A Corner on the Giants of the Gulf Coast!
February 05, 2004
That's what I have, and what I'm offering to you, too. Here's your first-ever chance to get a front-row seat for the best in American culture. Never heard of it? You're in luck. Coz it looks like great culture isn't really blooming so strongly in NYC anymore. You have to look to the truly last forgotten place. The last place that's getting the full Disney treatment without anyone noticing. That's your hold-out for great character and art. So here ya go. Check it out.
This region is independent and fiesty. The locals have grown up isolated, for generations, looking out over the water. Actually, not isolated at all: in connection with cultural influences coming at them from all directions. The small family fishermen worked from Key West to Mexico and back. Some even make risky trips to South America. But they were independent because the sea provided more than enough.
In our recent trips down there to visit my parents while they do the snowbird thing, I've been fortunate to run into some local color. We get off the beaten track. And, man, this place has had the best off-track action anywhere. For starters, great food everywhere you turn. --Except anywhere that is near a condo, then you're talking blight. It's like an on-off switch: you go to the developed areas, and it's blight. You go over the sand-dune on the edge of town, and the area comes alive. Well, for one thing, we keep running into watering holes that have the most diverse mix of customers--white, black, yuppie, dirtbag, old, young, farmer, churchy, druggy, biker, punk, feminist, chef, artist, architect. Whew! That seems like a good sign to me. There's a lot of poverty still out there, but it's of the "we'll get by" kind. The area is naturally cheap. No fuel bills and lots to eat just laying around. It's a trailer-home reality. As a result, people can be themselves. And we saw this. Dirtbag pride. It actually allows for talent to blossom. You don't have to toe the line or you're out. You're on your own from the start! With only the help of friends and family. It's a cool mix. It's some cowboy, some redneck, some bluegrass, some beachbum, some surfer, some jazz, some swamp, some carribe, some Mexican, some fisherman, some hunter, some of every race.
Let me set the stage. 50 years ago or so America had a trio of geniuses who worked together, who cooperated, in very different fields, to boost each other's work to timeless heights. John Steinbeck, writer; Ed Ricketts, biologist; Joseph Campbell, mythologist. Books have been written about this trio. And great classical work has spun out from their cooperative synergy.
It's rare that such diverse talent works so well together, gets along so famously, builds each other up so far.
In fact, I daresay it is no longer encouraged even. The model today is 'me first,' even if a venal sort of pre-programmed teamwork is used to boost yourself up. Anyway, the Gulf Coast model is a COOPERATIVE one, people!
Thankfully, there's been a new trio working in relation to each other for decades now, in a new place. Not Monterey, Calif., but the northern Gulf Coast. Actually, maybe it's something like a quartet. It's Jack Saunders, writer; Jack Rudloe, biologist; Slim McElderry, musician-writer; Walter Anderson, painter. Their work resonates together and reaches heights of subliminal cooperation unheard of today. And all but Anderson are still alive.
I offer the work of most of these guys already and will soon offer amazing doses from all of them.
From Jack Saunders I plan to offer "A Postcard from Seaside," about his wanderings along this recently gentrified north Gulf Coast area of Florida. Plus I'll offer his cookbook, "Cookin'." --A cookbook as genre-buster. He takes the local's-eye view of someone who has seen the world as he explores the coast, reflecting on what was and what will be and how it all fits in with cultural developments hither and yon, fancy and mundane. He does a fine anthropology on the anthropologists, without excluding the architects. Truly, literary writing for our day, at last.
From Rudloe, I just published his first novel, "Potluck." I also encourage everyone to find copies of his "The Living Dock," illustrated by Walter Anderson. His genre-busting exploration of turtle mythology "The Search for the Great Turtle Mother," has just been reprinted by Great Outdoors.
From McElderry, I'm going to reprint his classic music CD, "The Blue Sun," and his amazing art songbook of the same name. Plus I'm going to publish his novel, "Panacea Fantasea," which brings to life the soul of his part of the Gulf Coast in the lives of our 4 heroes. This novel will truly show the world what's been cookin' for so long here. (The tall, pale, elderly cosmic Mac lives in a no-power, no-water hut next to the shorter, tan, rotund Rudloe's bustling practical marine institute. It's really something to see cranky neighbors Rudloe and McElderry strolling down their lane, sharing their contrasty vibes, looking so different, like Stan & Ollie.)
