Connecting The Dots
About halfway through the first episode of FX’s new show Justified, a Confederate-flag-wearing, rocket-propelled-grenade-launching, minority-hating, ex-con, ex-miner, good-old-boy of a Kentuckian pulls out a Mason jar full of a clear liquid and smiles. And the audience knows without being told, just as you know reading this right now, that it’s not gin, it’s not vodka and no, that jar is definitely not water. It’s moonshine.
— We have more to say about the moonshine, so stay tuned. Until then, did you know that the hipster community has turned to the white lightning? It’s an emerging industry, it has given birth to a new book on the subject. Again, more soon.
Today, that industry is going away, and much of the rural Midwest’s economic vitality is going with it. The current recession is only accelerating a decline that has its roots in a rapidly globalizing market for industrial products. Traditional manufacturing jobs are leaving the rural Midwest. And so are many of its best-educated and most talented young people.
The rural Midwest could have an economic future as bright as its vibrant past. But it is basing its twenty-first-century future on a twentieth-century playbook. This is not a recipe for success. Towns and counties compete with neighboring towns and counties for jobs and investments. Industrial recruitment—“smokestack chasing”—is the norm. Economic development agencies spend millions on infrastructure and tax breaks to lure companies from afar instead of creating new jobs at home. Boosters sell the rural Midwest as a cheap place to make things, ignoring the region’s many other economic assets—its natural resources, its hard-working people, its central location, its schools and universities, and its scientific base, among others —that could all be leveraged into a competitive new economy.
The Western Folklife Center has been asked to produce a story for National Public Radio on the folk music collecting of John Lomax. This coincides with the 100th anniversary of the publishing of his first collection, Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads, in November of 1910. We are working with a New York folklife organization called City Lore and hope to produce other stories on the journeys of early folklorists to discover the soul of America through its folklore. On this week-long journey through Texas and Louisiana, we go to the place Lomax grew up and saw, first-hand, the cattle drives after the Civil War. We visit the Elephant Saloon at the Stockyards in Fort Worth where he collected cowboy songs and where Don Edwards sang those same old songs in the 1970s. As we journey along the same paths Lomax took we contrast the world he lived in with that of contemporary America.