The Bitter Southerner

A LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

or

Why We Created The Bitter Southerner in the First Place

The essay below was originally published August 6, 2013, the night The Bitter Southerner was launched. In the years since, we have published a few other pieces to clarify the purpose of our publication. A year after our launch, for our first membership drive, we specified our vision and mission statements. After the 2016 presidential election, we promised to go deeper in our coverage, to call out those who would deny the rights of — or commit violence against — anyone they see as “the other.” We pledged to raise hell on the folks who deserve it, and at the same time to try our best to understand our region better, even if that means confronting the distasteful. But the essence of The Bitter Southerner remains exactly as we put it that August night in 2013:
If you are a person who buys the states’ rights argument … or you fly the rebel flag in your front yard … or you still think women look really nice in hoop skirts, we politely suggest you find other amusements on the web. The Bitter Southerner is not for you.
The Bitter Southerner is for the rest of us. It is about the South that the rest of us know: the one we live in today and the one we hope to create in the future.

This whole thing got started because I got pissed off. Bitter, as it were.

Here’s how it happened. My then-fiancée and I spent a week in New Orleans. We spent time with amazing barkeeps like Chris Hannah at Arnaud’s French 75, Kirk Estopinal at Cure and one of the granddaddies of the American cocktail revival, Chris McMillian at Bar Uncommon.

We drank very well. We heard great stories. We learned.

Shortly after we returned, Drinks International released its list of the top 50 bars in the world. Not a single bar in New Orleans — or anywhere in the South — was on the list. I felt a familiar twinge of bitterness. I remembered the first time I moved away from the South, to New York City, and learned that my accent could trigger certain negative assumptions. To my new NYC acquaintances, my twang equaled “dumb” or “backward” or worse. Of course, when people discovered that I was reasonably intelligent and could speak in complete sentences, their assumptions quickly melted away. I learned a lesson: Sometimes, you just gotta show people.

I decided somebody needed to show the world our region’s drinking secrets. So I rounded up a gang of co-conspirators — designers, photographers, videographers, whiskey geeks — with a plan to hunt down the South’s finest barkeeps and ask them to tell their stories. We would give them their due.

Then we started thinking: There’s a larger point here, a bigger story to be told.

You see, the South is a curiosity to people who aren’t from here. Always has been. Open up your copy of Faulkner’s 1936 masterpiece, “Absalom, Absalom!” Find the spot where Quentin Compson’s puzzled Canadian roommate at Harvard says to him, “Tell about the South. What it’s like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all.” ― WILLIAM FAULKNER / ABSALOM, ABSALOM!

It always comes down to that last bit: With all our baggage, how do we live at all? A lot of people in the world believe that most folks in the South are just dumb. Or backward. Just not worth their attention.

And you know what? If you live down here, sometimes you look around and think, “Those folks are right.” We do have people here who will argue, in all sincerity, that the Confederacy entered the Civil War only to defend the concept of states’ rights and that secession had nothing to do with the desire to keep slavery alive. We still become a national laughing stock because some small town somewhere has not figured out how to hold a high school prom that includes kids of all races.

If you are a person who buys the states’ rights argument … or you fly the rebel flag in your front yard … or you still think women look really nice in hoop skirts, we politely suggest you find other amusements on the web. The Bitter Southerner is not for you.

The Bitter Southerner is for the rest of us. It is about the South that the rest of us know: the one we live in today and the one we hope to create in the future.

According to Tracy Thompson’s brilliant “The New Mind of the South,”

it’s been only two decades since Southern kids (including the entire Bitter Southerner crew) stopped learning history from censored textbooks, which uniformly glossed over our region’s terrible racial history. Even today, kids are studying texts that Thompson rightfully labels “milquetoast” in their treatment of Southern history.

And recent election results suggest that the Southern mind hasn’t evolved much, that we’re not much different from what we were in 1936, when Faulkner was struggling yet again with the moral weirdness of the South. Almost 80 years later, it’s still too damned easy for folks to draw the conclusion that we Southerners are hopelessly bound to tradition, too resistant to change.

