Oxford’s Jim Dees chronicles job as reporter for the EAGLE

Published 11:00 am Thursday, October 13, 2016

Jim Dees has emerged in recent decades as one of Oxford’s most notable and identifiable personalities. Now, he has a new book coming out that may just elevate that status.

In The Statue and the Fury, Dees, host of the popular public radio program Thacker Mountain Radio, chronicles a tumultuous year in the life of our small Southern town, complete with down-home eccentrics, famous figures and explosive events – a year that Dees viewed through hazy eyes while a reporter at The Oxford EAGLE.

Meet Dees and get a signed copy of The Statue and the Fury on Tuesday, October 18, at 5 p.m. at Off Square Books on the Oxford Square.

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Dees tells of Oxford in 1997, when the city sought to erect a statue to honor the one hundredth birthday of native Nobel laureate, William Faulkner. After a magnolia tree at City Hall was cut down to make room for the sculpture, “all Faulkner broke loose.” Fiery city board meetings erupted, angry threats came from the feisty Faulkner family and civic tension ensued, leaving a bewildered artist, sculptor Bill Beckwith, caught in the middle.

Dees covered the city beat as a reporter for the EAGLE. At age 40, he was the newbie, a cub reporter at “the first job I’d ever had where I was older than my boss,” Dees says.

He brings the small town newsroom to life, including the vile coffee, deadline duress, cubicle psychosis and drudging daily obituary duty.

“My salvation was the country life out in Taylor, seven miles south of Oxford, pop. 323,” Dees writes in his new memoir. “I lived in an old house on a couple of acres with a cornfield, my girlfriend, two dogs and an outdoor basketball hoop. It was a little backwoods Eden.”

The year and the craziness raged on: the six-term Oxford mayor declined to run for re-election following the magnolia tree debacle and a first-ever female candidate stepped forward. Oxford became increasingly embroiled in a heated “trees versus development” dispute that saw nine citizens arrested for blocking bulldozers.

Meanwhile, Ole Miss pursued plans to discourage use of the Confederate flag, the song “Dixie” and the Colonel Rebel mascot, setting off protests, death threats and FBI visits.

Notorious rap group 2Live Crew showed up in town and induced nude chaos, as evidenced by several raunchy amateur videos shot during their “performance.” In his role as city reporter, Dees was asked by Oxford’s chief of police to watch one of the tapes and verify how salacious the show really was (the three promoters served three nights in jail). The result is hilarious and, as they say, “not safe for work.”

Dees’ humorous and insightful book includes interviews with civil rights pioneers James Meredith and Myrlie Evers; late authors Shelby Foote and Willie Morris; a foggy encounter with legendary singer, Willie Nelson and a sweaty face-off with the late James Brown, the Godfather of Soul. Henry Kissinger makes a cameo, as does O.J. lawyer, Johnnie Cochran. Sam Phillips, the visionary who discovered Elvis, descends on Oxford for an up-close rock and roll history lesson.