Books/songs/movies that skewer small towns
February 12, 2009 6:54 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone recommend any books, films, or songs about the general crappiness of living in a small town?

Small town can be anything ranging from tiny village in the middle of nowhere to mediocre small city where there is absolutely nothing to do. I'm slightly more interested in books about this subject, but some good films or songs would be wonderful. If possible, I'd prefer something maliciously funny, not an exercise in sentimentality that slaps its knee and says "Aw shucks, ain't small town folk full of adorable foibles? Now let's get back to the story: Will Billy ask Betty Sue to the Harvest-time Pumpkin' Ball?"

Also, I was a huge fan of "Main Street" by Sinclair Lewis growing up, so no need to suggest that.
posted by Lemon of Byzantium to Media & Arts (41 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 


"My Little Town" - Simon & Garfunkel
"Allentown" - Billy Joel
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:00 PM on February 12, 2009


Well, it sure won't be funny, but anything by Margaret Laurence will fit the mediocre small town life criteria.
posted by mizike at 7:03 PM on February 12, 2009


"Look at the Wind Blow" by Ellis Paul would fit. And his "All Things Being the Same" might, too, although it's a little more ambivalent.
posted by craichead at 7:11 PM on February 12, 2009


Kinks - Shangri La though that's more about the burbs
posted by dydecker at 7:11 PM on February 12, 2009


Peyton Place

Empire Falls
posted by jgirl at 7:13 PM on February 12, 2009


The Last Picture Show
posted by Zebtron at 7:17 PM on February 12, 2009


Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson, and Spoon River Anthology, by Edgar Lee Masters, come to mind. Dark humor. Masters also wrote a sequel called The New Spoon River, but despite it sitting on my bookshelf, I haven't read it yet.
posted by obliquicity at 7:23 PM on February 12, 2009


Shit Towne by Live
posted by shannonm at 7:40 PM on February 12, 2009


Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman.
posted by Alex Voyd at 7:44 PM on February 12, 2009


"One Horse Town" by the Thrills

Finding H.F. by Julia Watts (an LGBTQ YA novel but SO GOOD).
posted by SputnikSweetheart at 7:45 PM on February 12, 2009


Someday by Steve Earle
posted by arcanecrowbar at 7:52 PM on February 12, 2009


Big Black, Kerosene.

I was born in this town / live here my whole life / probably come to die in this town / live here my whole life / never anything to do in this town / live here my whole life / never anything to do in this town / probably learn to die in this town / live here my whole life
nothing to do / sit around at home / stare at the walls / stare at each other / and wait till we die.

posted by googly at 7:58 PM on February 12, 2009


If you want maliciously funny, I recommended: Tom Lehrer, "My Home Town".
posted by tepidmonkey at 8:06 PM on February 12, 2009


How about "Life in a Northern Town" by Dream Academy
posted by vincele at 8:15 PM on February 12, 2009


-A song from the smalltown rich kid whose parents gave them everything except an appreciation of responsibility: John Vanderslice - They Won't Let Me Run

-A song telling stuck-up metropolis-dwellers that living in a town where you can breathe the air isn't all bad: Atmosphere - Shh...

-A movie about smalltown people who are anything but privileged: Gummo

-A movie about smalltown kids running from their problems to the poorly-chosen mecca that was Kurt Cobain's vigil in Seattle: Highway


All of these can be taken in a maliciously funny way if you're from a small town and a hardcore cynic.
posted by ashabanapal at 8:23 PM on February 12, 2009


Seconding Empire Falls as well as all of Russo's other books which all share the drudgery of small town life as a theme.
posted by ewiar at 8:42 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Aimee Mann -- Ghost World.

Finals blew, I barely knew
my graduation speech
and with college out of reach
if I can't find a job I'm left
with Dad and Myrtle Beach
So, I'm bailing this town--or
tearing it down--or
probably more like hanging around
Everyone I know is acting weird
or way too cool
they hang out by the pool
so I just read a lot and ride my
bike around the school
[ Find more Lyrics at www.mp3lyrics.org/lxQ ]
Yeah, I'm bailing this town--or
tearing it down--or
probably more like hanging around
And all that I need now
is someone with the brains and the know-how
to tell me what I want..
anyhow
12th of June, a gibbous moon
is this the longest day?
I walked down to the bay
and jumped off of the dock
and watched the summer
waste away
Yeah, I'm bailing this town--or
tearing it down--or
probably more like hanging around
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:54 PM on February 12, 2009


Then you might enjoy Madame Bovary although Emma Bovary is more overtly tragic than Carol Milford.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 9:21 PM on February 12, 2009


Small Town

Words and music: Lou Reed & John Cale

When you're growing up in a small town
When you're growing up in a small town
When you're growing up in a small town
You say no one famous ever came from here
When you're growing up in a small town
and you're having a nervous breakdown
and you think that you'll never escape it
Yourself or the place that you live
Where did Picasso come from
There's no Michelangelo coming from Pittsburgh
If art is the tip of the iceberg
I'm the part sinking below