But there is another South, the one that we know: a South that is full of people who do things that honor genuinely honorable traditions. Drinking. Cooking. Reading. Writing. Singing. Playing. Making things. It’s also full of people who face our region’s contradictions and are determined to throw our dishonorable traditions out the window. The Bitter Southerner is here for Southern people who do cool things, smart things, things that change the whole world, or just a few minds at a time.

The world knows too little about these people, which is, alas, another reason to be bitter. But it prompted us to create The Bitter Southerner™.

We’re talking here about people whose work embodies what my old buddy Patterson Hood once called, in a song, “the duality of the Southern thing.” The purpose of The Bitter Southerner is to explore, from every angle we can, the duality of the Southern thing.

Last time I saw Patterson, we sat in his van outside Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Ga.

We were talking about how his view had changed in the dozen or so years since he’d written that song.

To him, the 2012 election results brought clear evidence that we are moving into a more progressive era, and that our southern home might actually be following, however slowly. “We may actually wind up living in a more enlightened country,” he said, and laughed a little.

Still, the tension — the strain between pride and shame, that eternal duality of the Southern thing — remains. Lord knows, most folks outside the South believe — and rightly so — that most Southerners are kicking and screaming to keep the old South old. But many others, through the simple dignity of their work, are changing things.

“We may actually wind up living in a more enlightened country” ― PATTERSON HOOD of THE DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS


Patterson Hood and the Drive-By Truckers have released the overtly political new album ‘American Band.’
Al Pereira/GettyImages
https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-country/inside-drive-by-truckers-controversial-new-album-american-band-107171/

Drive-By Truckers plays through the new record, American Band, in the opbmusic studio

We’re here to tell their stories. Over time, you’ll see many pieces about bartenders, because a) that’s where we started and b) we very much enjoy a great cocktail. After all, one Southern tradition worthy of honor is the act of drinking well. But we’ll also cover the musicians, cooks, designers, farmers, scientists, innovators, writers, thinkers and craftsmen. We’ll show you the spots that make the South a far better place than most folks think it is. You’ll also see essays, short stories and poems — pieces that Bitter Southerners like ourselves create as we wrestle with our region. And every now and then, we’ll give you a peek at the oddities that seem to happen only down here.

We hope you’ll enjoy The Bitter Southerner and spread the word about it. Help us round up other Bitter Southerners, no matter where they live.

We hope you’ll want to contribute to The Bitter Southerner. In fact, we need you to. Right now, we have no budget and a staff of volunteers, so we’re starting in our hometown of Atlanta. But we know there are others out there like us, people with the skills to capture a good story, or create one. Tell us your ideas. Let us know who you are.

The stories are out there, all over the South. They deserve to be told.

Until we tell them all, we will remain as bitter as Antoine Amedie Peychaud.

Welcome to The Bitter Southerner.

— Chuck Reece, Editor


The Bitter Southerner team Tim Turner, Eric NeSmith, Kyle Tibbs Jones, Dave Whitling, Chuck Reece and Butler Raines.
(Photo by Brinson + Banks)

Check it out @ http://bittersoutherner.com/

Drive-By Truckers’ Top 10 Songs

Ranking The Albums That Made The Drive-By Truckers A True American Band

http://ultimateclassicrock.com/drive-by-truckers-albums-ranked/

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Garry Kasparov Was Right

On January 13, 2015, the PBS show released a press release, “On Jan. 13, FRONTLINE investigates of the accusations of criminality and corruption that have surrounded Putin’s rise and reign.” The title is “Putin’s Way.” (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/putins-way/) I watched it later online, wondering if anything would be said about the Royal game. Fortunately for chess, it was not mentioned.
The film is disturbing. The group picture with Putin on the outer edge said a thousand words. The picture of Putin alone at the lunch table spoke loudly about his ostracism from the international community, as did his early departure from the G20 summit. Only one community continues to welcome Vladimir Putin.

putin-anand-carlsen-spassky

I cannot stop thinking about the rat young Putin had corned that jumped… Garry Kasparov was right about Putin, but the former human World Chess Champion was ignored.

