James D. McCallister

author of the Edgewater Chronicles

Notes on LET THE GLORY PASS AWAY (Part One)

For those of you following this blog for the last couple of years, it may seem like all-DIXIANA all the time. But before that material sees publication, let’s keep in mind that I’ll be offering up one (or more) direct lead-ins to that long-gestating novel series, with its fully realized fictional world I call Edgewater County.

Today it pleases me to post that one of those manuscripts, LET THE GLORY PASS AWAY, has crossed the rubicon of its external conceptual and fine edit, and now approaches readiness for a publication liftoff that at this time is planned via my own imprint, tentatively called Mind Harvest Press.

BACKSTORY

At heart more a novel of Columbia, South Carolina than the fictional county to the north through which so much of my fiction flows, I wrote LTGPA in 2011 as an intellectual and artistic response to a colorful and interesting real-life experience:

dm_bookmark3a-2

Besides my current time spent writing and teaching, for two decades now I’ve also worn the hat of a small business owner in a college-town neighborhood called Five Points, which in itself is worthy of a memoir I once started sketching out called SHOPKEEP. This fascinating path also led, for I suspect the first and last time, to a position of political leadership in the neighborhood for a couple of terms as a board member, and later president, of the local merchant’s association. Again, the many details and fascinating stories of that period in my life must remain fodder for another venue of expression.

As part of myriad presidential duties both quotidian as well as of a more zesty and recherché flavor, I often found myself involved tasked with participation in projects that went beyond the scope of the neighborhood, including in one memorable instance on a citywide committee put together to honor one of our local pop culture heroes, 1990s recording superstars Hootie and the Blowfish.

HOOTIE COMMITTEE

Hootie Grammy

Say what you will about Hootie’s music and place in the pop culture firmament, but their friends and neighbors here in SC remain proud of what they were able to accomplish. The cultural cognoscenti who call places like South Carolina “the flyover” don’t often allow regular folk like us to become so famous and accomplished.

After many discussions and debates, our group decided to commission a piece of public art that would honor our hometown boys who “made good,” as they say, but also to include elements that would acknowledge other local musicians who made their place in listener’s lives quite apart from having sold a pile of records and achieving the world fame that Hootie managed.

World famous. That’s right.

Star marking one of the impact points of Sherman's cannon fire on the State House.

Star marking one of the impact points of Sherman’s cannon fire on the State House.

The committee experience went fine, and I felt good about honoring a band that put Columbia on the cultural map in a way the city hadn’t been in a long time, maybe ever… at least since its prior, much more ignoble status as an American city that found itself burned to the ground as one of the final and more heinous acts of the American Civil War. (We won’t get into the historical controversy about whether General Sherman’s men, or retreating Confederate troops, set fire to cotton bales in the streets that spread to a conflagration consuming most of the city. A serious examination of the facts at hand, including statements made by Sherman and others during his infamous march, can lead to only one reasonable conclusion.)

After over a year of planning and other work, in late 2010 we took a deep breath and unveiled our statue, as well as an honorary street-renaming next to the pub where they got their start; put on a tribute concert at which the Blowfish reunited and played a few songs; and to this neighborhood president’s eyes and ears, everyone went home happy. Now, of course a variety of would-be wags, naysayers and that special breed, the jealous-hearted failed musician, came out of the woodwork to deride our efforts, but really, nobody who knew the guys in the band cared: by that point, we’d all been hearing the snark for fifteen years.

HootieMonument1

But in the months after my service to the community and to Hootie, I kept thinking about a number of issues: have our pop culture heroes taken the place of the saints, philosophers, kings and other leaders for whom statues were once raised? Is selling millions of rock & roll albums alone worthy of such tribute? How will our choices of what and who we honored be seen by the generations who follow us?

SIMMS

Issues surrounding this sort of thinking had been dogging me for some time. Even now, South Carolinians often find themselves debating with passionate debate about the public display of artifacts like Confederate flags, statues of acknowledged racists like “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, and so on. It’s an issue that’s fairly endemic and evergreen here in the American South, but has ramifications for everyone alive today who has an eye on how the pages of history will view the ways in which we honor the heroes of the moment.

Hootie Sign

I also kept thinking about Columbia itself, trying to bridge the gap in perception between the modern city, a pleasant place to live, and the time when its buildings, infrastructure, and culture of human enslavement (not invented by US Southerners, by the way) would stoke the fires of strife and war to the point that the city would be rendered asunder, with extreme prejudice. Perhaps necessarily so, at least on some darkly symbolic and karmic level.

In any case, the gulf of difference between the prosperous city built on the backs of slave labor, the war and ruinous Reconstruction that followed, and later, modern eras like what I’d known, one in which it was possible for middle class kids like Hootie to become pop superstars, seemed vast indeed.

One day it occurred to me that South Carolina had been producing superstars, in a sense, for two hundred years—the novelist and poet William Gilmore Simms, who has been described as the first well-known writer of such artistic works to actually make a living at doing so in the then-young country. Because of his unrepentant views regarding the Confederacy following the war, however, his reputation and statue have long faded from the general literary consciousness as taught in American schools.

Simms

But despite some uniquely unappealing racially oriented views of the world, an achievement such as his deserves as much recognition as Hootie, and if Pitchfork Ben had a statue, didn’t William Gilmore Simms, and antebellum Columbia itself, deserve our gratitude through statuary and other tributes?

The answers I’d find to such questions would leave me conflicted but inspired enough to begin a new novel, one whose first draft I would manage to compose in a scant, frenzied two months.

Coming up in Notes on LTGPA Part 2: Arts funding, my grandparents, a Simms statue, and Main Street.

 

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About dmac

James D. McCallister is a South Carolina author of novels, short stories, and creative nonfiction. His latest novel Let the Glory Pass Away releases in January 2017.

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