Thursday, June 6, 2013

Excavation of Pop Culture from the Beforetimes: Southern Culture On The Skids

So, my recent retread into radio has got me thinking about a question that I used to get asked a lot in the beforetimes. “What music do you think we’ll remember in twenty years?”

I am betting that my answer to what I actually do remember and what I thought American pop culture would remember are wildly different than it was at the time. I’m also guessing that there are a ton of lists out there on ye olde interweb that proclaim to know the best arbitrarily chosen number of albums from the 90s. Actually, now that I’m playing music on the air again, I should probably look those up. But for me, it is time to do a little excavation.

So, let us examine Southern Culture on the Skids and the album Dirt Track Date which was released in 1995 by Geffen Records. There is the popular single Camel Walk of course. This song has been circulating in my brain for several months now. When I talked to a few people much younger than I about this song, the reacted like they didn't believe such a song exists. The lyrics are playful, a bit weird, hilarious and imho, brilliant. It verges on the bizarre in its fetishism of Little Debbie snack cakes, a confection which, at very low cost, has sustained many a college student’s sweet tooth just as Ramen continues to satisfy carb cravings. And it works. It’s fun and unique, and in the 90s music fans were constantly in search of the unique.

The band’s schtick is to take quirks and stereotypes about folks who live in the Southern United States, amplify and play with them. But it also challenges us to think about how we view people who might, from the outside, be called white trash, a derogatory term often applied to white folks who live in a low income bracket, in an agrarian mode or are employed in blue-collar work. The song White Trash addresses this directly with the standout oft-repeated lyric “White Trash/don’t call me that.” I live in the northeastern United States and while I have friends who are from the south, I don’t really have a clue what it’s like to live there or much about the prevalence of ideas surrounding that term. (Here is a starting point if you are interested. Also, there is this book by Annalee Newitz)It is bandied about up here, but with much less frequency. In this sense, what Southern Culture on the Skids have done with their music is raise a kind of awareness about it. For northerners, it’s a revelation, for those in the south I imagine there’s a kind of recognition. The true genius of it is that when you listen to it, you don’t feel like you’re being beaten over the head with a message. More than anything, it is a celebration of life in the South.

So, yeah, there is a sense of novelty about them, but the music is solid. These folks know what they’re about and they are crazy fun. Dirt Track Date’s collection of songs reveal brilliant, swampy guitar, banging bass and colorful lyrics. It’s like they’ve taken all the sounds that we think of as southern and produced this really fun and insightful-in-a-sneaky-way piece of audio art.

It’s impossible not to just get caught up in the sound. While subsequent albums may not have gained the commercial popularity of Dirt Track Date, they do continue to offer quality ear candy.

And let’s not forget about how awesome Mary Huff is…

More here about Southern Culture on the Skids, including current tour dates.


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