|It's been a little more than a year since we hatched this crazy scheme of launching an online magazine about the American South. A while back, I got an email from a reader who claimed to love the idea and the format. After going on and on about how unique and how "new millennium" it was, he asked, "Why on earth are you doing it, anyway?"
"For the serendipity of it," I answered.
Let me explain. My first encounter with serendipity was with the word itself. In 1964 when I was 12 years old and already addicted to AM Top 40 radio, there was a folkish pop song called "Don't Let the Rain Come Down" by a group that called itself The Serendipity Singers. In 1964 there was still the chance that folk music would rule the airwaves until, of course, The Beatles came along and cleaned its acoustic clock.
At any rate, being the proverbial perpetually curious pre-teen, I eventually looked up the word "serendipity" expecting to find that it had something to do with "rain," "folk," or "Top 40," when to my surprise, yes, serendipity, I discovered that the word was defined as: "The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident." What's more, it was coined in 1754 by Horace Walpole, a frustrated folkster born 200 years too early to cash in on the acoustic airwaves.
Since that moment of discovery, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for all things serendipitous. One rainy Sunday afternoon in early 1974 (ten years after "Don't Let the Rain Come Down"), I was driving back from Nashville to my East Tennessee Baptist college when serendipity once again reared its lovely face. We were traveling east on I-40 through the Cumberland Mountains, a hardy range which neatly separates Middle Tennessee from East Tennessee just east of Cookeville. My car at the time was a black 1964 (there it is again!) Ford Falcon with a trusty AM radio centered in the middle of its red leather-and-chrome dash.
Having made the trip many times, we were painfully aware of that particular part of the journey...it was the place we called "The Valley of No Radio." Although many of my friends at the time had solved the dilemma by simply installing 8-track tape players in their cars, I instinctively knew my Falcon would have rejected any such unit, and most likely somehow would have found a way to punish me in the process. So I had become resigned to the Valley of No Radio as one of the necessary evils of traveling back and forth to school. Typically, we left the radio on and let the white noise of the static serve as an audio backdrop to our recaps of the previous weekend's activities.
That particular rainy Sunday, however, was the exception to the rule, and it proved to be a sort of hillbilly Twilight Zone episode. In the middle of my description of a new band called Lynyrd Skynyrd that had played that previous weekend at Muhlenbrink's in Nashville, the static radio sprang to life.
"Huh!" the voice said. "I'm telling you good people--huh!--that this here family--huh!--sings with the voices of the angels--huh!"
The voice was a minister that used a style of preaching known as the Holy Grunt. It was a cadence of sorts, always punctuated by the "huh!" at the end of each phrase.
"Bless their hearts--huh!--here they are--huh!--the Singing Luther Family with 'Walk Around Me Jesus'--huh!"
The music that followed was sparse, static-y, Appalachian and quite beautiful.
And, there you have it...that's why we're doing this. So maybe on a rainy Sunday afternoon somewhere in the Valley of No Internet, some weary e-traveler's browser brightens up with obscure writers gushing about all things Southern.
©Copyright 2002 David Ray Skinner/SouthernReader. All rights reserved.