Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Being A West Virginian And Other Cool Things

The PopCulteer
June 5, 2009

Montani Semper Cable (Mountaineers Always Have Cable)

I saw (most of) The Charleston Stage Company’s show “West Virginia:Words and Music” last week, and it was a great experience, one which left me thinking about my own relationship to the state where I have lived all my life.

My mini-review: “West Virginia: Words and Music” was a wonderful collection of songs and short sketches and monologues that celebrates the Mountain State and challenges the negative stereotypes with which our state seems unduly burdened. A terrific cast, notably Rebecca Kimmons, Joe Miller, Tara Phares-Pauley and Micah Atkinson, delivers short vignettes of West Virginia life that range from hilarious to deeply moving. The music, from Larry Groce, John Lilly, Jeff Ellis and Douglas Imbrogno, is a great sampling of the original songwriting that we have sprouting up all over our state.


For me, the high points of the show were the monologues “Evolving Elliot,” written by Jeremy Richter and delivered flawlessly by Micah, which presents a view of the state from an eight-year-old, and “Jackie Honaker” written by Denise Giardina and performed with flair by Tara, a coming-of-age tale from the point of view of the smart (unpopular) girl in high school. The best thing about these two pieces for me was that, while they definitely had strong elements of West Virginia pride in them, they touched on universal themes.

My criticism of the show, and it’s a minor one, is that the show seemed to reinforce almost as many West Virginia sterotypes as it tried to tear down. It’s true, we aren’t all inbred yahoos firing off guns in the air to celebrate a fresh batch of moonshine, but neither are we all noble family members of coal miners waiting by the door to see if daddy survived the latest mine collapse. Likewise, while the bit about two boys taking a cow to mate was funny, except for the references to local roads and rivers, it could have been set in any rural area about fifty years ago. You can’t leave out the rural references, of course, but we have vast expanses of middle-class suburbs in West Virginia, too.

I did have a beef with the way the show opened. The cast comes out and spends a long time (it felt like a week) “excorsing the demons” by telling anti-West Virginia jokes. The problem was that the jokes weren’t particularly funny, and they weren’t particularly West Virginian. Most of them were lifted directly from Jeff Foxworthy, with the word “redneck” replaced by “West Virginian.” Maybe it’s my taste in comedy–I laugh more during funerals than I do at Jeff Foxworthy–but I felt that this segment could have worked better if it had been cut down to three jokes. That I had to deliver one of those lame jokes as part of the audience participation bit didn’t make me like it any better.

But aside from those quibbles, I really enjoyed what I saw of the show. My concerns may have been addressed later in the second act. I had to leave early in the second act because we had a Radio Free Charleston taping scheduled to begin at 10 PM, but what I saw was a top-notch, classy theatrical experience. The drama was moving. The comedy very funny (after the opening bit). The music was great.

I wish I could have stayed for the entire show, although cutting out early meant that I didn’t get to hear our state song, “The West Virginia Hills.” I can live a long, happy life if I never have to hear that song again. As far as the show went, it was eminently enjoyable.

Most importantly, the show made me think. I’ve lived here in West Virginia my entire life. I am West Virginian. Yet, I don’t seem to fit into the common idea of what a West Virginian “is.”

I’ve never been in or near a coal mine, and I don’t know anyone whose immediate family works in one.

A hot dog with chili and slaw is not something I consider fit for human consumption.

I’ve never been white-water rafting, nor would I ever consider doing so.

If someone calls me a “redneck,” it doesn’t even register as an insult, since it’s such an absurd thing to call me. I don’t think I fit any of the criteria for being a “redneck.” “Redneck” and “West Virginian” are not mutually inclusive terms.

Ithink we have many beautiful natural wonders in our state, and I am perfectly content to experience them through the pages of “Wild Wondeful West Virginia Magazine.”

I’ve experienced enough Jesco White to last me a lifetime, thank you very much.

I have no use for the Dixie flag. It doesn’t represent any “heritage” to me. It’s simply the flag of the losing side in a war. To me it means racism and bad music.

Barbecue Pork? Two things I don’t eat.

I think that Hank Jr. is proof that talent skips a generation.

I did go to an elementary school where we were forced to square dance in gym class. Over the last couple of years I have finally stopped fantasizing about hunting those people down and killing them.

I’ve never been within a hundred yards of a cow that hadn’t already been turned into a hamburger or a leather jacket.

When I hear someone say that they’re “going to camp,” my first thought is that they’re going to dress up like Liza Minelli.

My idea of “roughing it” is having less than 200 cable channels.

The “old time” music that my parents raised me on was Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

My childhood memories of West Virginia involve going to Pepperland, the old head shop in The Arcade, downtown, in 1976 to buy underground comics by the likes of Robert Crumb, Harvey Pekar and Art Spiegleman.

I have never been hunting or fishing.

I’m not impressed by NASCAR. I’ve driven that fast through North Charleston, and that’s without the benefit of banked curves.

In high school, instead of AC/DC and Lynyrd Skynyrd, I was into DEVO and Kate Bush.

I understand that there are large portions of the state East of I 79 and South of I 64, but I couldn’t begin to tell you how to get to anything there.

I think The Mothman and The Flatwoods Monster are way more cool than John Henry and Jerry West.

I think there are many places you can go to get better biscuits than Tudor’s.

