Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance – A Book Review

Several places where I read on-line had praised Vance’s book so I decided to read it.  I already knew basically what it was about but I guess I wanted to see what all the excitement was about.

J. D. Vance’s family came originally from Appalachia, specifically Jackson Kentucky. His maternal grandfather and grandmother moved to Middletown Ohio after WW II to let him get work in the steel factory there and his family became part of the boom economy in the industrial Mid-West that followed the war. But as that economic expansion slowly collapsed into the Rust Belt reality of the 1970s and beyond, his family more and more shared in the dislocation and finally the hopelessness of life in that blighted region.

Through the personal history of his family he presents evidence and draws conclusions about what internal and external factors led to the train wreck that is the Rust Belt.  And he tries to back up this evidence by including general information on the socio-economic and cultural characteristics of the white working class and specifically Appalachian people in question.

The personal story of his family and the details of their lives is poignant and honest and draws sympathy from anyone who came from a family that is full of complicated people who struggle and succeed and fail and generally make a messy story to tell.  It’s about the love and hate and anger and fear and confusion that consumed the first decade and a half of his life.  It’s got colorful characters like his grandparents who swear and spit and brandish guns and break down doors if strangers seem to threaten their family.  It’s his mother who tried to find a middle-class identity for her small family but was too damaged to even save herself from drugs and broken marriages.

In the final analysis I think that the point the book tries to make is that the people who left Appalachia were so ill-suited to live in the modern world of nuclear families and suburban society that only the post-war boom allowed even the illusion that they had assimilated into the Mid-Western lifestyle.  Their people were shorn of the support that multi-generational family units provided to them back in the hills and were surrounded by people who had been raised in and could take of advantage of the community resources that exist in middle America.  Vance’s family was always suspicious and angry at the school system and the police and the other government entities that could provide assistance to people in need.  Their independence when stripped of the extended family support structure meant isolation and poverty and an endless string of failures that reinforced the sense of hopelessness that eventually led to drug addiction and despair.

I think it’s a pretty interesting story.  And I recognize the components that he brings up as existing in the real world.  But he does let the powers that be off the hook to a degree that I think is unrealistic.  The post-war boom was a result of government policy that encouraged the harnessing of the human capital that had been freed up by the end of World War II.  Tens of millions of enlisted men were brought back to this country and it had been so thoroughly transformed that only massive top-down control allowed for the re-integration.  Thirty years later there was no similar top-down planning to continue that existence once the earlier generation disappeared from the work place.  The corporations were allowed to shift into a globalist mindset and because those Rust Belt workers were inconvenient because they made too much money or weren’t desperate enough to work like Japanese or Chinese workers they were dismissed from the plans of industry.

Vance may slightly touch on this but his thesis is that personal responsibility and family support systems are what saved him.  When his mother’s chaotic lifestyle came close to destroying his chance at building a healthy life his grandmother stepped up and provided a stable and supportive home in which he was able to re-apply himself at school and finally prove to himself that it was possible for him escape from the cycle of failure and break through to the normal world.

Okay.  His emphasis makes sense based on his experience and world view.  I think there is another side to the present crisis and he somewhat touches on this too.  Some say he is blaming the victims.  I think that overstates it.  I think it’s an interesting book.  I know it made me reconsider some things in my past.  And the anecdotes about his grandparents and that generation of his family are fun to read.  His family is somewhat in volved in the Hatfield and McCoy feud interestingly enough.  I’m not sure that this book is for everyone but if you are interested in the dynamic that has laid waste to the Rust Belt it might be something for you to read.

Tyler Childers – Country Squire – A Country Music Review

I’m a fan of Tyler Childers’ music.  He’s a singer songwriter with an interesting voice and talent for producing lively melodies.  And he tells stories about modern Appalachia.  Stories about country people and stories about himself.  One of my favorites of his songs is a murder ballad on his Purgatory album called Banded Clovis.  His lyrics paint an engaging picture of the murderer at the moment when greed and desperation over comes camaraderie and decency.

