We Didn't Get Famous: the Story of the Southern Music Underground, 1978-1990
Date of Award
M.A. in Southern Studies
This thesis examines the emergence of the Southern indie music scene in the 1980s as both a rejection of the broader punk scene that had swept America and the UK in the 1970s and the blues and country inflected Southern Rock that preceded it in the 1970s. I first had the idea of doing a project on this musical era while I was living in New York City. I had loved the jangly sounds of 1980s Southern indie bands for a very long time, and I had just begun to develop a very deep interest and love of the South, which had been my home for eighteen years, but whose culture and meaning I had somewhat ignored and taken for granted growing up. The Southern underground bands of 1980s represented what I loved about the South and I wanted to figure out how to write about that, as a way to both re-introduce these great bands who were largely unknown today and to explore a faction of Southern culture not commonly thought about, providing a picture of the South that is not the one so comically and falsely portrayed in pop culture and society. When I discovered a passion for documentary filmmaking, and how powerful it could be, it was clear to me that was the perfect tool for my project and this thesis began to take shape. Over the course of about a year, I talked to countless people who had in one way or another been involved in the Southern underground music scene during the 1980s, who had been in bands or started record labels or knew those who had. Everyone had opinions and advice about who I should include in my film, and who I should get in touch with. In my head, I had a long list of people I wanted to interview, made up mostly of those musicians I admired the most and felt had not been given the coverage they deserved. Logistics also played a large part in who I eventually interviewed, especially where they were located geographically, and simply whether I could get in touch with them. Finally, I began to e-mail the people on my shortened list, responses rolled in, and trips were planned. Almost every single person I contacted wrote me back, and every responder was enthusiastic to participate. My film and research draws on ten interviews (eight on film, two through e-mail) I conducted with band members from nine different bands, across five different states. In the fall of 2011, I interviewed subjects in Birmingham, Alabama, Athens, Georgia, and Oxford, Mississippi. In January and February of 2011, I travelled to Jackson, Mississippi, Winston-Salem and Durham, North Carolina, and Houston, Texas, concluding my interviews for the time being. I travelled to, conducted, and filmed each interview on my own, except for the two interviews in North Carolina, which my friend Tony Dagnall accompanied me on (and helped prevent any major crises when I ran into some technical difficulties). My friend Amy Ulmer and my mom Laurel Aikin lent their cars and travel companionship on the drives to North Carolina and Houston. Each interview lasted around thirty to forty-five minutes. I had a set list of questions in mind, but inevitably, the interviews would organically stray from these questions and we would always end up touching on topics I had not even thought of. In several instances, the conversation kept going well after the camera had been turned off. My subjects are some of my biggest musical idols, so it was all somewhat surreal. Every interview was illuminating and provided me with more insight into Southern culture and the music scene. I went into the interview process with ideas of what I thought the scene meant and represented and how the participants' Southern identity and sense of place shaped their music. Many of those conjectures were confirmed and expanded on, and at times, contradicted, which just gave me a different perspective and new ideas. This research highlights the ways Southern artists in the 1980s moved away from both punk and traditional Southern sounds and forged a movement that introduced a definitively new Southern sound, even as it drew from and was shaped by place and Southern traditions.
Aikin, Camilla Ann, "We Didn't Get Famous: the Story of the Southern Music Underground, 1978-1990" (2012). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 30.