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  • Carl Abraham Zimring
    http://www.pittsburghcitypaper.ws/music/ Outlaw Writers Tour Across The River From Kentucky Writer: JUSTIN HOPPER Before the bizarro-world of moth-men and
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 7, 2003
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      http://www.pittsburghcitypaper.ws/music/

      Outlaw Writers Tour
      Across The River From Kentucky

      Writer: JUSTIN HOPPER

      Before the bizarro-world of moth-men and "Dueling Banjos," there was Hank
      Williams and his New Year's Eve back-seat trip through its green and
      rolling hills. Before Hatfields shot across the river at McCoys, there were
      snake handlers and screaming cannibals, Morgan Morgan and mound-builders.
      Before there was a pot to piss in, there was a whirlpool of tales both tall
      and squat, and a stream of eccentricity as wide as the New River in that
      butt of jokes and fount of old-timey surrealism, West Virginia. And before
      there was Chuck Kinder, one of the foremost current authors to have skipped
      town on Appalachia into the literary cabal, there was his greater
      predecessor, Daisy Dangerfield, the novelist's grandmother and the womb of
      Kinder's storytelling past.

      For Kinder, his Appalachian-born co-conspirator, author Lee Maynard, and
      Pittsburgh's gothic-Appalachian string band the Deliberate Strangers, it's
      this tradition of back-porch late nights of whiskey, stories and song that
      continually inspire and inform their work and that of many of the artists
      they find affinity with. It's for this reason that they find themselves
      joining forces for a tour reading and playing music in West Virginia -- the
      region can do what it likes to "clean up" its image; to them, it will
      always be the land of mountain dancers and Daisy Dangerfield.

      "I have a disclaimer in my new book [The Last Mountain Dancer]," says
      Kinder. "Most West Virginians want to be known as normal, fine, upstanding
      folks -- and they are. But that doesn't interest me in the least. I'm
      interested in moonshiners and the like, alien sightings and abductions. You
      know, they've got aliens coming down and having carnal knowledge of a
      majorette in just about every high school down there."

      Since the publication of Honeymooners: A Cautionary Tale, Kinder's fame has
      spread from his cult of personality in West Virginia and in Pittsburgh
      (where his classes and workshops at Pitt have long been legend), to a new
      appreciation as an American man of letters. The as-of-yet unpublished The
      Last Mountain Dancer is a memoir of sorts of Kinder's more eccentric
      experiences in the Mountain State. Likewise, Lee Maynard -- born and raised
      in West Virginia, but a resident of New Mexico -- is preparing to renew his
      own infamy with the upcoming publication of Screaming with the Cannibals,
      the long-awaited follow-up to his 1988 (reprinted in 2001) cult novel Crum.

      Like Maynard and Kinder, the Deliberate Strangers find refuge from the
      perceived blandness of modernity by cradling themselves in Appalachia's
      storytelling history. "It's storytelling in the most ancient sense of the
      word," says Strangers co-founder Stephanie Vargo. "[Our songwriting is in]
      the American tradition of telling stories -- it's not about our 'psychic
      inner life' or 'angst' -- I don't want to hear about your internal
      conflict, tell me a good story. And that's one of the things that's
      wonderful about hanging out with [Kinder]. Drawing people into that, making
      the story important and hit hard -- it's not pretentious storytelling, it's
      about myths, about life."

      But not everyone appreciates the eccentricity with which people like the
      Strangers, Kinder and Maynard view Appalachia. Maynard's novel Crum has had
      a remarkable impact in his home state, where it has become alternately
      loved and loathed for the same reasons according to Gordon Simmons, who
      assists individual artists for the state's Division of Culture and History.
      Essentially a look at life in, and rebellion against, small-town West
      Virginia, Crum's uses many of the hillbilly stereotypes that some would
      rather forget.

      "Crum was controversial from the get-go," says Simmons. "You found people
      who loved it and would push it on other people, and others who were
      horrified and would cross themselves when the subject came up. Maynard was
      accused of a great number of sins, including perpetuating the hillbilly
      stereotype and negative images of the state. But a lot of people saw what
      he was doing as a way of shattering those stereotypes -- and doing it in a
      very entertaining fashion."

      One reader firmly planted in the pro-Maynard camp is Chuck Kinder. "I hit a
      sentence about two pages in that I thought was truly great wise literature,
      and that sentence was, 'Across the river was Kentucky, a mysterious land of
      pigfuckers.' I fell in love right then." When Kinder and Maynard finally
      met, last year at a book fair, the pair hit it off as one might expect, and
      began tentatively planning a trip around their home state. For years,
      Kinder has taken annual pilgrimages to out-of-the-way bars in West
      Virginia, and invited Maynard to join in -- albeit in a slightly more
      organized reading tour, rather than Kinder's norm.

      "There's a few little towns I like to sneak into under cover of darkness,"
      explains Kinder. "I won't name 'em, but places with one or two beer joints
      and a blue-plate special diner. I tell all the barmaids my name is Hank,
      great nephew of Williams -- just pure bullshit. And we thought it'd be
      great to just drive around in that strange mythological geography down
      there."

      There's no doubt that West Virginia is looking forward to welcoming its
      bastard offspring home -- in fact, enough venues have asked for the
      so-called "Outlaw Writers Tour" that a second leg, at a future date, seems
      inevitable. But how will the good people of West Virginia react to the less
      flattering side of themselves that these three artists sometimes delve
      into? Maynard's work has already proven itself controversial, and Kinder's
      The Last Mountain Dancer examines his home through its more eccentric
      faces. Meanwhile, The Deliberate Strangers are outside interlopers,
      extracting from traditional Appalachian music its most gothic elements of
      snake-handling religious zealots, murder ballads and twisted hillbilly love
      tales. Simmons, however, believes that those same elements will draw
      audiences in.

      "I think the split is generational," says Simmons. "Younger people here
      really appreciate the gothic thing, and play it for what it's worth. Some
      of the older folks probably have bitter memories of being laughed at [out
      of state] and don't see it as hip or funny, and I understand that, too. But
      if we were to disregard [artists] because they're outside of some standard
      of regional writing and music, we'd be selling [the region] short."

      Regardless of his generation, Kinder is one of those West Virginians who
      finds energy and excitement in that tradition. He thinks there are many
      more like him, but isn't worried either way.

      "I think response to us and the Strangers will be quite favorable," says
      Kinder. "We're playing some pretty funky venues, and I think we'll fit
      right in. And if not -- Lee's one of the fittest guys I know; he may look
      like Kenny Rogers, but he's one of the top power lifters in his weight
      class, and I'm carrying a cane these days, so we'll just fire our way out
      of there."

      Chuck Kinder, Lee Maynard and The Deliberate Strangers appear at 8 p.m.
      Mon., Aug. 11, at the Quiet Storm Coffeehouse, Friendship. 412-661-9355.
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