photography by Vicky Moon, Atlantic Cities
by David Lenson (The Massachusetts Review 36. 1 (Spring 1995): 43.)
IT IS SO MUCH A PART of the fabric of Western life that it has come an element of the landscape. In the density of cities or the isolation of dirt roads at the edge of town, the neon iconography of beer and spirits illuminates every corner of the American universe. Bar and lounge find their place in every architectural gesture, from corporate obelisks to side porches of bayou lean-tos to blocks of converted factories. On billboards above town and country, images of bottles and their venerable marks appear: Old Grand-Dad, Old Crow, Hiram Walker, Johnny Walker, Jim Beam, Jack Daniels. These are images of patriarchal comfort: the warmth and greeting of a tavern as a better home; the bottle opened in leisure after a laborious day; the jingle of ice or reassuring pop of a cork or metal cap. Wherever one goes in the West, alcohol is offered like the grasp of a hand—or in place of it. And yet beneath alcohol’s icons and institutions lie its familiar wastes: its broken glass, a body stretched out in the gutter, an angry shout in the street, the wreckage of cars, promises, families and dreams.
As alcohol affects every cell in the body, so it touches every moment of our history from Homer and Plato to the beery homecomings from a dry Iraqi war. Wherever the cultivation of grapes, hops or grain is known, the transmutation of those nutrients into that alternative diet has also been practiced. How deeply alcohol is woven into our history can be seen most clearly in those moments of the drug’s negation, when its afterimage proves as strong as its presence. In those times of its denial, alcohol merely vacates the surface of the landscape and crawls into the secretive holds of those same buildings and streets: the fluorescent church basement of an AA meeting; bootleggers building and tending stills in dry counties of the South; or the obsessive reassertion of the socially metamorphosed drug under Prohibition.