There may be some basis in reality for the joke “Now that we’re married, does that mean you’re not my sister?”, but without inbreeding, the masterpiece “Dueling Banjos” – and perhaps country music itself – may have been impossible.
The musical genius of dueling banjos would
have been impossible without inbreeding.
I knew when I embarked on the challenge of defining the difference between rednecks, white trash, and now hillbillies (although we’ve touched on the hillbilly tongue before), I had a tough row to hoe. As the spawn of a white trash background myself, I think I’ve finally hit upon one of the most important distinctions. It’s cultural pride. The fact is, there’s no-one more proud than a redneck showing off his new dually at a weekend bonfire or a hillbilly that has finally nailed that banjo riff or nabbed that prize possum without even leaving the porch. Say what you will, but I think we can safely say that hillbillies are a proud lot. And that they only become “white trash” when attempting to become urban. Yep. “White trash” just means “hillbilly with aspirations”. Which gives me, as white trash, additional license to speak freely on this whole topic without being vulnerable to being accused of bigotry. My roots run deep. All the way up the hill, and onto the porch. Because to me, that’s the definition of “hillbilly”. A rockin’ chair, a gun, a banjo, and a porch. And maybe some hooch and some snuff. I mean honestly, what more could a person want than some music and a nice place to reflect on their simple life? Oh. And maybe shoot dinner if it passes by. And shoes? They’re overrated. I would assert that the cultures that have been the most obsessed with footwear also have caused the world the most grief. Frankly, the only negative result of this lifestyle is the inevitable inbreeding that occurs as a result of not wanting to leave the porch just to go get some sex. And while that has unfortunately made it so that many of us cringe when we hear the words “uncle” and “shed” in the same sentence, on the other hand, it also makes possible the sort of musical savant that can play dueling banjos at 240 beats per minute (clip below). And on a slightly serious note, the fact is that the entire multimillion dollar industry that we now call “country music” would not exist today if it weren’t for hillbillies. We’ll be back with one more piece on the broader topic of these white American subcultures, because there are two things we’ve neglected so far. One being a drier anthropological description of the activities of these peoples, the other being a better term for urban hillbilly than “white trash”. There are at least two cities in Michigan that have nicknames that end in “tucky” because of the hillbilly version of pursuing “spatial mobility”; Ypsitucky and Taylortucky. I think it’s time these people had a name that instills a feeling of pride.
To me this clip captures much of the essence of hillbilliness. No, not the Burt Reynolds bits, the banjo on the porch bits. Aside from the fact that the kid is wearing shoes, his superior talent and intelligence is expressed simply by playing a song. And his detached indifference about acknowledging the inferior city boy culture is expressed stoicly with a simple turn of the head.
Just to put to rest your doubts about my hillbilly background, this is an actual picture of my great-grandmother. At least that’s what I’ve been told. My great-grandfather apparently not only had a shady past, but is said to have abandoned my great-grandma within a few years of marrying her. If you look closely at the face, you might question – as I do – if old great-grandpa disappeared after all. But never mind that, note that “she” is sitting on a porch, in a rocking chair. And that the feet are cropped out. A clever way of hiding the fact that even though you were wearing a nice dress, you didn’t own any shoes.
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