I love the South, in the way that you can love somewhere you’re not from, with an affection unsullied by the anger of disappointment. Wherever you grow up will inevitably let you down, like a parent, but somewhere new is a clean slate and can be appreciated for what it is and not, yet, for what it isn’t.
I came to the Delta unexpectedly twice. The first time was to give a speech at Ole Miss during Journalism Week in 2009, and I was mesmerized by Oxford, the way one is by the enchantment and lightness of a beautiful woman. Three and a half decades earlier I had been that rare American teenager who, while failing every class in high school, voraciously and voluntarily read Faulkner, so Oxford had always been Shangri-La to me, a pilgrimage inexplicably never made. Now that we were here, my girlfriend and I stayed a few extra days and we were smitten by the town and the Delta, ethereal and rough carved lands that thrilled me and imprinted themselves on my soul.
As a result of sticking around, I became friends with the publisher of this magazine, who introduced me to juke joints like Po’ Monkey’s, twinkling like stars off untrafficked, darkness-shrouded highways (and who once took me to dinner with Morgan Freeman, and in the same night to his high school reunion and a redneck barbecue). And I was invited to teach at the University. At first I didn’t think I would be able to since I was very busy being, er, I suppose, busy, in New York. But in the summer of 2010, having failed to buy back one of my former companies—a supreme blessing it turned out—I happily accepted and, having never gone to college, and never thinking that in a million years anyone would ask me to come, drove the 1,400 or so miles back to Oxford.
I wound up spending a year there. Originally I was enlisted to teach a semester on magazines with Samir Husni. We were a wonderful odd couple, two of the last impassioned apostles for print in a Tsunami-changed media world, who agreed on most things, but not everything, and no doubt confused our students more than enlightened them, but I think, on aggregate, did them some good. I loved teaching and became enamored with Oxford and Mississippi, the rhythm and pace of life, slow but not boring, humane and relaxed, not anxious, more happy than the pollution of discontentment that I’d simply become used to in New York. I loved the campus, which has its own graceful patterns and is the closest thing in this country to Hogwarts. I started dropping hints around the school (and town, because it’s a small town, where if you sneeze on Tuesday someone you run into on Thursday says “Bless you!” because they’d heard you’d sneezed a couple of days before), that I wouldn’t mind continuing. I did everything short of taking out billboards on the Square. Eventually the infinitely patient and masterful Dean of the Journalism School, Will Norton, gave me another semester.
I miss Oxford. I miss the white courthouse in the Square, both stone monument and silent heart. I miss the slow traffic, slow not because no one is in a hurry but because everyone recognizes that everyone is in about the same hurry. I miss my friends and I love that they miss me. I miss driving home to Taylor, the rural town next to Oxford where I lived from January to August, alone in a plantation-style house on acres of beautiful land, and at night sat on the porch, with or without friends, listening to the cacophony of frogs and crickets and mournful coyotes. I miss the afternoon winter sky pink from the descended sun.
Bob Guccione, Jr. lives in Pennsylvania and has international name recognition in the media industry. In 1985, he founded SPIN, the enormously successful music magazine. In fall 2010 and spring 2011 Bob was a visiting professor of journalism at Ole Miss.