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  Field Notes From
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From Author

Tim Brookes

ZipUSA: 41858 On Assignment

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From Photographer

Randy Olson

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Alan Jakubek (top) and Lynn Johnson


ZipUSA: 41858

Field Notes From Author
Tim Brookes

Best Worst Quirkiest
    In the 1960s, a Canadian filmmaker came to Whitesburg to make a documentary and was shot dead by a local. Thirty years later, Liz Barret, a filmmaker from the town, made a film about the shooting, a documentary that looked at the often stereotyped and condescending ways in which outsiders depicted Whitesburg and Appalachia in general. Liz was showing her work to a high school class, so I asked if I could join her.
    As we were watching the film, I recognized that I was another outsider in danger of doing the same thing. So I said to the students, "This is your chance to talk about how you feel you should be perceived as opposed to having someone else do it for you."
    We had the most fantastic discussion in which they sort of woke up and realized that this wasn't just an academic exercise. It was a chance for them to play an active part in how they were seen. They really gave me a piece of their mind. It was just wonderful to see them taking control of the conversation and of the experience.

    I was watching a reenactment of a Civil War battle when I began to feel my sinuses and chest reacting to something. I wondered what it could be, and when I looked down I saw the largest clump of ragweed I'd ever seen in my life. It was a bush of ragweed.
    One of the consequences of the area having been so heavily strip-mined is that it has taken on the characteristics of broken ground, and ragweed thrives on broken ground. It was just another sign of the difficult conditions people in Whitesburg have to live with, and at that moment I was living with them as well.

    You can't fly anywhere that's close enough to get to Whitesburg, so I got directions off a website to make the long drive from Nashville airport. Since I was also writing a book on the history of guitar in America, I decided to take along two CDs of contemporary guitar music. One featured pleasant acoustic guitar, and the other was of very dissonant electric compositions.
    Unfortunately, a couple of crucial points in the directions were either out of date or downright wrong. I drove along as it got later and later. But then I noticed something strange: Every time one particular track of the electric CD came on or I felt I couldn't stand anymore of the noise, I also discovered that I was lost. Then I'd find my way again. This happened three or four times. At one point I ended up 75 miles (120 kilometers) out of the way. It was like having my own personal movie soundtrack.


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