Whether you have just moved to Randolph County or are using one of the seven public
libraries for the first time, we welcome you to your library. We are here to provide the very
best library service possible. Your comments and suggestions are welcomed by any
The night they drove old Dixie to the library
When I was growing up in Asheboro in the 1970s, radio station WGWR
always played in the mornings while I got ready for school.
It seemed the local station had about three songs in heavy rotation: Tanya
Tucker’s “Delta Dawn,” The Carpenters’ “Top the World” and Joan Baez’s version of
“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
The latter, a haunting ballad about a man’s reflections on the collapse of the
Confederacy within the narrow scope of his own world, made a deep impression on me.
As a second– or third-grader, I knew about the Civil War, but this take on it was
not the mythic Lee versus Grant or the big battle at Fort Fisher. The Danville reference
seemed close to home; the brother killed in action (“just 18, proud and brave”) echoed
the nightly news from Vietnam; and all the bells ringing and people singing seemed in
stark contrast to being hungry and barely alive, or the mud beneath your feet.
Later on I learned that Baez, of course, was covering the original song by The Band.
And I discovered that Band drummer/vocalist Levon Helm, an Arkansan in a group
otherwise populated by Canadians, said that he took songwriter Robbie Robertson to
the public library to research the history of the period and nail down the details that
give the song its striking authenticity.
Over Thanksgiving I watched The Godfather Legacy, a television documentary
about the making of the famed movie franchise. At one point, director Francis
Ford Coppola noted that Mario Puzo’s novel, although a work of fiction,
synthesized real people and events.
So, Coppola said, he visited the public library and checked out four books about
the history of the Mafia to help separate fact from fiction as he helmed the filming.
Some years ago, I attended a panel discussion at Winston-Salem’s Bookmarks
Book Festival featuring North Carolina’s most celebrated writers, including Fred
Chappell, Robert Morgan and John Ehle. During the Q&A, an audience member
gushed to Ehle about the author’s deep understanding of life in the Appalachian
Mountains, and how a wealth of family stories must have informed his writing.
Ehle harrumphed and said, “I don’t know about family stories. I just went to the
library and read a couple of books.”
Coppola’s Godfather films are among the greatest movies ever made. Ehle’s
novels are seminal works about life in Appalachia.
“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is one of the most important songs by one of
America’s most influential musicalgroups,and it still sings to us today.
Though these are diverse works of art, they have in common — and owe some of
their richness to — their creators’ access to public libraries.
Interested in learning more about Levon Helm?
Check out filmmaker and Randolph County native
Jacob Hatley’s documentary Ain’t In It for My Health,
available at the library, http://tinyurl.com/rcplhelm