The year was 2004. Welcome to Mooseport tickled the funny bone of a grateful nation. A saucy Meg Ryan had us Against the Ropes while Owen Wilson tried to give us The Big Bounce. And everybody wanted to Win a Date with Tad Hamilton or get some Passion of the Christ. For those of a more melancholy bent, the moss-draped histrionics of A Love Song for Bobby Long provided a strange kind of succor. A boon for downtrodden romantics, the film served an underappreciated second purpose as a literal mother lode for anthropologists striving to codify the nuances of a dying Southern accent, meticulously preserved forever by stars Scarlett Johansson and John Travolta.
“Wah this heah is the mos’ delectable conepone I’ve ever wrapped muh lips aroun’,” said Travolta in the memorable “cornpone scene,” only to be scolded gently by a fan-flapping Johansson: “You put down that theah pone and git, ya heah me, you mangy ras’calliard? Herf yer doo dumfer, coo’bo!” And today those words mean more than ever.
Did you know that our regional accents are in danger? Some studies show that two out of three schoolchildren rely on seafood restaurant placemats or novelty books purchased at truck-stop checkout counters as their sole sources for practicing and refining their twangs. Would it surprise you to learn that American speech patterns have suffered a twelve percent decline in twanginess over the past two decades?
As head ghost writer of Colonel Manatee P. Julep’s Southern Guide to Southern Fried Drawlisms: An Encyclopedic Compendium of the Native Tongue fer Yankees ‘n’ other Fur’ners, I understand the value of the written word. No further evidence is needed than a few choice examples from the second edition, reprinted here by permission of U-Publish-It Industries:
hay (exclamation) – A greeting. Also sumpn hosses et. “Hay! That hoss is a-ettin own sum hay!”
hay-gull (n,) – A seagull that is so po’ly and far off course that it cain’t et fish and can only et hay. Also, a philosopher who wrote the Feenawminawledgee of the Spirit. “Hay! That haygull is readin Haygull!”
Logical Possumism (n.) 1 A way of ketchin possums devised by the Vienna School. A possum can be synthetically or analytically playing dead. If a possum is really dead, Waisman declared it “meaningless.” (see meanin’less)
2 When confronted by a enema, lay on the ground and play dead. Purdy soon yo’ enema will git tarred and go away. This is logical. It is also possumism.
Meanin’less (adjectival phrase) Yo’ ain’t meanin’ mo’, yo’s meanin’less
Those are all mine. But I’m not fooling myself. Today’s young people are searching for answers on the silver screen, and linguistic preservation calls for fresh new strategies. All my clever witticisms come to naught compared to the thrill of, “Hey! It’s Chili Palmer from the Get Shorty sequel Be Cool. And he is talking funny with the old lady from Scoop, written and directed by Woody Allen.” That’s right, they think Scarlett Johansson is an old lady. I am just telling you how it is. But the important thing is that my plan works. Pretty soon they will be all, “Hey, we should form a gang and wear beanies with ragged upturned crowns like Jughead used to wear and learn to talk funny the way our grandparents did in the ‘old-school’ days,” because that’s how they phrase things. (For now!)
Friends, you know me. I don’t usually ask you to dig down in your pockets. But without your support for my foundation I am just thinking of as I type this, there is a very real chance that A Love Song for Bobby Long will disappear into obscurity, much like the culture it celebrates. I myself had forgotten it completely until just this morning when I woke up on the living room floor, dressed as Richard Plantagenet for reasons I honestly find it difficult to recall, to find it already playing on one of the satellite channels.
“Every schoolchild needs to see this film!” I said to my cats. And then I went back to sleep.
In my dream, I was Bobby Long—significant? And I kept trying to fit a strand of cooked linguini into a keyhole.