Four Birmingham Boys Have Made What Might Be the Most Important Rock Record About the South Ever Released

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Theophilus Eugene Connor was a son of a bitch.

In case that name fails to ring a bell, you might recognize the late and unlamented Eugene Connor by his nickname: Bull.

Bull Connor served the city of Birmingham as commissioner of public safety, overseeing both the fire and police departments, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Old Bull is the man who, on May 3, 1963, ordered the use of fire hoses and attack dogs to disperse African-Americans as they marched in support of civil rights. 

Evidently, Bull looked at the whole thing like it was a hunting trip. "All you gotta do is tell them you’re going to bring the dogs,” he said that day. “Look at ’em run. I want to see the dogs work."

About 49 years later, a young man named Lee Bains III, then 27 years old, visited his maternal grandmother Mimi — or, more properly, Mrs. Frances Killingsworth — in her Birmingham home. Lee had grown up singing with Mimi as she directed choirs at East Lake Methodist there. 

“I guess it would have been two years ago,” Bains remembers. “I was off work. It was Martin Luther King Day, and so I went and ate lunch with her. My mama has a great story about growing up, that even though they lived in Birmingham, they just didn't know about everything that was going on. The way that they and a lot of white people in Birmingham found out about it was through the national news. The local news said nothing about the fire hoses and police dogs and any of that. Nothing was mentioned.

“They were all watching TV at my grandparents' house. My mama was young. She asked my grandmama, she said, ‘Mama, why are they marching?’ My grandmama told her, ‘Well, if I was colored I'd be marching, too.’

“That was a remark that planted a seed in my mom. 

“Anyway, I was over there at my grandmama’s house eating lunch and playing cards and stuff, and I just asked her, ‘I'm sure that was a wild time to be living in Birmingham, when all of that was going on, when Dr. King was here and everything.’

“She said, ‘Yes, you know it really was. I remember that at the church I would direct the choir and there was a man ...’

“Her memory had started to go a little bit by this point, but she said, ‘I would sit there in the choir loft and I would see this man. I don't remember what he was, but he was prominent in the city government in some way and he would sit up on the front pew in the balcony. He would just sort of sit there like he was looking over everybody, and I remember sitting there thinking, ‘You've got some kind of nerve to come and sit here on Sunday morning after what you've been doing all week.’”

That evening, Lee visited his parents in Birmingham and recounted Mimi’s story.

His mother, Kay Killingsworth Bains, asked him if he knew the name of the man Mimi was talking about.

“That was Bull Connor,” Kay told her son. “He went to our church. For months, nobody knew what he was doing. I remember Mama saying, ‘I can't believe that nobody talks about this. The preacher doesn’t even mention it.’’’


Perhaps the pastor of Woodlawn Methodist couldn’t muster the guts to call out the monstrous evil that sat gazing down on his parishioners from the balcony. On Sunday, May 5, 1963, perhaps he could not bring himself to point out that one of its members had, two days earlier, loosed his hounds on other people's children, whose only crime was the color of their skin.

But today, the seed Mimi planted in her daughter Kay, who in turn planted it in her children, will bear brilliant fruit. Today, Mimi's grandson will release a rock and roll record that does the job the preacher couldn’t — and does it Old Testament-style, with great vengeance and furious anger.

The album is called “Dereconstructed,” and it begins in Mimi’s kitchen.

Mimi, tell me about old Bull,
Mean and proud even praying in the pew,
Putting profits in the black with businessmen on Sunday,
Monday morning, beating prophets black and blue.

You might read those lyrics and conclude this record is coming out decades too late because Bull Connor died 40 years ago, still stubbornly unrepentant, and he's in hell now with George Wallace. You could make that argument, but you would be wrong.

I think this record is coming out exactly when we need it most.


I first saw Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires perform two years ago. Dave and I had driven over to Athens to catch the Alabama Shakes’ first big show at the Georgia Theatre, and the Glory Fires were the opening act. We got there in time to catch about half their set. I remember being intrigued by their sound — chord progressions and riffs rooted in the Southern boogie of the 1970s, but amped up to punk-rock intensity. I found the band interesting, but not yet strong enough to be truly memorable.

A few months ago, though, we heard that Sub Pop, the legendary Seattle record label that launched almost every Pacific Northwest “grunge” band in the late 1980s and early ’90s, had signed the Glory Fires. Sub Pop brought us Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney, but it’s never been known as a home for Southern bands.