Walter Anderson appears as an inspiring ghost here and there for our living threesome. His work is in Rudloe's "The Living Dock." Huge iconic images of his adorn Rudloe's institute in Panacea. You can see his museum at Oceans Springs, just west of New Orleans. He was a nut who the locals dispised. They paid him $1 to paint a rec center mural and then wanted to whitewash it immediately afterward. Anderson now puts this town on the map. When he died he left a little shed full of 30,000 artworks. The shed is in the museum. Sit inside and wonder. If you don't know him already, perhaps a better known parallel is that I think of him as an oceanic Charles Burchfield: a quiet, hardworking artist showing us that the everyday natural world is a very cosmic thing. Psychedelic animal paintings from a conservative, as it were.
This kind of creativity doesn't happen in a vacuum. So I'm going to work out further to bring you Set and Setting.
Leo Lovell writes his " Spring Creek Chronicles" which are tales of huntin' and fishin' near Panacea. Lovell owns a restaurant and does his own fishing for the seafood they cook there. He was busted for poaching awhile back and used the time to write his memoir of what it's like to live in a strong way that's dying out due to realtor greed. He pulls no punches. And dedicates the book to the game wardens, without whom he would never have had the time to write it. Yee-haw! Nicely illustrated by his son. I'll be stocking this title.
Then there's Richard Dobson's "Gulf Coast Boys." He's a Texas singer-songwriter who wrote a memoir about his hard-driving years playing with Townes van Zandt and working shrimp-boats and oil rigs. A great look into Gulf Coast music and work and "fun." Hold onto yer hat! I'll be offering this title as well.
The music of the area is easily kicked off with "The Blue Sun." But it's wonderfully built on by Dread Clampitt, which is just releasing its first CD. They're a cult band that's been playing around the beach for a few years now, featuring Jack Saunders' son Balder on mandolin. It's funky bluegrass like you haven't heard before. It's Gulf Coast music. Jazz meets hayseed meets blues meets standards. They often cover other local spirit songs written by Balder's various rednecky uncles. Souls grown deep, for sure.
Then we'll surely hop over to Richard Dobson and his "Backtracks." A great bunch of GC tunes. I'd say they're indystyle singersongwriter from the heart of Texas. This is the kind of guy who put Austin on the map for music today.
Then I might as well just cut'n'paste what I already wrote about Guy Clark here. Because you'll need him, too: Guy Clark's combo CD "Old No. 1" & "Texas Cookin'". Hoo-doggie. That's some FINE music. The artist's country singer/songwriter. No, the cowboy's. No, both. Click here here to order at Amazon via OYB. Darn, I just bought a different double CD set of his that has cuts that are equally as good, "Craftsman." If you've ever wondered whether today's rural economic plight doesn't have a counterpart remedy like Prohibition was in yesteryear, take a listen to "Supply & Demand" (then read Rudloe's "Potluck!" book below). Rappers aren't the only ones with a view on the issue. Heard any songs celebrating small family commercial fishing? Say hello to "The South Coast of Texas" and say goodbye to this great slice of America that like so many others is disappearing. Click here to order.
I'm also reprinting the novel "Tales from the Texas Gang," by Wild Bill Blackolive. I usually have good condition first editions for sale, if you want one. This is the story of a gang of outlaws. Individuals who band together on their word. Same old stuff, as fresh as ever, too. The theme of what makes life worth living. "Are you boys cowpunchers?" "Hell no!" It's the fear of fences. It's not a passe' thing. Actually, it's based on the experiences of a group of friends in Gulf Coast Texas in the 60's. Names and fights are used as per real life. Minus at least some of the guns, I hope, however some of them were in the military or biker gangs or served time. Really, it's as good as Cormac McCarthy and hugely more authentic. It's biblical in tone, with a streamy flow. Great cross-border stuff. Underground cult classic about to be reborn.
I really dig the way that the theme of the small family fisherman keeps coming at us through all these artists. These are the last unbought and unbossed people out there. A few more years and they will be gone, thanks to today's perfect trio of evil forces: real estate, mis-regulation and Disneyfication. They make a great case study, though, and the Gulf Coast is the last great hotspot for it.
You won't go wrong in backing up this cultural effort with the music of Dave Davis and The Warrior River Boys. This is traditional bluegrass with a extra dose of soul. Dave Davis is a real smooth Alabama crooner. And Owen Saunders (Jack's oldest son) plays fiddle in what they call a longbow style, real swampy and developed. Richer, longer notes that come, I sense, from a bayou influence.
Related Articles & Good Stuff
Views From a Wider Range of OYB