When you're growing up in a small town
Bad skin, bad eyes - gay and fatty
People look at you funny
When you're in a small town
My father worked in construction
It's not something for which I'm suited
Oh - what is something for which you are suited?
Getting out of here

I hate being odd in a small town
If they stare let them stare in New York City
as this pink eyed painting albino
How far can my fantasy go?
I'm no Dali coming from Pittsburgh
No adorable lisping Capote
My hero - Oh do you think I could meet him?
I'd camp out at his front door
There is only one good thing about small town
There is only one good use for a small town
There is only one good thing about small town
You know that you want to get out

When you're growing up in a small town
You know you'll grow down in a small town
There is only one good use for a small town
You hate it and you'll know you have to leave
posted by klangklangston at 9:25 PM on February 12, 2009


Small Town by Lou Reed and John Cale.
posted by minkll at 9:26 PM on February 12, 2009


A lot of Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon stories and books seem on the surface to be full of that "aw-shucks, ain't we better than the city-slickers" mindset and sentimentality the OP mentioned, but that's just the vehicle for exposing the small-mindedness and resistance to change that pervades these communities.
posted by webhund at 10:02 PM on February 12, 2009


Seconding The Last Picture Show
posted by TrialByMedia at 10:12 PM on February 12, 2009


That Aimee Mann song, "Ghost World" is written for a movie of the same name and more or less same topic. Said movie is based on a graphic novel of the same title and more or less same topic. Sadly that topic isn't small towns as much as is about youth with no real direction. I think the movie takes place in the suburbs of LA. It is a black comedy though.

I think that there is a handful of Steve Earle, Drive By Truckers, and Uncle Tupelo songs that take place in shitty small towns, but aren't exactly about the town. However if you take the albums as a whole, they kinda are about the town.

Steve Fromholz wrote a set of songs known as the Texas trilogy. Lyle Lovett put all three on his cover album "Step Inside This House". The first of these songs. Song one, fits the criteria, two not so much, three does but not so bluntly.
posted by magikker at 10:28 PM on February 12, 2009


Ooh, "Fucking Åmål"! (Åmål's the name of the town.) Bowdlerized into english as "Show me Love". A lot of it feels very true-to-life in a way that few movies are. It's about a queer girl and her crush.
posted by alexei at 11:24 PM on February 12, 2009


Dogville (film)
posted by kinakomochi at 12:40 AM on February 13, 2009


Wicked Little Town from Hedwig and The Angry Inch.
posted by Dalton at 1:26 AM on February 13, 2009


The Motel Life and Northline by Willy Vlautin. If you can get ahold of the 1st edition of Northline it comes with a sountrack CD of alt country by Vlautin to listen while you read.
posted by fire&wings at 2:40 AM on February 13, 2009


The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper. It's about an author coming back to his hometown after he's written a best-seller which features thinly-disguised versions of the townspeople. The book goes back and forth between his youth and the present time.
posted by essexjan at 2:40 AM on February 13, 2009


"Harper Valley P.T.A.," of course.
posted by easilyamused at 3:13 AM on February 13, 2009


...I'll add a link to Ebert's review, which explains much better than I could the link to your question.
posted by alexei at 3:48 AM on February 13, 2009


Jim Thompson's novels are dark and gritty murder/crime mysteries, but almost universally take place in a small town. Written in the 50's/60's, so that time period is reflected in them. Try "The Killer Inside Me" or "Pop. 1280".
posted by poppo at 4:23 AM on February 13, 2009


Bruce Springsteen's My Hometown is pretty good.
posted by PsuDab93 at 5:56 AM on February 13, 2009


Seconding Winesburg, Ohio.
posted by thewestinggame at 6:16 AM on February 13, 2009


I always thought All The Right Moves was unusually successful in conveying the urgency of Getting Out.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:39 AM on February 13, 2009


You absolutely have to read Ghost World, the comic book. It's about two bored, cynical teenage girls in dreary Nowheresville, USA, and it's splendid. One of the reviews on the back cover (I forget whom) described it as "this generation's Catcher in the Rye". That's pretty accurate, though Ghost World is decidedly less maudlin.
posted by Hermione Dies at 7:52 AM on February 13, 2009


Midnight Girl, Sunset Town - Sweethearts of the Rodeo
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:53 AM on February 13, 2009


A couple of David Gordon Green films match your request:

George Washington and All the Real Girls
posted by The Gooch at 8:27 AM on February 13, 2009


nthing Richard Russo. My favorite author. Nobody's Fool is where I got my metafilter username.
posted by sully75 at 9:37 AM on February 13, 2009


Yeah, Russo is the Dickens of our generation. The town is always a major character in his books. I also just read Edisto by Padget Powell and that might qualify.
posted by Toekneesan at 9:47 AM on February 13, 2009


Hey,

Although I've come across some of this before, these are all great suggestions. I hadn't the Lou Reed/John Cale song before -- so funny and so good.

Thanks.
posted by Lemon of Byzantium at 10:13 AM on February 13, 2009


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