Today in F&AB #46:
Heads up! We’re getting all sentimental with old photographs!
It’s time to rock again
Finally, someone brings Elf on the Shelf to justice
I would not be a good time traveler. If I suddenly found myself in the past, I’d immediately ditch my mission — to steal the Mona Lisa or buy Bitcoin for a nickel or punch baby Hitler in the face or whatever — and I’d go immerse myself in the culture of days gone by. I’d drive old cars, I’d check out concerts by long-dead musicians, I’d go visit that long-gone Chinese food restaurant on Highland Avenue in Memphis that made the best subs I’ve ever eaten.
And I’d take pictures. So, so many pictures. History books would have me in the background of that soldier kissing the lady on V-J Day or on the grassy knoll or a few yards away from MLK on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial; I’d be the guy in grainy old photos that Reddit conspiracy theorists would circle and say, “Is this someone holding up an iPhone?” Yes, yes it is.
Because here’s the thing about pictures from the past: there’s a finite number of them. You can try to re-create the past all you want, in your memories or on TV shows and movies, and it’ll never be the same as a snapshot of a moment, in the moment. All we have is all we’ll ever have.
Or is it?
Not long ago, I was cleaning out my office and found an old plastic Target bag full of disposable cameras. I knew what they were — relics of a pre-smartphone era, trinkets we’d give the kids to take on vacations and school trips in lieu of handing over, you know, our real cameras. We never got around to developing them, and so there they sat, waiting to be discovered.
Finding a place to develop them was a challenge in itself, this wasn’t the sort of thing I wanted to trust to a drugstore or Wal-Mart. I tracked down an artisanal photo shop, and after a week — and developing fees that were much more than the original cameras cost — I got emailed a link to a Dropbox file … you know, just like Matthew Brady used to do while photographing the Civil War.
I regret to inform you that there were no crimes revealed in the developed photos, no secrets uncovered. Mostly, they were photos my kids took while on school vacations to Busch Gardens or Sea World or at summer camp in North Georgia:
Ansel Adams has nothing to fear from my kids. Often, I found I’d paid a lot of money for shots of feet or teeth or random walls or whatever beach mess this is:
Oh, and there were fingers. So, so, so many fingers:
Now, there were a few winners. Some shots, apparently taken by an adult with actual fine motor control and visual perspective, perfectly captured my kids in their elementary and middle school days, mouths open, eyes wide, arms around their friends’ necks like they were hanging from the side of a cliff.
And some of the pictures have an ethereal beauty to them, like that one all the way up top, a shot of a windswept dune on the Florida panhandle. That was taken by one of my kids sometime in the early 2010s, but it feels timeless.
Then I opened up the final file, labeled BUSBEE060317 … and I lost it.
Somehow a roll of film — real film, not a disposable camera — had sat, undeveloped, in my office for 20 years. And when I opened that file and looked at those photos from 2002, it was like stepping into that time machine. Here was my daughter, a toddler barely able to walk, toddling around a Christmas tree and outside in what passes for snow in Atlanta. Here was my dog Jake, gone well over a decade now, still bright-eyed and eager, nuzzling his face into a pile of presents and wondering who this new little human is that’s soaking up so much attention.
Looking at these photos, I was back in those moments, living for a brief minute in those days once again. I remember the weight of my daughter on my arm and the pull of Jake’s leash in my hand — sometimes both at once, which I would not recommend doing.
And I remember how tough it all felt at the time, and how I never thought the sleepless nights and the young-family-starting-out fears would end … and then they did, faster than I would have ever imagined. I miss those days, and getting an unexpected look into the past was a gift.
As I clicked through the photos, I kept hoping that 2002 Jay would have had the foresight to take pictures of everything — the cars, the girl’s little outfits, all of it. All too quickly, I got to the final photo in the roll, and, well …
Ugh. Learn to use a camera, idiot.
Here’s the wrap-up: take more pictures. Always. The moments we live through now, we’ll want to see again one day. This is the past we’re going to long for in the future. Capture it, hold it, live in it now and revisit it in the years to come.
Just please don’t put all of it on Instagram.
Let there be rock
Last week I lucked into a last-minute ticket to see the Drive-By Truckers, one of the finest American rock bands of the 21st century, and it was a revelation. The band wheels into every single concert with no real plan, no set list, just a determination to wing it till they feel like stopping 30 or so songs later.
The show at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse was equal parts drunken celebration, musical cuttin’-heads duel, tent revival and family reunion. (You can check it out here.) After the past 20 months, I’ve fallen back in love with live music — I’ve seen four concerts already, with more on the way — and life-affirming nights like Nov. 12 at the Variety Playhouse are why.
I’ll do a deep dive on the Truckers one of these days, but I’ll have to work hard to do anything close to the level of Stephen Deusner’s “Where the Devil Don’t Stay,” a brilliant travelogue/biography/meditation on what it means to be a Southern rock band in an era when all three of those words are slipping loose from their longtime meanings. It might be the best book I’ve read this year, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Click below to go to the ol’ F&AB Bookstore and grab a copy:
If you’re not hip to the Truckers — who fully admit their name is awful and should’ve been changed a long time ago, before they got big — do yourself a real favor. Pour some brown liquor, put on some good headphones and cue up The Dirty South or Decoration Day or Southern Rock Opera. You’ll get pulled into a world of small-town crime and wide-open highways, first loves and heartbreaks, long dark lonely nights and hopeful sunrises, all with a driving beat and church-choir guitar solos.
I’ve dropped “Where the Devil Don’t Stay” — the song that inspired the book’s title —on the ongoing F&AB playlist; start there and keep rolling on.
F&AB Hero of the Week: The anti-Elf on the Shelf judge
Like most parents, we welcomed the Elf on the Shelf into our home when our kids were little. And like most people who’ve ever logged onto social media, we quickly regretted it even as we couldn’t escape its relentless, dead-eyed smile.
Our Elf is named “Bart” — I can’t remember why, short for “Bartosaurus Rex” or something like that — and Bart, like many elves, is a raging, destructive, violence-prone alcoholic who, often as not, ends up with his head slammed in a drawer or stuffed into the globe of a hanging light or passed out with a gargantuan carving knife clutched in his emaciated, gristly arms. Suicidal or homicidal or both, who’s to say?
So I was happy to see Cobb County Superior Court Judge Rob Leonard strike a blow on behalf of parents everywhere by banishing elves from Cobb County. I’m not normally a fan of sweeping judicial crackdowns on specific ethnic groups, but I’m willing to bend my principles in this case:
One year, in a fit of holiday productivity, I set a nightly alarm to remember to move the goddamn elf. Which would have worked fine except 1. I actually labeled the reminder “Move Elf on the Shelf” and 2. my son was staying up late one Friday night during a holiday party playing on my iPad when, to his horror, the notification popped up right in front of him. That took some explaining.
So in conclusion, screw that Elf. Thank you, Judge Leonard, for doing the Lord’s work.
That’ll do it for this week. Thanks for hanging, my friend, and we’ll see you back here soon.
This has been issue #46 of Flashlight & A Biscuit. Check out all the past issues right here. Feel free to email me with your thoughts, tips and advice. And if you dug this, share it with your friends. Invite others to the party, everybody’s welcome.