Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

The Other Hoboken

On Friday afternoon I'm heading off to Hoboken Georgia to attend a shapenote singing. This involves flying to Jacksonville and heading north about 60 miles. I'll be staying in Waycross, as there are no hotels in Hoboken. When I first went to Hoboken my friends there told me that it's a real town, there's even a "caution light". It's been a few years since I've been there, but I understand that there are two caution lights now. Things are booming on the Okefenokee Swamp.

There are various places on the web where you can find information about what this is I'm going to be doing. This article in the online Georgia Encyclopedia is as good as any, since it focuses on Georgia in particular and calls out my friend David Lee by name. That article is a bit academic for a practice that is entirely emotional in nature for its participants, but it answers many of the questions everybody asks me so I pass the article along, even though I think those are probably the wrong questions.

The Hoboken singing is a revived singing. The Lee family (which means pretty much the entire population of Brantley County -- as David pointed out to me once, if I stayed there long enough I'd be related too) had been keeping a unique branch of this tradition alive through the generations privately, in their Primitive Baptist Church, without any contact with other singers or public singing conventions. Perhaps ten years ago, because of some difficulties within the church, my friends started to sing elsewhere, something that changed their lives and mine as well. I'd been singing this music for a while, and I'd even been south many times to sing it with traditional singers at their own all-day singings, but David and his family opened my eyes to many things. Oh heck, that sounds fancy. Lets just say that David and his family became friends of mine, not just people I went down to sing with in a sort of anthro-folkie-ethnomusicology quest.

I could write page upon page about this singing. My gosh, to talk about my participating in this, with all of the absurd contradictions that evokes, seems to require answering countless obvious questions. I am, after all, a Yankee fag Jew hanging with the Fundamentalist Southern Christians. Not just hanging with -- we are opening ourselves up to each other, sincerely and without question. Well, there were lots of questions at first. Now we mostly just sing and cry and eat and face the emotional concerns of life through this singing with each other. Every time we sing together, the bonds grow stronger. Which has come in handy during times when external circumstances test those bonds.

When I first started traveling south, I tried to explain things more. I tried to explain that the Primitive Baptists are not the Southern Baptists. They are Calvinists; they do not proselytize. They may consider me a sinner, but no more so than anybody else, most especially themselves. I have never in my life met people who continually question themselves and try to do good more than my friends David and Clarke Lee, and their wives Kathy and Julie. We know where we are different, but the amazing thing is that we know where we are alike. Maybe we are alike because we have found other people who will look each other direct in the eye from up close and sing full-voiced open harmonies for the joy that can bring. My southern friends would use specific religious and Christian words to describe what happens at those times; I do not, but I speak of the same things.

I have many powerful and fond memories of singing in Hoboken. I look forward to the joy and peace.
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