Southern Cultures 10.1 (2004) 52-55
[Access article in PDF]
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
Click for larger view
|Figure 1 |
"My mother used to call it GETTING ALL WROUGHT UP and viewed it as a kind of sickness, like the flu." Long's Apocalyptic Scene with Philosophers and Historical Figures, c. 1963, oil on board, from the Collection of the North Carolina Museum of Art. Purchased with funds from the William R. and Frances M. Roberson endowment for North Carolina Art.
Back when I was a very dramatic and religious girl, I often spoke at Christian youth groups and camp meetings. As my minister once said in introducing me, "This here is Lee Smith, and she just loves to testify!"
As if this weren't bad enough, I embarrassed my staid Methodist parents further by developing a fervent addiction to revivals when I was about seventeen. Not the nice little revivals we held in our stone Methodist Church in town, but tent revivals out in the county when the word of God-ah! was shouted out by hard-breathing, wild-eyed gospel stompers, and people hollered out and danced and spoke in tongues and threw their babies. I'd sneak off to these revivals with my school friends, and every time they issued that familiar altar call and that irresistible hymn started up—"Just As I A-am Without One Plea"—there I'd be, up [End Page 52]
Click for larger view
|Figure 2 |
"Certainly the Reverend Mr. Long is pulled equally between the voluptuous image of the 'woman in red' (and the other lewd, cavorting sinners depicted in these amazing paintings) and his own stark, uncompromising vision of an actual, terrible hell." Long's The Artist at His Easel with the Woman in Red, c. 1960-65, oil on cardboard mounted on stretcher, from the Collection of Bob Gibson. Courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of Art.
[End Page 53]
out of my seat before I even noticed I was moving, then rushing forward, in a pure-T frenzy to rededicate my life one more time. Frequently they'd immerse you on the spot—right there in the river or the little tent behind the big tent—and then I'd come home all dripping wet again—and then of course my mother would know exactly where I'd been.
Finally they told me they were taking my car away unless I promised to stop rededicating my life all over the county, as it had become so embarrassing for them.
So I stopped. I wanted those wheels.
But I will never forget the way I felt when I stood up and came forward, that heightened, exalted holy feeling that came over me. My mother used to call it GETTING ALL WROUGHT UP and viewed it as a kind of sickness, like the flu. (And need I say that she felt it was also unladylike?) I should mention that the excitement of the revival was compounded by the fact that we often had dates for the revival, since there wasn't anything else to do in that town, or anyplace else to go, and that oftentimes, your date would be holding your hand while you both got all wrought up together.
So there was a sexual thing going on there, too, of course.
In fact, my most serious high school boyfriend belonged to a church that had a "Let Your Little Light Shine" lightboard right up at the front—the minister was an electrician at his "day job"—and so whenever we went to my boyfriend's church, the first thing he always did was go forward and screw in his little lightbulb, which then lit up . . .
Okay. You can see where this is leading.
And you can see why I would relate to these paintings, having my own firsthand knowledge of how the sacred and the profane can get all mixed up together.
Certainly the Reverend Mr. Long is pulled equally between the voluptuous image of the "woman in red" (and the other lewd, cavorting sinners depicted in these amazing...