Monday, January 12, 2015

Salvation on Sand Mountain – Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia By Dennis Covington

While this is not actually a music book, as the lead prophet in the Swamp Gospel, I am fascinated by the snake-handling, strychnine-drinking, talking-in-tongues religious folks and this book is a first-hand account of a man who became intimately involved in one such church (Church of Jesus Christ With Signs Following). And, of course, much of modern r'n'r came from similar, southern backgrounds.

Covington is a Southerner and a (very good) writer and his connection to this particular snake-handling church initiated when he decided to write a news story on the preacher’s attempted murder of his wife. The wife’s account of the crime shows the man to be vile and disgusting, violent and at least a little crazy. But, what else would you expect from a leader of a snake-handling cult?

Dennis is a religious man, and he had experiences with wild'n'sweaty preachers in his youth (but not the talking-in-tongues, strychnine-drinking, serpent-handling variety) and he grew up catching snakes of all varieties as pets, so his immersion in this culture is not quite as strange as if he were, say, a city-dwelling Catholic.

Still, the journey is an odd one, to say the least, and Covington becomes close with many handlers and, in fact, becomes one himself. In his epilogue he even says that he left out parts, such as his talking in tongues and strychnine drinking, which is a shame, as he describes many of his other experiences in great detail, though he felt that those events were more spiritual than evidential.

The writing is descriptive, the characters are fascinating and the story draws you in immediately, and, although he goes off on a couple of tangents that are not as compelling as the story itself, the book is strong all the way through. Well worth it as an intimate look into a world that many have no experience with in any way.