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American Road Trip Vol. 5

April 13th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Before we proceed with our roadtrip, I wonder why all of a sudden there so many searches for Jenny Lewis (the wonderful singer of Rilo Kiley) coming to this blog.

And so, on our tour of the USA, we have left Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Jessica Alba”s one-time hometown of Biloxi and still travelling along the gulf coast, and not accompanied by the strains of Lynyrd Skynyrd, we enter Alabama.

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Mobile, Alabama

As recorded last time, we”re covering French Louisiana”s successive capitals in a reverse chronological order. Before Biloxi, before New Orleans, before Baton Rouge, the capital of the French colony was Mobile. With its long history and cosmopolitan location, this Alabama town does not conform to the outsider”s perception of Alabama as populated by truck-driving, straw-chewing hicks who”d sooner don white hoods and lynch people for failing to skip off the pavement at their approach than do an honest day”s work (hey, I didn”t create the prejudices). Mobile, population 200,000, has a symphony orchestra, opera company, ballet troupe, and several art museums. And it is the subject of a Dylan song.

Actually, it”s not. As I understand it, Mobile serves as a metaphor for Dylan”s folk sound with Memphis representing rock & roll (Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins) and the electric blues of  Beale Street (B.B. King et al). The song, if it makes any sense at all, seems to reflect Dylan”s confusion about the reaction he received at the Newport Folk Frsrival after going electric.

Which brings us to Jerry Reed, whose Guitar Man could have slotted into various destinations on our journey. It is right that it should settle in Mobile, since that is where the Guitar Man gets his big gig at Big Jack”s. “So if you ever take a trip down to the ocean find yourself down round Mobile, well, make it on out to the club called Jack”s,” he advises. And where do we find the club? “Just follow that crowd of people, you”ll wind up out on his dance floor diggin” the finest little five piece group up and down the Gulf of Mexico.” Oh yeah, we dig.
Bob Dylan – Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again.mp3
Jerry Reed ““ Guitar Man.mp3

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Montgomery, Alabama

The Rosa Parks bus

The Rosa Parks bus

We leave the coast and move inland, to Montgomery. And here we enter historical Jim Crow and civil rights movement territory. Montgomery, a city of about 200,000, became famous for its pivotal position in the emerging civil rights movement. These included the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and, ten years later, the three Selma to Montgomery marches. The bus boycott was sparked, as we know, by Rosa Parks” courageous defiance of bus segregation. The conventional wisdom that a tired Rosa plonked herself down on a seat reserved for whites is a myth; her action was conceived and intended to animate protest. To that effect, she had only two week”s earlier attended a Memphis workshop on civil disobedience. Parks was not a random tired worker, but a political activist who knew exactly what she was doing. I rather prefer the truth to the myth: the  story of African-Americans taking charge of the anti-racist movement to lay claim to their rights. The mythology of the tired woman “” though doubtless a potent mobilising tool at the time “” now might invite ideas that these self-evident rights were granted out of some sense of pity, and not fought for and earned the hard way. (Discuss in 700 words)

The second featured song here is not about Rosa Parks or civil rights, but about a woman who happens to live in Montgomery. Her life didn”t quite turn out the way she had envisaged; she is clearly depressed and is now looking for an escape (the reference to her as an angel flying from Montgomery might hint at suicide). This is John Prine at his empathising best.
John Prine – Angel From Montgomery.mp3

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Birmingham, Alabama

And from Rosa Parks” home we travel to the city where Martin Luther King Jr once ministered. Like Montgomery, Alabama”s industrial centre and capital was a primary site of the civil rights struggle. It was from a Birmingham jail that MLK, incarcerated for taking part in a non-violent protest, wrote his famous letter. And Birmingham was the city of the notorious bombing of the birmingham_civil_rights16th Street Baptist church that killed for young girls (earning the city the moniker Bombingham), an act that still outrages.

The concerted non-violent protest campaign named Project C, in which 3,000 people were arrested and many more assaulted by police is credited with forcing the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. By 1979, Birmingham elected an African-American mayor, Dr Richard Arrington Jr, which is not as dramatic as one might think since more than a three-quarter of the city”s population is black.

The featured song mentions Birmingham only by way of alliteration. It is Emmylou Harris” lament for Gram Parsons, whose face to see again she would walk from Boulder, Colorado to Birmingham.
Emmylou Harris – Boulder To Birmingham.mp3

From Alabama we shall board the midnight train to Georgia.

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Previously on American Road Trip

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