A remote viewer on the Coast to Coast AM show recently told of having envisioned a war between the US and Russia in which the US will take a nuclear hit. He went on to add that the US would win, but he did not “see” how. I wonder what constitutes winning. This comes on the hills of a show during the summer, “Prophecy & World War.” (http://www.coasttocoastam.com/shows/2014/08/04)

“Prophecy expert John Hogue returned to update his alarm about impending World War. The prophecies of Nostradamus, Stormberger, and other prominent seers describe what we’re currently experiencing, and some of the outcomes look like thermonuclear war and the massive loss of life on Earth, Hogue contended. Last week marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, and he cited current events such as the finger pointing at Russia for the shoot down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 as possibly igniting a new Cold War with Russia. The “German Nostradamus,” Matthias Stormberger, a cow herder from Rabenstein, made prophecies in the late 1700s, which accurately foresaw such events as WWI and WWII.

Stormberger spoke of “iron monsters that would bark through the wilderness,” which is similar to some of Nostradamus’ wording about future cars and vehicles. Seers looking at our future often used animals or nature as metaphors to describe what they saw, Hogue noted. St. Odile had visions in the 8th century of a horrible weapon– like a star cast down from the sky. “All nations of the Earth will fight each other in this war. The fighters will rise up in the heavens…to take the stars and throw them on cities to set ablaze the buildings and cause immense devastation,” she wrote. Stormberger concurs with this vision, saying “in one day, more men will die than in all previous wars combined,” Hogue recounted.

“The doomsday body count” seen by various seers including Nostradamus is that 2/3 of the human race will be destroyed in a massive world war, Hogue suggested. Edgar Cayce, whose visions of the future mostly concerned Earth changes, saw a devastated New York City from an airship in the year 2100. Cayce was not certain whether the devastation was from natural causes or war. Yet, the dire outcomes of these seers’ prophecies are not written in stone and humankind can still make choices to avert these events, Hogue commented.” (http://www.coasttocoastam.com/shows/2014/08/04)

