“Paddle Faster, I Hear Banjo Music”

The latest edition of the Oxford American, as usual, is full of great reading: Among the riches are an essay on food writer Charles H. Baker Jr., a visit to Joseph Mitchell‘s hometown of Fairmont, N.C., and a guide to epitaphs of ten Southern writers. (Mark Twain: “Death is the starlit strip between the companionship of yesterday and the reunion of tomorrow.”) What I keyed in on, though, was “The Last Wild River,” an essay by Bronwen Dickey about the legacy of the Chattooga River, immortalized in her father James Dickey‘s novel Deliverance. The piece details some of the consternation among residents of northern Georgia about controls over access to the river; some of it involves concerns about the feds taking control of the land, and some of it involves complains about what Deliverance, especially the film version, did to the area’s rep. Dickey writes:

The sadistic mountain men in Deliverance were, of course, fictional, as were the town of Aintry and the Cahulawassee River, but the residents of Rabun County were left to contend with the peculiar legacy of the film long after the cameras stopped rolling. The theme music from the movie, “Dueling Banjos,” is used in commercials to sell everything from dish detergent to SUVs. “Paddle Faster, I hear Banjo Music” is printed on T-shirts and bumper stickers all over the South. The character actor Bill McKinney, who uttered teh improvised line “squeal like a pig” (the line does not appear in either the novel or original screenplay), now maintains his official website at www.squeallikeapig.com. It’s hard to get away from.

The overwhelming majority of the pieces in the OA, including Dickey’s piece, aren’t online, but it’s well worth picking up.

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