This was curious, and we found ourselves wondering if we should look into what was going on. Bains had actually moved from his hometown of Birmingham to Atlanta a couple years ago to live with his girlfriend, Dawn Riley, during her graduate studies at Georgia Tech. So I got online and looked for the Glory Fires’ website. The contact page listed no publicity firm to go through — just Bains’ own e-mail address.

I wrote him, and the next week, we got together for coffee. I liked him. He was smart, well-spoken, and far less of a loudmouth than the typical musician. We talked for about an hour, and I told him that if I could get an advance copy of the new record and I liked it, then we’d think about doing a story for The Bitter Southerner.

The next day, a nice lady at Sub Pop in Seattle sent me a link to a private website where I could download the album and its lyric booklet. I got the files onto my iPhone, plugged in my headphones and listened to it all the way through.

I was dumbstruck. This was … hell, I didn’t know what it was. My head was spinning. I walked downstairs and said to my wife, Stacy, “I think this kid Lee has made the record I’ve been waiting for somebody to make since before he was even born.” I played her “The Company Man.” My dear sweet wife, who will happily accompany me to quiet acoustic shows in small clubs but who has a hard time with the volume and jostle of the rock show, looked at me and said, “I actually think I like this.” Now that she’s heard it a few times, she just says, “That music gives me chills.”


Lee drove the Glory Fires' tour van, complete with the necessary collection of flotsam from the road, to take us to his favorite barbecue spot in Atlanta.  


Over the last month, I’ve listened to the 10 songs on Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires’ “Dereconstructed” repeatedly. No matter how hard I try to stop listening or how hard I try to find flaws in the record, I cannot. I have no choice but to give up the fight and say that “Dereconstructed” is, without a single doubt or qualifier, the most important record to address the Southern thing in 13 years, since Drive-By Truckers’ 2001 “Southern Rock Opera.”

And it may be the most important record about the South ever released.

Read the lyric booklet from “Dereconstructed,” and it feels as if you’re reading 10 striking and important poems — lines that address the Southern experience from our beloved “odor of honeysuckle” to the fact that “we were raised on ancient truths and ugly old lies.”

But what about the fact that when I put it on, I just want to cruise my old Mustang from the skating rink to the park down by the river, beating my fist on the steering wheel? Just like I did to Lynyrd Skynyrd back in high school?

Well, that’s just bonus.


“We dare defend our rights” —
"Blessed are the meek” —
Unless it’s four little girls in Sunday school,
Learning how to turn the other cheek,
Or the younguns lashed with brimstone tongues
(“Boys like girls, and girls like boys.”),
Or the hijos watching Papa patted down
In the blue lights and the siren’s noise.

Old pappy, can you hear it?
On the soft Southern breeze?
There’s hollering in the streets:

“We dare defend our rights!”



“Dereconstructed” is, at its heart, a document of Lee Bains’ personal struggles with the question of Southern identity. Bains dearly loves the South and wants to proclaim his love to the whole world, but he knows that telling the world you're proud of the South can have dark and unintended consequences. 

And, as you can tell from his record’s loud and buzzing guitars, Bains is pissed about this state of affairs.

“These are just issues that, as pitiful as it sounds, have kept me up at night.” he says, sitting on the front porch of the apartment he shares with Riley in Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood.

Actually, it doesn’t sound pitiful at all, I tell him. It sounds important. Really important.

“In the very earliest days of the South's being discussed as a place unto itself — colonial times or the period leading up to Fort Sumter, depending on who you ask — that discussion excluded all of the black South,” he continues. “And that’s a rich collection of cultures that comprised over half the population in some of the South's subregions and whose influence spilled over into every corner of the Southern populace. By the same token, the young South conflated Southernness with pro-Confederate sympathies, so that native-born Southerners who opposed a specific brand of government were disallowed from being ‘Southern’ in the printed discourse of the day.

“Carry that forward to today, when the word ‘Southerner’ so often really means ‘white Southerner’,” he says. "Since those earliest instances, the discourse of the powerful in the South has held Southern identity outside the grasp of multitudes. So, yes, I, personally, as a leftist, reasonably intellectual, open-minded Southerner, feel that I have been disallowed of my very identity by the discourse of the powerful, and, with this record, I am engaged in a process of reclaiming that identity for myself. But I hope too, and really more importantly, to invite other, more marginalized Southerners, and members of any culture anywhere for that matter, to engage in that same process — to refuse to be treated as strangers in their own land.”


