Vital Signs

Soundtrack to the New Old South

Sometime in the early 1990’s, while attending an event called a “song swap” in Athens, Georgia, I met an extraordinarily gifted songwriter named Patterson Hood.  The swap itself was essentially a weekly gathering of aspiring tunesmiths sharing their latest creations; we would sit in a circle and each play our songs, the other musicians joining in if they had the chops or the inclination.  Everything was going fine—just another evening of pleasant mediocrity—until the slightly pudgy guy with a five-o’clock shadow and food stains down his shirt had his turn.  Stomping his foot on the wooden floor in time with the music, he strummed his battered acoustic guitar and sang:

My roommate’s gun got nine bullets in it
Gonna find a use for every last one
One for the girl who chose to betray me
Better aim that sucker true
One for the guy that she betrayed with
A nice enough fella, she’ll betray him too

At that point, we all should have just got up and gone home, but we continued on, the rest of us noticeably subdued and slightly ashamed when it came time for our offerings.  Then it was back to Patterson.  “Mama ran off with a trucker!” he shrieked, playing a beefy, Stonesy guitar riff.  “They got married . . . in Dollywood! / By a Porter Wagoner lookalike.”


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