This year we’ve compiled our “greatest hits,” including selections of the most beloved music writing from our archive—guest edited by Brittany Howard, the Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, and frontwoman of the Alabama Shakes. This jam-packed issue also includes new essays on iconic Southern artists who have changed the trajectory of American music.
Rather than including a CD this year, we’ve asked guest contributors to curate a selection of playlists that limn the bounty of Southern music across genres. These are available to stream on Spotify.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on all things OA.
At some point in the late Gilded Age of America, rich white people decided winter would no longer be tolerated. The impertinence of cold, the incommodiousness of ice, the dirt of the coal fire, the gray of the sky—these were for ordinary people, not the titans who controlled the banks and the steel mills and the oil fields and the railroads and the bootlegging. They went to Florida.
From the archive.
Billy Mitchell, the most knowledgeable and masterful Pac-Man player ever to drop a quarter in a machine, is a hard man to find. When I asked one of his best friends, Walter Day, the best way to get in touch with him, Day told me, “First I spend an hour praying to God, then I visit a psychic, then I place a classified ad, then I hire a plane to carry a banner that says CALL ME BILLY! and make it fly all over South Florida. Because he might be anywhere.”
The first day I showed up for the Earth First! rehearsal in Lake Worth, Florida, a small coastal town thirty-five miles north of Fort Lauderdale, I walked in late to find a dozen tattooed people pretending to be a machine. Tentatively at first and then with increasing enthusiasm, they pantomimed the pulling of levers and the pushing of buttons and other nonsensical but orderly tasks.
"On October 8, 2012, Mr. Juan Perez, drummer for the Beth McKee Band, drove from his house in Orlando over to the Orange Blossom Trail and through the vestigial orange grove surrounding the old ranch-style house that serves as the Randall Knives factory and went in and picked up, for $372.75, his Denmark Special, in O1 tool steel, a knife he has wanted for fifty years since running around Orlando hunting small game with boys better off than he who had Randalls, one of the boys in fact a friend of Pete Denmark for whose father’s store the knife is named, that’s complicated, let’s move on."
A short story by John McManus.
I first met Max on my way home from the Gulp, a bottomless whirlpool in the Everglades where people go to commit suicide. This was in 2005. You have to hike six miles along a blackwater canal dug by Andrew Jackson’s slaves, to a remote lake where you wade out until you’re sucked under to drown. Your body turns up in the Intracoastal Waterway. I don’t know the physics of it.
I notice a few other attendees like me—people not in the PSA, interlopers, curious neophytes who have never grown from seed, who have no business even dreaming about discovering new cultivars. On Saturday, one woman interrupts a discussion about propagation methods and says, “Hey, sorry, newbie here. What do you mean by inflo?” The audience collectively gasps.
A self-mythologizing takes place when we assimilate the stories of our ancestors into our own—it’s automatic. We tell ourselves that their triumphs have somehow entered our bloodstream. We’re not descendants, we think; we’re heirs—heirs to intangible qualities (ambition, brilliance, endurance) through the fact of a thoroughly diluted blood tie.
Editor's Note: We are saddened to learn of the death of rock & roll legend Tom Petty on Monday, October 2, 2017. He was sixty-six. Revisit Holly George-Warren’s interview with Petty from our Fourth Annual Southern Music issue in 2000.Since his 1976 debut, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, there have been ten mega-selling Heartbreakers albums, two triple-platinum solo releases, a six-CD box-set retrospective, and the soundtrack to an Ed Burns film. In the 1980s Petty played in the Traveling Wilburys, a young’un among legends Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and George Harrison, and the Heartbreakers themselves have collaborated with Dylan and Johnny Cash, among other luminaries. Through it all, Petty’s roots have continually poked through his earthy pop-rock, most obviously on 1985’s Southern Accents, with its elegiac title track and anthemic “Rebels.”