Bains is right. The way I hear “Dereconstructed,” a big part of what Bains is writing about is the fact that millions of Southerners have had their identities stripped from them by forces too vast for them to control. The corporations that own the television networks define us as camouflage-clad folks reveling in our backwardness, and this strips away the ability of any person who doesn’t fit that stereotype to claim any kind of Southern identity as their own. The same or at least similar forces have even co-opted our traditional religious practices, making it impossible for folks like me, who very much loved the peace-promoting Jesus I learned about as a child, to connect with my own upbringing in a church that shuns many of God’s children because they happen to have a different sexual preference.

Southerners have, in the last 30 years, allowed their regional identity to be defined for them. Those of us who do not fit that definition are left to feel damned uneasy in our Southern clothes.


It has not always been this way. Think about it. Does no one remember that 40 years ago, Skynyrd was doing a song about handguns and Ronnie Van Zant was asking, “Why don’t we dump ’em, people, to the bottom of sea?” But in 2009, what’s left of that beloved band released a monstrosity of Southern pandering called “God & Guns.” I don’t know about you, but I’d bet that down in Orange Park, Fla., old Ronnie started spinning in his grave.

Bad records like “God & Guns” happen because we’ve been taught, over the past 30 years, that we can call ourselves “Southern” only if we adhere to certain and very narrow definitions of the roles that God, guns and government should play in our society.

Bains thinks it's long past time for that to change.


“It doesn't matter where your parents were born or what religious tradition you follow or what type of person you find attractive; if you say you're a Southerner, then you're a fucking Southerner, and we need to hear about it,” Bains says. “We need to hear what you love and hate about it. We need a real, open discourse about authentic culture and identity as the very antidote to that globalist, commodified brand of identity, where anybody can be ‘down-home’ with the simple purchase of an official 'Save Duck Dynasty From Obama' beer coozie.”

Or, as he sings in “The Kudzu and the Concrete” …

You can talk, talk, talk about it:
Repentance, and forgiveness,
And loving your neighbor as yourself.
But what the hell does that mean
When all your neighbors look the same,
And think the same,
Or else live a couple miles
Down the rural route?



Good question. Let the discussions begin.


Of course, none of this righteous anger could be used to its fullest potential without the aid of loud, insistent, electric guitars.

Make no mistake. Much of the Glory Fires’ magic arises from the interplay of Bains’ guitar with the one wielded by his bandmate Eric Wallace, who joined not long before “Dereconstructed” was recorded.

“From the first time we played together, it was like, boom,” Wallace says. “It’s all very grass-roots the way he and I play off each other and in and out of each other’s different parts. It’s not something we’ve created. It just happens.”

It probably doesn’t hurt that Bains and Wallace went to preschool together in Birmingham. They’ve known each other since they were tiny, and they probably made a mighty, parent-annoying racket together when they were 5. Twenty-five years later, with guitars, that racket has become pretty special.

But it is a notoriously difficult thing to capture the essence of any rock band that relies so heavily on the buzzing of high-volume electric guitars. So the boys had to find exactly the right guy to record “Dereconstructed.” 

“We’re kind of known as a sound man’s nightmare,” Bains says.

The Glory Fires: Lee Bains III, Adam Williamson, Eric Wallace and Blake Williamson. Photo courtesy of Sub Pop.

The Glory Fires: Lee Bains III, Adam Williamson, Eric Wallace and Blake Williamson. Photo courtesy of Sub Pop.


That’s where a 58-year-old Austin artist named Tim Kerr comes in. Kerr’s background is interesting. He played in one of Texas’ formative punk bands in the early 1980s, the Big Boys. During a break from his work with the Big Boys, Kerr formed another band, Poison 13, which proved hugely influential among the bands in the Pacific Northwest that made up the core of Sub Pop's early roster — so influential that Kerr wound up forming a band, the Monkeywrench, with two members of Mudhoney. And by the mid-’90s, he had become known as a producer and recordist who could actually capture rock music’s inherent cacophany without the finished album sounding like mud.

Recording with Kerr is not an exercise in overdubbing.

“I like it to sound like it's real, like you're standing in the room and you don't really hear an effect,” Kerr says. “All those old ’50s and ’60s records just have the sound to them. They sound like they're in there having the best time ever, that they're in there for a purpose, there's some sort of mission going on, and they just sound great. People say it's a live recording, but it's not really a live recording, because you've got things baffled and stuff. But you’ve got the whole band in there. Nobody has headphones on, so that you can have musical conversations. As soon as you put those headphones on, it's a totally different feel.

