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Shooting Up a Confederate Barn on New Year's 1970

Photographer Scot Sothern looks back at some of the weirdest New Year's nights he's had.

by Scot Sothern
Jan 1 2015, 5:48pm

Photos courtesy of the author

It's the end of 1970 and a girl I know, Nancy, has invited me to a New Year's Eve party at her place. I figure I'll bring my friend and housemate Aldo along. If I get bored, I can always depend on Aldo for mayhem—he carries it everywhere he goes.

Nancy has a nice little two-room on the third floor of an old frat house and she's the only one there. It occurs to me there never was a party; Nancy wants to fuck and I've been too much of an idiot to notice. We smoke a joint and she has a little jar of Nembutals and we all take two. Nancy and I leave Aldo with the Nembutals, a 35-mm film can of pot, and a jug of wine, and we go to the bedroom. She has the Woodstock album on the stereo and for the rest of my life I'll connect Nancy with "I'm Going Home" by Ten Years After.

Five years later, I'm at a barn dance, though it's really a hanger-sized Quonset. I photograph a girl who looks like she's going to punch me, then I photograph a couple of girls laughing and having a good time. Everyone is young and drunk and next year will probably be worse than the one they are all kissing goodbye. I flirt with all the girls and no one objects. The boys are all shit-kickers, howling like a pack of dogs. I see a girl across the way and she's cute like a farmer's daughter and she's crying. I make my way to her but when I get there she's gone and I don't see her again.

Five years earlier, Nancy has fallen asleep from drink and drugs, but I'm still amped up and Aldo is pacing the living room telling me let's go do something stupid before we get sober. We take two more Nembutals each and I suggest we go burn down a barn. Aldo has a better idea: He knows of a farm close by with a super-sized Confederate flag on the back wall of the barn. Let's get his .38 Colt and my 12-gauge Browning and go murder the flag. Five minutes later we're in my 1963 Plymouth Valiant cruising Interstate 70 headed for the farmlands.

At the barn dance someone tells me there's a girl backstage freaking out on acid. I go backstage and take a picture of a girl with her head in her hands. She looks at me and blinks and talks to me like she's telling a long story. The band is doing a cover of "I Wanna Rock and Roll All Nite," and I can't hear anything the girl says. Back out on the dance floor, I photograph a couple locked into a drunken kiss. They have their eyes closed, and I can see them spinning through space and time.

Aldo directs me to a dirt road through the woods, and we're sliding around the curves and kicking up dust. Aldo's got his gun aimed out the window and he says "bang bang bang." The barn sits at the top of the next long hill. There are darkened houses at the bottom on both sides. I park us in tire tracks on the grass. We walk through the weeds, and barking dogs are about. The barn is gray and old. Aldo has a flashlight, and we go inside, and there it is in all its dumb glory—the Confederate flag.

The South is not going to rise again and I'm no fan of Dixie, but if it was an American flag up on the wall, I would do the same thing. My shotgun is an automatic with four shells, and in quick succession they go boom boom boom boom! Aldo's .38 goes bam bam bam bam bam bam! We're laughing like hyenas.

At the barn party five years later, a drunk in the bathroom is peeing in the sink. I take a step back and he tells me his girlfriend is seven weeks knocked up and they are getting married next week. He says he loves her enough that he would have married her anyway but he still kind of wishes she'd get an abortion. He tells me Happy New Year and I tell him I hope it all works out.

Everything goes quiet once the gunshots have faded. The dogs stop barking, the cicadas and crickets have nothing more to say. Aldo and I are panting from exertion. I get spooked by the sudden stillness and for no reason I say, "Fuck, shit. Let's get out of here, run!" Aldo's more paranoid than I and now he's spooked as well. His hair stands on end and he takes off running. I'm right behind Aldo when he steps in a hole and goes down. "Shit fuck, man," I tell him. "Get up, let's get out of here?"

Aldo is cursing and moaning and at times laughing. "It's broken. My fucking leg is broken." He still has the flashlight in his hand, and he puts the beam on his ankle. "No shit," I tell him. "Your ankle is broken. Fuck, shit, I'm gonna have to leave you here. I'll see you later, man." I'm joking but Aldo doesn't find it all that funny. I try dragging him to the car, but he's too heavy and screams when I grab his good leg and pull. Lights come on in a farmhouse. We finally get Aldo up on one foot and draped over me, and we get him in the car and we take off with the tires spinning, and when we make it to the interstate I roll down my window and howl like an ambulance.

Scot's first book, Lowlife, was released in 2011, and his memoir, Curb Service, is out now. You can find more information on his website.