WILL CAMPBELL AND THE SOUL OF THE SOUTH by Thomas L. Connelly

WILL CAMPBELL AND THE SOUL OF THE SOUTH

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A feverish, impressionistic essay with all sorts of structural flaws but enough verve and color to redeem them. Connelly is a historian (U. of South Carolina) and he frames his casual sketch of the maverick Baptist preacher against a background of past regional tragedy--the Civil War--and present social upheaval: desegregation, anomic in the ""New South."" His main focus is on Nashville: scene of some bloody fighting in December 1864; bastion of the country music and religious publishing industries; home to Will Campbell since the 1950s; and Connelly's own birthplace, to which he makes a classically American choked-up/alienated Pilgrimage. Connelly sees Campbell as a Southerner for all seasons, a literate man of the people, a Yale-educated radical who ministers to Klan members, a no-bullshit, bourbon-drinking, guitar-strumming, angry prophet trying to bind up wounds now five or six generations old. Born in East Fork, Miss., to a poor cotton farmer around the mid-1920s (Connelly doesn't say when), Campbell has had a varied career as college chaplain, civil rights activist, and Christian troublemaker. But above all, it's Campbell's broadminded spirit of reconciliation (""We are all bastards, but God loves us anyway"") that stamps him for Connelly as a culture hero, of the sort the South badly needs. All this is fine--and believable--but it would have been better if Connelly didn't ramble on, e.g., about all the redneck songs Campbell likes to sing; didn't always treat Campbell as a rough-hewn saint; didn't indulge in portentous generalizations (the ""deep, mortal quality in Southern piety""), etc. Still, a thoughtful and at times quite vivid book.

Pub Date: June 23rd, 1982
Publisher: Continuum