“And then, it's just a matter of sitting until you’re getting that right take,” he concludes.

On the 10 songs of “Dereconstructed,” it feels as if Kerr found the right take every time. You hear the buzz and hum of the cranked-up amplifiers, but they never overwhelm Bains’ forceful voice. Sometimes, sure, the voices and the amps do battle with each other, and those of us with old ears do have to consult the lyric sheet now and then, but that’s just the nature of rock and roll.

The sound of “Dereconstructed” is just right because it’s captured without adornment. It feels the way music should feel, like standing in the middle of a room where good things are happening.


One of music’s greatest joys is its ability to turn difficult subject matter into something that sounds celebratory. It gives us the gift of being able to dance to our problems.

Of course, making butts move requires an able rhythm section, which the Glory Fires have in brothers Blake and Adam Williamson. Besides Bains himself, drummer Blake is the lone constant who’s been there since Bains first formed the Glory Fires a few years ago. Blake’s brother Adam became bass player about the same time Wallace joined the band last year.

Being writerly, it is Bains’ way to work his songs into a state very near finished before he brings them to Wallace and the Williamsons. The lyrical directness of the songs Bains brought in for “Dereconstructed” caught them as off-guard as it did me.

“I honestly had mixed feelings about some of it,” says Blake Williamson. “But I think he’s right on with what he’s trying to get across. He’s got a way with the words that I don’t have. And anyway, if he ever wrote something that was stupid, I’d be like, ‘Hey, man, that’s totally bullshit.’”

What Wallace says he likes most about Bains’ lyrics are their fierce loyalty to the boys’ hometown of Birmingham. The greatest example of that on the record is “The Weeds Downtown,” an incredible piece that makes it clear how much he loves the South and wants to see it become a better place.

I know the new architecture’s largely depressing,
And the politics are pretty regressive,
But ain’t shining a light on what’s dark kind of your thing?

The murder wave is abating,
The population decline’s stagnating.
If that ain’t an invitation, darling, what could it be?
Addressed right to you and me …

Consider the weeds downtown, and how they grow:
How the Queen Anne's Lace covers hot parking lots like snow.
Paris and New York don't have honeysuckle vines like the ones on 32nd Street.
I know that Birmingham gets you down, but look what it raised you up to be.



Because I was a rural kid who grew up attracted to the wonder of our cities, even as I watched their struggles on the TV news, that song damn near made me cry the first time I heard it. I lived for seven years in New York City, and Bains is right: Spring comes, and you miss those honeysuckle vines. Hell, you even miss the kudzu.

To me, the lyrics of “The Weeds Downtown” speak a deep truth about Southerners of ambition. Maybe we do need our time in Paris or New York or Silicon Valley, to sharpen our skills or to see our home from a different perspective, but inside many of us, there always burns the desire to bring what we’ve learned back to our scarred homeland and try, just one more time, to make it better.

The South gets us down, but look what it’s raised us up to be, right?

Lee Bains at Mustard Seed Barbecue, West End, Atlanta

Bains is a regular at The Mustard Seed in Atlanta's West End, where the ribs are indeed good enough to make you slap your mama. 


“There’s a joke in Birmingham when people in bands starting talking about moving to Portland,” Wallace says. “It’s like, ‘Yeah, man, I’m gonna move up to Portland and wash some dishes and figure it out.’

“All you hear from your peers is ‘How fast and how far can I get out of here?’,” he continues. “But wait a minute. Why? I’ve been playing in touring bands since I was 18 years old, and I’ve been to some of these neighborhoods in New York or wherever, where you have to pay $3,500 rent for something the size of a closet.

“Here in Birmingham, I was able to buy a house that was built in 1924 and an old historic firehouse building. I started teaching guitar lessons out of it and started my own business.

“Maybe,” Wallace concludes, “we should just stay here and use our able minds and bodies to do something about it.”


After a few rings, someone answers the phone and says, “Hello, this is Jonathan.”

I am honestly a little star-struck that one of the two founders of Sub Pop, a Seattle record company that played a pivotal role in the evolution of American rock music, would take a phone call from a guy who edits a website he’s never heard of, in a region that is about as far away as you can get from the Pacific Northwest, both literally and figuratively. But I had asked if I could speak with the person at Sub Pop who had made the decision to sign Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires, and it turns out that person was one of the founders.

To say Poneman has a keen ear for talent is a gross understatement. He was, after all, the guy who knew he had something special in his hands when he first heard Nirvana’s demo tape in 1988.

