Thursday, May 03, 2007

Let's Talk About Alabama


Alabama keeps cropping up. First the Jonathan Rosenbaum connection, then last night on LOST we were reminded of Sawyer's childhood in Jasper (home of Uncle Mort's, as you may recall from our award-winning investigative series on deliciousness). In the Gershwin book, we learn that two of the composer's earliest influences (one thoroughly documented as such, the other more ephemeral), W.C. Handy and James Reese Europe, were from Alabama. Mr. Europe, in fact, was born in Mobile, which is near where I grew up. At this point I should mention that I know two people (Caroline and Dr. "M.") with home karaoke machines. Why? It's just the crowd I hang out with, I guess. But Dr. "M." has "Sweet Home Alabama" on one of her karaoke CDs. I am still mocked by nearly every member of the Ivan Bonar Appreciation Society for the night I sang "Sweet Home Alabama." Politically, it is not a very enlightened song (putting it mildly), and in fact I changed most of the words to celebrate all the great people who come from Alabama, such as Hank Williams, George Washington Carver, Helen Keller, Jim Nabors, and one of Charlie's Angels; my improvised lyrics were the fodder for the brutal mocking I received. But there is part of me - an Alabama part, I guess - that loves saying "I hope Neil Young will rememBUH..." even though Neil Young rocks and we all know it. But I was mortified a couple of years ago when they staged that song on American Idol as a giant singalong without seeming to take into account which governor (George Wallace) they were forcing everyone to anthemically praise. Yikes! (Speaking of mortified, that could work as part of a slogan for Uncle Mort's: "Come On In and Get Mortified!" But it would mean the opposite of what it usually means. Another aside: Is "anthemically" a word?) Back in the 1980s when I was just a young man of 65, I worked in a place called The Haunted Book Shop in downtown Mobile, which was as dead an area as you can imagine. But next door was a tiny restaurant called Handy's Hickory House, with the world's greatest cornbread. Ms. Handy's husband was a descendent of W.C. Handy! That whole block has been demolished now, from what I understand. Well, okay, once in awhile I have to talk about Alabama a little bit.