Childers’ new album Country Squire is in the same cast as Purgatory.  It has songs that describe the life of every day folks in Appalachia and also has more autobiographical songs about his life on the road as a musician.  For me these personal songs are not as compelling because that lifestyle doesn’t resonate with how I live.  But the other songs are more interesting to me.  So, unsurprisingly the three songs I like best on the album are of this type; Creeker, Peace of Mind and Matthew.  They’re just stories of everyday people living everyday lives.  But Childers is able to generate good country songs with it.  The other six songs have a number of what I called above autobiographical songs and here it’s more hit or miss.  “Country Squire” and “Bus Route” are pretty good.  But “Ever Lovin’ Hand” I’ll take a pass on.  The musicality is fine but the story is too odd for me.

So if you’re a Tyler Childers fan you’ll like Country Squire.  If you’re a country music fan give it a try but I would start with his Purgatory album first.  I think it’s a better introduction to his range of songs.

 

Tyler Childers’ Purgatory – A Country Music Review

I heard of Tyler Childers by seeing his name as the accompanying singer on Colter Wall’s song Fraulein. Since I liked the sound of his voice on that song, I looked him up (on Amazon.com of course!) and saw that he had a few albums.  I ordered his most recent one (Purgatory) and gave it a listen.  It’s really very good.

BEGIN RANT – But what the hell is it with these Millennials and drugs?  I mean, almost every song is saturated with dope, cocaine and pills.  Understand, I know artists always adopt a bohemian outlook on substance abuse but it seems this guy is continuously stoned.  How does he manage to write and practice his music with most of his brain soaked with opioids or worse?  And if he isn’t really that much of a stoner why are his songs so filled with them?  Is it just required from his generation?  I grew up in the seventies and drug use was rampant back then but I don’t know, this seems even more exaggerated. – END RANT

So, putting the whole drug thing aside (dirty hippies), I like this Childers guy’s music. Lots of interesting instrumental stuff, good vocals, good story telling. All of the songs are good but if I have to pick a few favorites I’ll go with :

  1. I Swear to God
  2. Purgatory
  3. Honky Tonk Flame

There seems to be a generation of Country musicians who you don’t hear on the radio but play very original stuff that’s more closely related to traditional country music than most of the commercial country you hear on the radio. I wonder if the drug content in the songs is keeping these guys off the radio?  Well, whatever it is they are producing good music.  I just won’t be playing it around my grandkids. And get off my lawn!!!

 

Since my readers don’t always stop by every day I figured I’d paste this poll on each post for a while to see what folks call themselves.  This is the post the poll came from  Who Are We?

… And that got me thinking. Who are the people who read my blog?  I thought it might be fun to see what the cross-section looked like.  If you feel like saying what you believe in, feel free to leave a comment and/or pick a label from the poll below.  I think it might be interesting.

 

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Colter Wall – A Country Music Review

I work with this guy Joe.  He’s an engineer and he’s also a musician.  He’s a guitar player.  And he’s a country music guy, goes down to Nashville to hear the new singers in the small clubs down there.  Last week he sent me a link to a YouTube video of a new country singer named Colter Wall.  The song was called Kate McCannon.  It’s a murder ballad in the Appalachia style.  I thought it was great.  I looked into Colter Wall a little and found out he’s from Alberta Canada.  And despite this deep dark voice and a noticeable speech defect, he’s only a young guy in his early twenties.  Encouraged by that first song, I bought his self-titled album. I can say that I consider it head and shoulders above the bland commercial stuff being produced by the generic country groups currently on the scene.  My two favorite songs are the ballads Kate McCannon and Bald Butte.  But some of his lighter songs (e.g., Thirteen Silver Dollars, Fraulein) are also very well regarded by me.  And there really aren’t any bad songs on the album.  Now you may say that sounds like slightly faint praise.  It’s not.  This is a very solid album.  I have been playing it twice a day during my almost hour-long commute and have not even been tempted to switch to anything else in a week of playing.  If you’re a fan of old country music try to listen to a little of Wall’s stuff.  Of course music is that most subjective and individual of things so there’s no way of being sure but I think there’s a good chance you might be interested.

 

Since my readers don’t always stop by every day I figured I’d paste this poll on each post for a while to see what folks call themselves.  This is the post the poll came from  Who Are We?

… And that got me thinking. Who are the people who read my blog?  I thought it might be fun to see what the cross-section looked like.  If you feel like saying what you believe in, feel free to leave a comment and/or pick a label from the poll below.  I think it might be interesting.

 

[Total_Soft_Poll id=”6″]