I ask him how he learned about Bains in the first place.

Kurt Cobain with Jonathan Poneman, 1989

“I heard about Lee through Tim Kerr,” Poneman tells me. “Tim has been a hero and an inspiration and a friend of mine for many years now. He had called with a royalty question, of all things, because we had put out a Poison 13 record some years before, and he wanted to know if it was free and clear to be licensed for vinyl to another label. I told him it was, and then he just said, ‘And by the way, there's this guy I'm working with, this band from Birmingham with a guy named Lee Bains. He's the real deal and a super good guy.’

“Then Tim sent me a really rough version of ‘The Company Man,’” Poneman says. “Lee's voice, the power of the song … something in the really muddy, gritty mix that made it even more potent in some odd way ... I was just completely captivated. Then I got in contact with Lee, and he sent me all the songs that ended up being on ‘Dereconstructed.’ It became evident from talking to him and figuring out what he was singing about that he was a pretty thoughtful and educated guy. Speaking for myself, no matter what region of the world somebody is from, thoughtfulness is something that I as a listener am always engaged by.

“Then when I went and saw them, at Dante’s in Portland, I just said, ‘Jesus fucking Christ,’” Poneman continues. “These guys got on stage, and nobody knew who they were. There was probably about 30 people in the audience sitting down, but by the end of the show you could tell that people were revved up. I'll tell you something: For a Tuesday night in Portland, to get anybody revved up is a big feat.”

Poneman and I are both old music geeks. He’s 54, and I’m 53. Our musical reference points are largely the same. He watched the Athens scene that I came up in from a distance as I watched the Seattle scene that he came up in from an equal distance.

What nerds like Poneman and me crave most is that rare instance when you hear a new band that seems to have some magical ability to capture the moment, to sum up perfectly — through the content of their lyrics and the emotion in their music — How We Feel Right Now. I had just such a moment the first time I heard “Deconstructed.” When it dawned on me just how important this record actually is, I laughed and remembered the famous line that one-time rock critic Jon Laudau wrote 40 years ago after seeing Bruce Springsteen for the first time in Cambridge, Mass.: “I saw rock and roll's future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”

That’s why it’s funny to me when Poneman says, “I don't want to go all Jon Landau on you or anything, but I really think that they're one of the greatest live rock bands around right now. I think when this record comes out, and they get a little bit more confidence and adulation, I think it's just going to blossom even more.”

So let’s just get it out of the way.

Me and Poneman? We’ve seen the future of Southern rock and roll and its name is Lee Bains.


Bains lives in Atlanta on what looks like a quiet street but isn’t.

Colquitt Avenue dead-ends in the heart of Atlanta’s historically funky Little Five Points enclave. A couple blocks northwest toward North Highland Avenue, things are relatively sedate, but the front porch of Lee’s apartment is only about 50 feet from the hubbub of L5P. It’s not the kind of spot where you expect the neighbors to be quiet on Friday night.

The apartment Bains shares with Riley is a little one-bedroom, a quarter of what long ago was a big single-family home. It’s precisely the kind of apartment, in precisely the kind of location, you’d expect a guy who leads a rock band to live in. Inside, it’s neater than the typical rock and roll homestead. Except for a few instruments hanging on wall-mounted racks, it looks more like the home of a couple of bookworms. Riley’s books on design and urban planning stand in stacks and on shelves. They are augmented on the shelves by books that reflect the four years Bains spent studying writing at New York University, the only period of his life lived outside the South. A small but healthy library of literature’s greatest works — both Southern and the other kinds — occupies the shelves.

I particularly notice a small stack of classics on top of one bookcase, capped off by a copy of the Holy Bible. Bains recently told Uncut, a British music publication: “I am a church-going, Bible-believing Christian that is neither an evangelical nor a so-called literalist. We do still exist.”

Hold on, now. Let’s be clear. Lee Bains is not a “Christian rocker.” You don’t think I’d let you come this far and then drop that on you, do you?

No … Bains is a rocker who is a Christian, and that’s a whole other thing. This is from his new record’s title song:


We were whooped with the Good Book,
Wound up shamed, sorry and worse.
But I yearned to burn the wrath out of every chapter,
And water the love in every verse.
Water the love in every verse.

Dereconstructed, y’all.