The Book on Bobby Fischer

While perusing books at the library I noticed a book titled, Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame, edited by Franklin Foer, editor of the magazine, The New Republic, and Mark Tracy. As I took the book from the shelf I could not help but reflect upon a former friend who gave up chess, Mike “Maddog” Gordon, and his collection of Jewish baseball players he called his, “Hammerin’ Hebes.” I flipped through the book and noticed the essay about the famous first baseman, Hank Greenberg. He had come close to breaking the home run record held by Babe Ruth and many Jewish writers had written that the gentile pitchers colluded against Hank, walking him in lieu of throwing him pitches he could possibly hit out of the park. I recalled reading something about the book when it first appeared in 2012. Hank said that was not true, so I sat down to read the essay. Then I saw a picture of Al Rosen, the third baseman for the Cleveland Indians, and one of the best ballplayers ever until he hurt his back. I read that, too. Upon turning the pages I was astounded to see a striking lithograph of Bobby Fischer which accompanied a piece titled, “The Unnatural.” It was written by Jonathan Safran Foer, brother of Franklin, and an author of some repute, having published “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” in 2005, a book recently made into a movie starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock I thought it strange to include Bobby in a book of Jewish jocks. Although the essay was short, only five pages, I decided to check it out, wondering how Bobby would be written about by one of those he so reviled.
The piece begins, “A Jew wrote The Natural, but has there ever been a natural Jew? Free-spiritedness, joie de vivre, ease in the world-these are not what we do. We do scrappiness, resilience, hard work, self-questioning, self-consciousness, self-destruction, and unflappable will. This applies especially to our athletes, many of whom were not given the best of genetic toolboxes. Most great Jewish athletes have at least this in common: they overcome God’s gifts.
Not a jock, and not a Jew by any definition richer than heredity, Bobby Fischer was the quintessential Jewish Jock. He worked harder than any of his peers. He attempted to conceal his insecurity behind an ego built for twenty, and his self-love behind self-hatred behind self-love. And perhaps more than any human who has ever lived, he kvetched: the board is too reflective, the presence of breathing humans too distracting, the high-frequency sounds-which only he and Pomeranians could detect-made game play utterly impossible. Some loved him for his loony obstinacy. Most didn’t.”
He writes about Bobby the Jew, whether or not Bobby wanted to be considered a Jew. “Like a good Jewish boy, he outworked his peers and brought the A home to Mama. And like a good Jewish boy, he couldn’t stand Mama-her politics, priorities, relationship to money, of religion.” I wonder if this fellow would have written that if he had read the recent books about Bobby, such as Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise and Fall, by Frank Brady, and The Greatest Secret of Bobby Fischer, by Nenad Nesh Stankovic. From these books one learns how much Bobby loved his mother.
There is another book about Bobby I will mention, A Psychobiography of Bobby Fischer: Understanding the Genius, mystery, and Psychological Decline of a World Chess Champion, by Joseph G. Ponterotto, Ph.D. This expensive book (I paid $35 and it is now selling on the Gorilla for over $50), an exercise in futility, proves the old axiom of Ph.D. meaning, “Piled Higher and Deeper.” I will only say that upon finishing the book, I felt ripped off. The book by Nesh, in contrast, is much cheaper and would still be “cheap at twice the price.” Nesh was introduced to Bobby before the second match with Boris Spassky (who does come off too well, offering to lose intentionally if enough money was involved) as “…the person who would take care of his most immediate security.” Nesh writes about a dinner during the final days of his job in which the “…working hours extended to all twenty-four…”
“Bobby said to me, “You know, Nesh,” that’s what he called me, “you’re the only person to spend so much time with me.” Then he looked over at Philippine Grandmaster Eugene Torre and Hungarian-American player of the old school, Pal Benko who were keeping us company that evening, and he burst into laughter and added, “I mean, the only one who lasted that long.” He continued by adding the story of his “strange” friend Sam Sloan with whom he cruised Manhattan for six months, covering every inch of the heart of New York. They spent time together every day during that period, but then “poor Sam” disappeared without a trace. I liked the story, but I did not feel like laughing, because I myself was fairly worn out and exhausted after something more than a year with him.” Nesh portrays Bobby as he was during the year plus he spent with him. His book can be considered the “practice” part while the book by the pointy-headed intellectual, who never even met Bobby, can be considered the “theory.” The book by the Ph.D. is cold, distant and dry. The book by Nesh is sometimes warm and tender, while also being brutal and bitter. The book by Nesh is human and the best book on Bobby thus far. The book by the Ph.D. could have been written by a computer program.
Mr. Foer prints some of the diatribes Bobby broadcast from DZSR Sports Radio in Manilla, culminating with, “It’s time to start randomly killing Jews.” Mr. Foer then asks, “With Jews like this, who needs Nazi’s?” This is followed by, “His girlfriend at the time excused his behavior thusly: “He’s like a child. Very, very simple.” Consider that for a moment…The greatest chess player of all-time being thought of by someone who knew him intimately as a simpleton.
Mr. Foer continues, “Or perhaps chess is an inherently paranoid game, and anti-Semitism is the paradigm of paranoids. The most obvious explanation would be that he had experienced some kind of psychic break. Whatever the cause, he had left the fold of mainstream humanity, and despite whatever lingering chess abilities he might have had-his 1992 rematch with Boris Spassky, after twenty years out of public view, was at best uninspired-he was universally reviled.”
Mr. Foer is wrong. According to Frank Brady, a better case can be made that Bobby was afflicted with the same mental illness attributed to his natural father, Paul Nemenyi, which only manifested later in his life, as it did with Bobby, who possibly inherited the genes from his father. Bobby Fisher should therefore be pitied, not reviled.
Mr. Foer’s essay ends a question, “What do we do with the unnatural mind? Praise it when it’s beautiful, excuse it when it’s ugly? Or should we write off the unnatural mind in all cases? Should we put it on a pedestal to observe, in a cage to protect ourselves from it-put it in a book?”