Note to Self: Don’t Die

VicAlong with writing books for University of Texas Press, I also serve as co-editor of the American Music Series, which published “Ryan Adams: Losering, A Story of Whiskeytown.” I would liken the co-editor gig to what a freelance A&R person does for a record label, in that I try to connect authors and subjects with UT Press to make books happen. Brainstorming ideas is the fun part of the process and it can yield up wonderful incongruities, like the book that Mekons/Waco Brothers mastermind/raconteur Jon Langford is currently writing about his fellow Welshman Tom Jones (and I for one cannot wait to see what Jon comes up with).

Once a book is under contract, getting it written, edited, approved and finally published can take an immense amount of work. Sometimes, however, my part of the process really could not be easier. That goes for an AMS title I’ve very excited about, “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt” by Kristin Hersh, a musician I’ve been listening to since her long-ago days leading the Throwing Muses. This is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius if ever there was one, which I don’t mean the least bit ironically because reading it left me awestruck. There was very little editing involved, and my input amounted to not much beyond adding my voice to all the in-house hosannas. “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die” is the best book of any sort that I’ve read in years, and I can’t wait for the rest of the world to read it, too.

UT Press will publish “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die” in October, at the same time as “Los Lobos: Dream in Blue” and the book I wrote with Ray Benson, the Asleep at the Wheel history “Comin’ Right at Ya.”

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Happy Memorial Day, from Whiskeytown

Ryan Adams grew up in a military-base town, so maybe that had something to do with why he wrote one of the best Memorial Day songs there is. So dig “Houses on the Hill,” as performed by Whiskeytown in 1998 on “Austin City Limits” — and on this day, remember the people you should…

Eisenhower sent him to war
He kept her picture in his pocket that was closest to his heart
And when he hit shore
Must have been a target for the gunman…

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Affordable art

RayPosterMy next book will be out this October, “Comin’ Right at Ya: How a Jewish Yankee Hippie Went Country, or, the Often Outrageous History of Asleep at the Wheel,” a memoir that the great Ray Benson enlisted me to co-write. The project was a ton of fun, and I came away with a pretty cool video souvenir from it — a brief appearance in the video to “Faded Love,” from the Wheel’s new Bob Wills tribute album. And now here’s something I can hang on the wall.

The cover, of course, is another winner by the incomparable Lindsay Starr, staff artist at University of Texas Press (and the person responsible for how great all our American Music Series titles look). As for the poster, it’s the handiwork of my News & Observer colleague/office-mate Tim Lee, who is an incredible visual artist when he’s not cranking out charts, maps and graphs for the N&O. I had Ray sign it when Asleep at the Wheel played in Durham last month.

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Think globally, read locally

ReadLocalDMSo if you’re not already lined out for this coming weekend, may I humbly suggest a really cool literary event — the Read Local Book Festival in Durham. Sporting a tagline of, “Shop local. Eat local. Read local,” it’s multi-media and also focused on writerly pursuits in the greater Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill vicinity. I’m honored to be among the participants.

Moderated by my colleague Grayson Currin, music editor of INDY Week (and a fellow who has been mentioned in this space before), the panel is titled “Writing About Music” and it happens at 5 p.m. Sunday at Durham Central Park, rain or shine. I’ll also be at the book-seller’s tent before and after, with copies of “Losering” will be for sale. Please come on out to heckle or just say hi.

There’s lots more to Read Local than just the music-writing panel. Check out the overall schedule here.

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DRA might not appreciate the company in this photo, posted by  fellow superfan Shelley Fulp Sanders to the Ryan Adams Superfan Facebook page — but I do.


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No Depression goes back to the future: print!

NDprintSo yeah, this fall marks 20 years since No Depression magazine started up as a real-world print publication (remember those?). As you can see from the picture below, various folks including Ryan Adams have been sending birthday greetings. And not only that, plans are in the works to expand No Depression beyond its current online incarnation by bringing it back as an actual print publication under the auspices of its current management, with the first issue scheduled to be out in September.

The revived print No Depression will do a lot of the long-form pieces that were a staple of the old magazine. But it won’t have advertising, so the editorial braintrust has turned to crowd-funding to get started. A Kickstarter campaign went live yesterday, and it’s already more than halfway to the $40,000 goal after one day. So get in on the ground floor, y’all. Check details here.


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Ryan Adams, Allen Ginsberg and the random interconnectedness of all things

GinsbergPostcardWhen I was interviewing Ryan Adams back during the Whiskeytown years, he often spoke of literary influences, especially the beat poets who had fired his imagination as a teenager (which is something he still mentions in interviews to this day). One time, I recall telling him that I had interviewed Allen Ginsberg at some length years earlier and that I still had it on-tape somewhere — to which Ryan responded that, dude, he had to come over and listen to that sometime.