“Southern cultural identity has been exploited for these regressive, right-wing, draconian, imperialistic movements,” Bains says when we head back out on the front porch. “I think that's a contradiction. To me, at its core, Southern culture is opposed to all of those things. To me, what I identify with the Southern identity is this notion of courtesy and Judeo-Christian charity and hospitality and keeping to yourself and respecting people's eccentricities or whatever. These are the things that I equate with Southernness, and I don't see them discussed or highlighted very often. Instead, we're left with the notion of a Southerner as AR-15-waving, angry, judgmental, hateful figure. Those aren't the Southerners that I grew up around.”

They’re not the Southerners that many of us grew up around, I say, but they are the public face of our region today.

Bains replies, “I hope that we can begin to forge a new notion of what Southernness is, rather than to just say, ‘Fuck it,’ and not try.”


I ask him if, at any point during his life, he had abandoned the faith he learned from his parents, who took him to Birmingham’s Episcopal Church of the Advent, or his grandma Mimi, who put him to work singing in the choirs of her Methodist church, or his sitter, an African-American woman named Rena Bell, who often took him and his brother to her Pentecostal church.

“Oh yeah,” he says. “Big time. That was a very similar process of reconciliation. They kind of happened concurrently — my reconciliation to my cultural context and my religious context.”


In the days that followed our conversation on his front porch, I thought long and hard about Lee Bains’ central point: the notion that many Southerners feel hopelessly out of place in their homeland because they do not fit the roles that people in power have defined for them.

I feel the same hopelessness myself sometimes. When I hear one of our reality TV stars (or one of our corporate CEOs) condemn fellow human beings because they love the wrong people, I think, “That is not me. That is not my South.” I become very uncomfortable when Southerners who grew up in the same kind of country Baptist churches that I did dismiss the poor as “moochers,” because the Jesus I remember from those Sunday mornings was the guy who unfailingly fed the hungry, the guy who told the world on that mountain a long time ago that we all should do the same.

Without question, the most powerful moment on Bains’ new record comes in the bridge of the very first song, “The Company Man”:

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,”
On the Mount we heard Him say.
“You’ve got to serve either me or him.”
We just turned and walked away.

Bains had more than once hinted to me that he would feel more comfortable and articulate addressing these giant questions in writing than he did talking about them. So a few weeks after our meeting, I sent him an email in Berlin, where he and Riley were on vacation, a trip they’d promised each other they’d make when Riley finished her master’s at Georgia Tech.

I asked him one question: “Why did you make this record?”

This is how he replied:

“Each one of us, every person on earth, is the product of a place (or places), a people (or peoples), a way of moving about in and considering the heartbreaking, maddening circumstances of life on this planet.

“As a child born in the ’80s, I know the following situation all too well: People tell you that you can be anybody you want to be. That the possibilities of where you can go and what kind of person you can be are endless, that the sky is the limit, and the stars are in reach, and that you should follow happiness and all that kind of mess.

“Those people are full of shit. They are trying to get you to buy a Pepsi. They are trying to indoctrinate you into a modus operandi that ties you to nothing but the stimulation of your pleasure zones, all under the guise of self-realization.

“It's a story that has played out across the so-called post-industrial world countless times. Born with deep roots and family ties, our grandparents joined what they saw as modernity to make a living, to provide. But something happened, and we wound up with Xboxes, dusty college degrees, piles of student debt, and days browsing Craigslist ads, competing for data-entry positions with all the other kids who were always told that they could be anybody they wanted to be. We were mesmerized by images of people we would never know, and paralyzed by the variety of chips at the convenience store. And we didn't know our great-grandparents' names. Or what they believed. And therefore we didn't know what we believed, and why. Because we had been taught to deny our contexts, to look upon ourselves as sparkly new creations, fresh off the human assembly line, born of the ether, and bound for infinity.

“Well, I, for one, am glad for the failure — glad that the promise of infinity has proven, to me anyway, an empty one. Because the vision of continents full of people who realized themselves through shopping trips and MySpace is enough to give me night terrors. (If I'm honest, it probably has given me night terrors.) I believe that our generations long to be something more substantial, more authentic than a Hot Topic kid in a stripmall town. It has come into vogue to argue that authenticity itself is a shade, a mirage. It is not, I would posit, a coincidence that this argument has sprung from our anybody-you-want-to-be generation. It's right there in the name.

“At the risk of ruining what is probably an already overdue ending, I will summon William Faulkner: ‘To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.’ The South is not the object here. The South is merely my context, that abiding point in space and spirit from whence I encounter creation. I hope that this record might help somebody else to take ownership of theirs.

“I wouldn't trade anything for mine.”

Lee Bains III in the Glory Fires tour van. Little Five Points, Atlanta.