I love it when Marshall and WVU play football against each other because then I can go shopping while the stores are almost deserted.

Rather than be stuck out in the woods, surrounded by “nature,” I’d prefer to watch the sun come up over the Capitol Dome, then snake across Charleston, forming block-long shadows at the Clay Center, gleaming off The Huntington Bank Building, and when the humidity is just right, forming dozens of tiny rainbows around Laidley Tower.

I do not believe in the Death Penalty, except in the case of people who use cell phones in a theater.

I’ll take Ann Magnusun over Jennifer Garner any day of the week.

The thing is….I know dozens of people JUST LIKE ME! I guess one thing that let me down about “West Virginia: Words and Music” was that none of the pieces spoke directly to me, the middle-aged psuedo-hipster art geek who was an outcast in high school and has now discovered that the children of his classmates all like the same stuff he did thirty years ago. Seriously, there’s tons of us here. Who do you think is keeping that Hot Topic in the Town Center in business?

Maybe The Charleston Stage Company will consider doing “Words and Music” every year, with a new line-up of material.

And maybe I’d better submit something next time instead of just whining about not being included.

RADIO FREE CHARLESTON Update

Yes, we taped four acts for the show last week. We taped four acts the week before that, too. That means that in the coming weeks RFC viewers will get to see Whitechapel District, The Scrap Iron Pickers, OVADA, J. Marinelli, Slate Dump, Limbs and a couple of huge surprises for our third anniversary show, episode 75! Radio Free Charleston returns next week. In the meantime, check out what we have below.

The Drive To 75: Episode Five, “The Beatles Shirt”

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Above you see the fifth episode of Radio Free Charleston. This installment features music from my good friend, the late Kevin Duffer, and from The Appalachian Celtic Consort. You can read the original production notes here.

Each day in June, PopCult will bring back a classic episode of Radio Free Charleston. These are shows that got bumped off the Gazette servers, so many of them haven’t been seen for a year or more. This is all leading up to our big third anniversary show on July 1, our seventy-fifth episode. Be sure to check PopCult every day to see which classic RFC we post. Tomorrow we bring you a heavily-edited episode from early in 2007, along with a behind-the-scenes story about why some of the shows have been changed since their initial debut.

Cool Comic Of The Week

NEXUS by Mike Baron and Steve Rude is, quite simply, one of the coolest comic books ever published. I’ve been a fan since the first black-and-white magazine-sized issue was published in 1981. The book has gone through several publishers over nearly three decades, and is now being collected in an affordable series of black-and-white trade paperbacks from Steve Rude’s RudeDude Publishing. You can also pick these up in full color in hardback collections from Dark Horse.

The premise, per Wikipedia: The lead character, Horatio Valdemar Hellpop, received his powers as Nexus from an alien entity called the Merk. As payment, the Merk required Nexus to seek out and kill mass murders and tyrants. When the Merk selected a target, Nexus would receive strong headaches and maddeningly anguished dreams (which in extremely intense episodes can cause physical injuries to Hellpop’s body that to a degree emulate the violence in the vision) of his target’s victims until he did his duty. Horatio was reluctant to act as the Merk’s tool, but continued seeking out mass murderers to maintain his power and his sanity so that he could defend his homeworld, a lunar refuge of Ylum (a shortening of the word “asylum,” thus pronounced “eye-lum”).

In short, Nexus has really cool super-powers, but he has to go kill bad guys, or he gets really nasty headaches. There’s much more to the story than that, with lots of deep comic-book philosophy and a stockpile of well-rounded supporting characters. I could go on, but just follow the links and check it out for yourself. It’s really cool, with great writing and incredible art.

That’s all folks.

Remember, every day in June, we’re posting a classic episode of Radio Free Charleston right here in PopCult. Tomorrow we’re spilling the beans about the shows that we’ve had to edit. In addition to all the video, check back next week for Monday Morning Art and production notes for our newest episode of RFC, number 72. The weekend picks will return next week. This weekend is mainly about Symphony Sunday, where you can hear RFC Big Shot Melanie Larch singing with The Neophonic Orchestra around 3:15 in the afternoon. Also, The Drunken Gentlemen and The Rabble Rousers are at The Empty Glass Friday night.

3 Comments

  1. Steve Beckner

    Rudy, you’re just an urban West Virginian thru and thru. I was very much like you during High School and college, but eventually I had to come to terms with the fact that I came from the sticks, my Dad played bluegrass, and that all country music doesn’t suck. And I do eat slaw on my hot dog, but it was an acquired taste for me.

  2. alarmist ent.

    It seems like most of the people who fall all over themselves to combat or “exorcise” these stereotypes are NOT FROM WEST VIRGINIA in the first place.
    It’s something we’ve noticed — “Hey I’m not an inbred coal miner! And I don’t eat road kill; I’m from (fill in the blank)”
    People from around here who’ve lived here and had “the richness of the experience” of it already know all this; it’s a waste of time to try to tell people things they already know.
    And we love Denise Giardina; just caught her in the big WV documentary WVPBS has been running hte past few days.
    That’s what you need to do, Rudy, start selling $80 coffee mugs!

  3. Elvis Capone

    I’m from West Virginia and I also ain’t “country” at awl. In fact, I’m made of big city titanium and I build hell-monsters out of dragon placenta in my trailer. I mean condo.

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