Alas, that never happened; and I lost the tape long ago, in one of my household moves. But fast-forward to this past January, when I came into possession of an old box full of letters (ha) I’d received over the years. One item in it was the postcard above, which Ginsberg had written and sent in 1987. That was the year I interviewed him for a feature I wrote for the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper, which was my first job out of graduate school. Ginsberg used to be an annual summertime fixture around Boulder, where the “Howl” author would hold court with young aspiring poets around town when he wasn’t teaching at the Naropa Institute. I had dropped by his apartment with a tape recorder one evening and Ginsberg enjoyed our conversation enough to ask for a transcript. After I sent it to his New York address a few months later, this postcard was his thank-you note.

AGtranscriptI posted a picture of it on Facebook, noting that, “As posed-with-the-gods moments from one’s back pages go, not bad.” A few days later, I heard from a representative of the Allen Ginsberg Estate; having gotten wind of the postcard, he asked about the interview. And even though I no longer had the tape, I still have a printout of the interview transcript filed in the record jacket of my vinyl copy of Ginsberg’s 1989 album The Lion for Real. I dutifully scanned and sent that (page one, printed eons ago on my then-state-of-the-art dot matrix printer, is here on the right), and the first of two parts of the interview went online this week at The Allen Ginsberg Project blog. Part one is primarily about Ginsberg’s musical history, and you can see it here; part two should be up next week.

Call me a dork, but the thought that googling my name with “Allen Ginsberg” brings up something like this puts a smile on my face.

ADDENDUM (5/18/2015): Here’s part two.

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Ryan Adams: “Afraid of Ghosts”

ButchWalkerSo yeah, Ryan Adams’ self-imposed Old North State exile remains in effect, with no sign it will end anytime soon. But even if Ryan himself doesn’t come around here anymore, at least that doesn’t seem to keep any of his associates away. By the close of this coming weekend, in fact, two of his most recent production clients will have headlined shows here within the span of a week.

Following Jenny Lewis in Saxapahaw this past Monday, the next in line is onetime Marvelous 3 leader Butch Walker, who plays Durham’s Carolina Theatre on Sunday night. Ryan produced Walker’s lovely new album Afraid of Ghosts (Dangerbird Records), which (1) was released on a label run by Whiskeytown’s old manager, oddly enough; (2) is, like Lewis’ The Voyager and the most recent effort from Ethan Johns, yet another Ryan-produced record that I find vastly superior to last fall’s Ryan Adamsand (3) has kind an ironic title, given that something like a fear of old ghosts might well be what’s kept Ryan away for so long. The ghost has got me runnin’, indeed.

Anyway, a bit more verbiage about Walker from the paper can be found here.

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Google works in mysterious ways

My assumption is that the proximity of the words North and Carolina in the first sentence accounts for the awkwardly garbled “Goggle Alert” headline below, which was no doubt generated by an algorithm rather than written by a human. For just a second there, however, it had me wondering if Ryan Adams’ self-imposed North Carolina embargo was about to end.

But no, this is just a review of his show in Charleston last night. Which means, children, that Ryan’s Old North State Bypass lives on.

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Welcome to Bypass, North Carolina

NCUSAI heard from a fair number of people yesterday, all asking some variation of the same question: Do you think Ryan Adams will turn up at the Jenny Lewis show tonight?…

Aw, bless your hearts, you crazy naive kids.

And yet the question did have some apparent plausibility, all things considered. Lewis and Ryan are chums, he produced her 2014 album The Voyager and she accompanied him to the Grammys this past spring. More to the point, Lewis is the support act on the current leg of his tour, in which capacity she opened for Ryan Sunday night in Charlottesville and will do the same Tuesday night in Charleston. Yes, it’s hard not to notice that his tour routing seems designed to surround North Carolina without playing it, hitting every adjoining state except us with such deliberation that it has to be on purpose (and we’re coming up on the 10-year anniversary of the last time he played Raleigh).

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 10.08.16 AMAnyway, Ryan again bypassing the state that lies between Virginia and South Carolina left a hole in the tour schedule Monday night. So Lewis took the opportunity to play a headlining show of her own at the Haw River Ballroom, in the old mill town of Saxapahaw about an hour west of Raleigh. And if Ryan were to get a wild hair and decide to make an impulsive settle-up gesture with the Old North State, sort of like what he did with “Summer of ’69” at the Ryman last week, an unannounced cameo some distance away from his former downtown Raleigh stomping grounds seemed as likely as anything else.

So of course, it didn’t happen. Lewis played her show and it was quite fine, but Ryan did not appear. The only mention of him onstage was a story Lewis told at the end of her set about Ryan forcing her to write one more song for The Voyager — which he didn’t like, so she made it the album’s title track (ha!). Gotta say, I do like The Voyager a lot more than Ryan Adams, and hearing its songs live underscored that; especially “The New You,” which is still bouncing around my head a day later.

As for where Ryan was last night if not Saxapahaw, if his Twitter feed is to be believed, he was already in Charleston and seeking pinball machines:

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