child’s play. Charlie Brown is frustrated by the commercialized Christmas he sees surrounding him. So he sets out to find some real meaning in the holiday only to be harried and harassed at every turn by the flashy expectations the commercialized Christmas has given to his friends. I gotta say that Linus standing on stage and reciting from the Book of Luke is one of the finest moments in television history. So simple but so profound. “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
A Christmas Story - 1983
For 24 hours each year, Turner Broadcasting puts this little jewel in the player and hits repeat. You can turn it on and then go on about your way. When you walk in the room you can stop and laugh a bit before you move on. It’s not nearly as profound as the previous two on the list, but this is the funniest Christmas movie ever made. It’s nostalgic and gives us a chance to recognize our own reality in the comical dysfunction of normal life. So many quotes from this movie have become common in our cultural jargon. “You’ll shoot your eye out!” “It’s a major award!” And even the maniacal adaptation of “Ho! Ho! Ho!” Used by the shopping mall Santa. When you hear one, you know where it’s from.
A Christmas Carol - 1984
Whichever version of this Charles Dickens classic you watch is totally up to you. I’m kinda partial to George C. Scott. Regardless of the version, this is a how-to guide to getting into the spirit at Christmastime. The crustiest curmudgeon to walk the Earth is transformed into a tender hearted benefactor in the course of one night. And if Scrooge can get in the spirit, surely you can.
Again, these are a few and I'd love to hear your suggestions. Feel free to share them with us!
Sam Burnham, Curator
We’re once again in the midst of the Christmas season. It’s a season that we look forward to and that I always hope to celebrate well but always struggle to engage. We’ve made our world so hectic and intense that it is hard to stop, to focus on what matters, and to truly be in the holiday spirit. I often find myself in a spirit more like Scrooge before his conversion. While I’m not hostile to Christmas, I’m not enjoying it until it has past and it is too late.
So I have to be intentional. I have to focus on things that matter - family and faith primarily. I thought I’d share some of what I do to get my mind and heart right.
Music plays a role in everything for me. While I don’t play an instrument and lack any semblance of a singing voice, I love music and my tastes are pretty broad. But at Christmas I’m pretty traditional. So here are a few of my go-to musical works.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Annie Lennox
a few years ago, Annie Lennox released a Christmas album. Lennox is incredibly gifted and the entire album is worth a listen but this one song stands out to me. The song focuses on the story of the birth of Christ and the announcement the angels made before shepherds, proclaiming the Incarnation - Messiah. In the video, Lennox ties many old Anglo-Saxon traditions and shows the way Christianity and Christmas would have been presented in Britain long ago.
Concerto Grosso in G Minor, Opus 6, Number 8 “Christmas Concerto” - Arcangelo Corelli
I first heard this piece played as an opening overture to a performance of Handel’s Messiah. I’ve always been partial to strings and while I don’t understand the technical merits of this work, I find it stunning. It's a shorter work, only about 14 minutes, but well worth the time.
Messiah - George Frideric Handel
This quintessential Christmas opus is really an Easter celebration that has been adapted to Christmas. It fits both. So I just enjoy it during two seasons instead of just one. This one is long. It makes good ambient music in the house while you're doing whatever but is also stirring enough to hold your interest as a concert.
A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols - The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
This event was first held in 1918, after the dark spectre of World War I had finally passed. In the aftermath, the Festival was introduced as a “more imaginative approach to worship.” It was broadcasted for the first time in 1928 and is now available all over the world, including on GPB radio in Georgia. The broadcast begins at 10 am Eastern.
I know I have fancier tastes in Christmas music than a lot of Georgians. And that’s ok. I wanted to share some of what I love but I also invite you to share your favorites below. Tell us what music, or other traditions, help you get in the Christmas spirit.
Most of all, take time to stop, truly absorb some of the season. Take time to appreciate it. Share it with us, with others, with yourself.
(Click here for our suggestions for Christmas viewing - film & television)
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire