MyAmericanFuture

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

October 2, 2012: Up in the Air, Part Two

[Just to prove that American Studies inspirations can and do come from everywhere, this week I’m going to feature five topics that I was prompted to think about by the US Airways Magazine on my flight down to Philly. Please share your responses to any of these topics, or other American Studies topics you’ve recently been inspired to think about!]
On the country music star who exemplifies two important and impressive current trends.
In another article, this issue of the magazine profiles Zac Brown, the country singer/songwriter who, with his Zac Brown Band, has released a couple of big-selling and Grammy-winning albums in the last few years (with a third, Uncaged, recently released as well). There are few American Studies topics on which I’m less qualified to pontificate than contemporary country music, so I won’t pretend to have a great deal to say about what Brown means in that world; the current album does seem impressively mixed and diverse in its influences and styles, not in an artificial “crossover” kind of way (ie, someone trying to be a pop star for its own sake) but because he and his band found inspiration in all these different modes. But in reading the profile, I was particularly struck by two non-musical sides to Brown’s identity and career, both of which I’d connect to other important contemporary themes.
Before his band made it big Brown was best known, at least in his home area of Georgia, as a chef and the proprietor of the restaurant Zac’s Place. Although he’s mostly had to pass those duties on to others over the last few years, he’s continued to emphasize regional food and cooking in a variety of ways; including, most impressively to me, his use while on tour of the tractor-trailer he calls “Cookie.” That kitchen-on-wheels enables Brown to serve the band and many lucky fans home-cooked (well, trailer-cooked) meals featuring his own recipes and other regional favorites. There’s a lot to like about that custom, but to me it’s particularly interesting as a complement to the slow-food movement of the last couple decades. Obviously Brown isn’t, most of the time, serving his foods within close proximity to their points of origin—one of the main goals of the movement—but you could say he’s trying to bring his version of slow food with him wherever he goes, and to allow fans everywhere to experience the joys of such regional culinary traditions.
Brown’s other most unique project (in the making) is also by far his most inspiring. As a young man, Brown worked at a couple of local summer camps that brought together typical kids and those with special needs, and the experience has clearly stuck with him; he has purchased a large tract of land and developed his own camp, Camp Southern Ground, which has already begun operation, is scheduled to open in full in the summer of 2014, and will likewise offer options for special needs kids (especially those with neurobehavioral disorders such as Asperger’s and Tourette’s) as well as for typical summer campers. Again, there’s a lot that’s great about this project, but I would link it some prominent and important current efforts to move away from a purely medicating approach to childhood disorders, and to consider instead how social and emotional treatments and responses can often help kids struggling with such disorders at least as much as any medication. These are of course very complex and evolving questions, but at the very least Brown’s camp represents an exemplary attempt to treat the whole kid, and to bring special needs kids into full contact with their peers at the same time.
Important and inspiring work on many fronts, I’d say! Next air-inspired post tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Inspiring work, by celebrities or anybody else, you’d highlight?
10/2 Memory Day nominees: A tie between Nat Turner, the Virginia slave and preacher who led one of the most violent, successful, and significant slave revolts, and whose voice continues to echo long beyond that moment; and Wallace Stevens,  the lawyer and insurance salesman who also wrote some of the most dense, complex, erudite, and evocative 20th century American poetry.

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