Photo by Tommy Chung
Some southern towns make you feel like you’re in another time. When you’re in Mobile or Charleston with all the Spanish moss hanging from the live oaks, or New Orleans with all the ghetto voodoo vibes, you really feel like there’s something to that whole southern-gothic mystique.
Atlanta isn’t like that. Everything in Atlanta that wasn’t stuccoed together last year looks like it was probably built in the 70s and designed by the federal government. The metro area is crisscrossed by massive concrete freeways right out of The Terminator and populated by clustered suburbs that are as bland as any the USA has to offer. The projects have huge walls around them to keep the poor people caged and out of view. The traffic is hilariously bad. The “counterculture” neighborhood is home to a giant strip mall with a Target and a Bed Bath & Beyond. Every aspect of Atlanta is so tailored to cater to big business you could probably convince them to knock down MLK’s house if you could squeeze a CarMax in there. It’s like the entire city has a Sherman complex.
Don’t take this to mean there is not shit happening here. In the same way that the soul-crushing tedium of places like Southern California and suburban DC pushed hardcore into existence, all the sterile sap that permeates Atlanta makes carving out little pockets of real life an absolute necessity. This was certainly the situation when me and my friends decided to strike out from the suburbs in our teens. There was no problem with cultural overload like kids from more vibrant cities talk about experiencing. If anything, you had to work to build up a strong enough current to carry you away.
It has carried a lot of people away, too. I’ve watched for years as new life continually springs up. One shithole, BYOB space shuts down and another one takes its place. There will always be some dumb motherfucker who is willing to dump his money, liver, and sanity in the crapper purely for the sake of keeping Atlanta crunk.
And it makes perfect sense. If you were consigned to vacuuming carpets at Best Buy and living in a ghetto with a literal fucking barbed-wire fence around it, wouldn’t you do everything you could to create some scene where you and your pals felt cool and free and excited about living? Atlanta is a city of transplants. A lot of the people I know grew up in places like Covington or Dalton. Trust me, these are nightmare towns. These folks had to make something out of Atlanta. It was their only shot.
It’s the people like them that continue to make Atlanta worthwhile, even as generation after generation of complainers proclaims another set of “good old days” dead and gone. The shit that comes out of Atlanta is simple, easy to understand, and frequently really fucking good. There are no venerated cultural institutions drawing the youth there. Kids don’t move to Atlanta to go to art school or become actors or models. The kinds of kids that move to Atlanta are last-ditchers, real honest-to-God “do or die” types. A lot of them actually have died, but those that persist in doing are some of the best.