In the first of hopefully many “Fire on the Mountain” columns to come, Beaten Back to Pure/Birds of Prey frontman and spoken word artist Ben Hogg chronicles living in Georgia as a child and a few of the various calamities that helped shape him as a person. Please enjoy.
FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN
Ben Hogg here. At my man JJ‘s request, I’m gonna effort to give you a glimpse into whatever it is that y’all might not have seen or been a part of down here in the dirty dirty as I was coming up. I’ve been living outside of the Smokey Mountains for about 20 years now, so I figure I can reflect with a bit of outsider perspective and perhaps share with you what I can now pretty clearly see in the rearview as having been fucked up at the time. Everything from the Klan, bomb threats, incest, cockfighting, Charley Pride, eating rabbits and all the rest that may have shaped me into the happy-go-lucky dude I am today.
My mom and I formed a tight little duo after she divorced my pops, and we had bounced from Birmingham to St. Petersburg to South Georgia and finally to the northernmost, snake-infested part of Georgia in a tiny town called Blairsville. She had put together $4,000 and gotten us a septic tank, a half-acre of land, and a dilapidated trailer to set onto it. She worked like hell to make our aluminum hovel inhabitable. We had found it in a field being overgrown with kudzu and mildew and damned if it didn’t leak like a sieve, but a little pioneer spirit and a couple of belongings made this my first permanent home. I remember some of the country ass dudes she was dating at the time and them becoming some of my earliest childhood recollections. There was a motorcycle mechanic, a chainsaw repairman and a dude who lived in a goddamn teepee. She was rebound dating with the anchor of my dumb little ass hanging around her neck. God knows how she stumbled upon a good man like my stepdad, Bill, but that’s getting a little bit ahead of myself.
It was 1976-77 and we had found Blairsville (usually pronounced “Blars-vull”) because of family who had moved there a few years back. My mother and the matriarch of the Greene household had been girlhood friends and cousins. By default, I ended up spending a ton of time over at their house that was only about three miles from where we had settled. One of the kids was my age and he had three older brothers who saw it as their job to “toughen us up.” In retrospect I fully appreciate their efforts although that appreciation was probably lost on me at the time. At one point my mother had the horrific idea to make me take ballet lessons to improve my dexterity, but the Greene family (Uncle Tom, Aunt (actually my cousin) Mary, Brian, Chris, David and Sean) all let her know, in unison, that it was a terrible idea.
In its place I played baseball and football and that sorted out any footwork issues I may have had. On their property Uncle Tom owned and operated Big Red’s Dog Kennel — named so because Tom was a large, ginger man — where he and the older boys trained bomb dogs, dope dogs, corpse dogs and all that sort of shit. It was loud and it smelled bad, so I never spent a lot of time inside the place but I do recall one of the dogs coming from the pen and becoming a family pet for some reason. It had either been abandoned or deemed untrainable, I figure. Keep in mind I was only five years old, so my details are a little sketchy. I remember this newly-made inside dog as having been a greyhound, but my mother has corrected me several times over the years that it wasn’t. I don’t remember what the hell breed she said it was. At some point my mom had attempted to pet the dog only to lose her nose for her trouble.
Apparently the fucking thing had leapt up and bit her on the face and that was all she wrote for her birth nose. I strolled into the house moments later to the calamitous scene around the bathroom where my mom was pouring blood from her face into the sink. I tripped out, obviously, but she kept her shit together in an effort to cool my frantic ass down. I guess it worked, because I’m not currently crying. The next sound I heard is seared into my memory as Tom, a generally severe dude, transformed himself into that dog’s judge, jury and executioner. He had dragged the dog outside and let off a couple of loud, ringing shots from his snub-nosed shotgun bringing the house pet’s face-biting days to an abrupt end. Fuck that dog. Mom had to get a lot of plastic surgery.
It was the late ‘70s and the highpoint of my life was Saturday morning cartoons. I only got two channels: two and 11. Most people hearken back on the era of the three networks, but due to the tall ass mountains around us channel five was obscured from my view. It was a point of great consternation for me because I couldn’t watch The Incredible Hulk or Dukes of Hazzard unless we went to my cousins’ house on Friday nights. It all evened out when I was spending the night with my cousins one weekend and that big red wooden house burned down to the ground around us.
We escaped with only a few minor burns between us. It was hugely traumatic for the family and now we were all shit out of luck trying to see CBS’ dope-ass Friday night lineup. At the expense of a litter of kittens’ lives, unfortunately. The following day I remember sifting through the smoldering rubble (only the chimney had survived) and finding my 6″ rubber King Kong doll on the ground only having suffered a melted foot. It’s funny how fire works. I had also had both Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew hand puppets with me that night. The faces of the dolls had been caricatures of the impeached pair and would probably be worth some decent coin on the market these days, but they weren’t as lucky as Kong. I lost a little bit of stuff, but my cousins lost it all. It was a very somber ride back to my mother and I’s trailer on Track Rock Road that night with everyone being given whatever couch space or floor space we had available. It was pretty fucking heavy.
Alright, I’ve hit my word limit [please note: there's no word limit -- ed.] and I will be back in a few days/weeks/whatever (I’m on Double J‘s schedule). Hope y’all are into it and will stick around. Them mountains be creepin’. Hit me up on Facebook if you want. Just tell me you seen me on The Obelisk and I’ll let you in. Also keep an eye out for my podcast, The Unhappy Hour with Ben Hogg as soon as I can figure out how to do that. Till next time brothers and sisters, love each other.
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