Sam Burnham, Curator
(This is a review of one volume of a two volume set. The two volumes were released separately. For the review of Volume One, click here.)
As promised, I've returned with a look at Volume Two of James Calemine's Insured Beyond the Grave.
This volume, published by Snake Nation Press, hits the streets June 28th.
It would be advisable, as James told me when I first asked about Volume Two, to go back and read Volume One, if you haven't already. That advice is not as much for the continuity of a story as it is about having the groundwork lain and seeing what he is trying to do. It is a continuation more than a sequel. Each book could technically stand alone but are intended as two halves of a whole. Volume Two holds even more of the essays about writing, music, entertainment, and some other topics, as well as some of the people who made the stories happen. While not all of the subjects are specifically Southern, Calemine is able to help you connect the dots to see how Southerners and the South played a role in many of the featured stories and people.
Calemine opens this volume with the fascinating story of Bob Dylan's unreleased film Renaldo and Clara. His finding a bootleg copy of the film in an Atlanta video store allowed him to view the produce of what might be the most Bob Dylan thing ever - a movie made with no script. That discovery comes across as a taste of forbidden fruit. Dylan didn't release the film but you are left wondering if perhaps he somehow glad to have bootlegs running around where his true fans have a chance to see the work that seemed doomed to economic and critical failure but also destined for adoration among true fans.
I was fascinated by the book's first interview, an on record account with Chuck Leavell, a Rolling Stone turned Macon, Georgia tree farmer. They discuss Leavell's music, his own writing, his tree farming, work with UGA's agriculture department, and inducting Widespread Panic into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. (Calemine wrote Panic's official induction.)
The book has many such interviews. His interview with David Barbe, who I became familiar with back when he was the bass player with drummer Malcolm Travis and guitarist-vocalist Bob Mould in the rock band Sugar. Barbe is a Georgia music icon whose predominate work has been behind the scenes, getting other musicians produced and heard. This interview revealed a lot more about a talented musician and producer who happens to be a long time Georgian. It's possible you may have not heard of David Barbe but unless you've ignored music for the last thirty years or so, you've definitely heard from him.
This volume also contains many shorter works, including a snippet on Zora Neale Hurston's Tell my Horse and Calemine's own thoughts from the road in Email Dispatches From Appalachia. There is also an introduction to Dexter Weaver's (of Weaver D's fame) book Automatic Y'all, a collection of stories and recipes from the Athens soul food legend.
We also hear about Georgia mainstays - REM, The Black Crowes, Kevn Kinney, Amy Ray, so many great artists, musicians, wirters and the people that helped us find them.
As in Volume One, there is no shortage of the beautiful photography by the author. Even more locations of Southern yesteryear continue to inspire the nostalgia and set a sense of mood and feeling. Turning the page becomes a searching through antiques and relics to find different treasures - some new and some quite old.
To tell much more would be to rob Calemine of his thunder and to rob you of the chance to read it first hand. Get your copy from James Calemine or Snake Nation Press
Sam Burnham, Curator
With all the hubbub these days about pointing out the connection many of the great men of our past have to slavery it can be easy to throw out the good with the bad. Such rush to judgement has hit Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson, and even the Father of our Country, George Washington.
I fear that the modern progressive urge to us slavery to purge our history of much of the greatness and to paint America in a light that demands apologies at every step in our history we have begun to lose some of what truly makes this nation great. I think Washington is an excellent example of that phenomenon.
I don't think that we should ever ignore, excuse, or forget the fact that George Washington held over 300 people in involuntary servitude in order to make Mount Vernon operate smoothly. That is as real a flaw as a human can have and without this knowledge we never can have a true understanding of the man.
But we must never allow that to become the entire Washington story. Washington was so much more than a slave owner and his actions in life have helped to forge a better nation for Americans of all races.
Washington was a successful businessman, an agricultural scientist, a farmer, a soldier, a surveyor, a politician
He pulled off some of the most storied victories in American Military History. His crossing of the Delaware and subsequent victory at Trenton we works of genius. His actions on the battlefield in both the French and Indian War and the Revolution demonstrated competence, skill, and courage. He inspired a forlorn fledgling nation and led the people to victory.
Through his service in the American Revolution, he gained a lot of power and influence. There we even members of his military circle that suggested a coup, that he seize power and become the military dictator or king. Washington responded to this by reporting to Congress upon the Treaty of Paris and resigning his military commission, handing the military to Congress and returning to Mount Vernon. It was an incredible, selfless act that left power where Washington believed it belonged, with the people.
Washington attempted to retire but was called back to service when the state delegations elected him as the President of the Constitutional Congress. You can see it in the process that the framers had Washington in mind for the President all along. And he did ascend to the presidency. His two terms set several precedents that still stand with the office today.
At the end of his second term, true to form, he hung it up. It was time for America to move forward, to not rely on Washington at every turn. It was time for change and a future. And that is what the nation had because of Washington.
Through courage and humility, Washington truly fathered this nation. He led by example and helped to lay a foundation for our system of government. These are the traits in Washington that we must never forget. We must never let the modern narrative dehumanize this giant of a man or let his influence on the greatness of America from being reduced. We stand on the shoulders of giants and Washington is one of the chiefs among them.
Consider the word of the eulogy given by General Henry "Lighthorse Harry" Lee:
“First in war- first in peace- and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and endearing scenes of private life; pious, just, humane, temperate and sincere; uniform, dignified and commanding, his example was as edifying to all around him, as were the effects of that example lasting.”
Sam Burnham, Curator
Washington takes a lot of criticism and will continue to do so. I can be pretty harsh to the capital city. But I noticed one thing in town there that I think is worth mentioning.
Washington is doing a great job preserving its old buildings. We all know they maintain The White House, the Capitol, all the typical historic sites. I’m talking about the average, the everyday. I mean row houses and old theaters and corner stores. Your typical buildings Atlanta would have bulldozed years ago - Washington is preserving them.
People are investing in paint and trim and lighting and signage. They’re buying up abandoned or blighted buildings and they’re bringing them back. The buildings have character and a past - albeit not as well known as other DC structures.
Even when hosting tenants such as Starbucks or CVS, the structures offer unique character to their neighborhoods. All across the city we found a renaissance of sorts. It was refreshing.
That’s not to say there is no modern design structures going up. There are. The sleek steel and glass structures are going in here and there. That is to be expected in a city of that size. It’s just refreshing to see the time, effort, and attention going into the old neighborhoods and the houses that make them up.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire