Nothing like co-writing a book about somebody to make you hyper-aware of their presence, noticing them everywhere you go. For example, I’ve been spending today in Bristol, Va., at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum — a truly wonderful place dedicated to Ralph Peer’s legendary 1927 “Bristol Sessions” that launched the country-music industry as we know it today.
I’d highly recommend the museum, which is one of the best music-related facilities I’ve ever visited. And sure enough, one of the museum’s many very fine videos features a couple of snippets of Ray Benson, my “Comin’ Right at Ya” subject and co-writer, talking about Jimmie Rodgers’ far-flung influence as The Father of Country Music. Couldn’t resist snapping a memento of that.
If you’ve read “Losering,” you know that I loved Whiskeytown and wanted the rest of the world to love them, too. Despite making some incredible music, however, they just never broke through commercially. By now, a decade and a half after breaking up, Whiskeytown is little more than an obscure footnote to Ryan Adams’ solo career, unjust though that seems.
But someone beyond the old hometown fans must remember, because a company called Contusion has gone to the trouble of recreating the design from one of the tour shirts that Whiskeytown used to sell on the road back in the day. This was the band’s best-selling shirt from 1997-98, according to road manager Thomas O’Keefe. Manufactured by California-based Zazzle Apparel, it can be yours for $27.95 plus shipping and handling (pro-tip: I’m told that if you use code ZSUNSETSALES, the total end price with shipping/handling will be $30.25).
It might be just the thing to wear while listening to DRA 1989, whenever that comes out.
Ryan Adams has apparently finished tracking his version of Taylor Swift’s best-selling 1989 album, leaving a breathless rock blogosphere (admittedly including yours truly) still clamoring for details about the project. There does not yet appear to be an “official” release date. Indeed, none of the principles have even confirmed it will be released at all, and maybe Ryan just plans to play it for Swift in private.
But the progress report below, which Ryan put out via Twitter Monday afternoon, certainly points toward a public release; hard to imagine he’d go to the trouble of mixing and mastering it otherwise. If that happens this week, might Ryan drop a digital version of 1989 as soon as, say, Labor Day? Given the level of attention this project has attracted, striking while the iron is hot with a fast turn-around certainly makes sense.
I have to admit, this is the most interested I’ve been in one of Ryan’s new albums in quite some time. I can’t wait to hear it — a sentiment that Swift herself seems to share.
ADDENDUM (8/28/2015): The vigil continues.
A sharp-eyed and detail-oriented DRA super-fan recently posted this picture on one of the Ryan Adams Facebook fan pages, a shot of a scene in a season-two episode of the supernaturally themed dramatic series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Note the poster in the background — for Whiskeytown’s alternative-country signpost Strangers Almanac, an album that happened to be released the same year that the “Buffy” series debuted (1997). I’d say that somebody on the show’s crew was a fan.
A bit more than a week ago, Ryan Adams caused one of the biggest online-media sensations in recent memory (or since his own divorce, anyway) when he took to Twitter to declare that he’s been remaking Taylor Swift’s 1989 album in its entirety — including bonus cuts. At last report, he had just about hit the end of the track list. You can find a summary, with all the online samples released so far, here. I especially like the snippets of “Stay” and “Wildest Dreams.”
Give it a few more days for mixing and detail work, and the whole thing might be done and dusted by the end of this weekend. At which point, we can’t help but wonder: What’s next?
Swift reacted with immediate and enthusiastic endorsement of the project, so some sort of actual release seems likely. Options for that would range from a full-on “official” release with physical product (and think of the gatefold-cover possibilities for an old-school vinyl fetishist like Ryan) to simply giving the songs away online.
If Ryan does choose to release 1989 for real, with money changing hands, it’s easy to imagine the album being a left-field hit, since it hits a perfect sweet spot between Ryan’s rocker cool and Swift’s huge popularity (1989 has sold more than 4 million copies in the U.S., a figure 10 times that of Ryan’s biggest seller, 2001’s Gold). I think there’s every chance DRA 1989 could exceed the 134,000 in U.S. sales of last year’s Ryan Adams — maybe by a lot. But I don’t think it would match the 400,000-plus in sales for Gold, or the 300,000-plus that 2000’s Heartbreaker sold.
UPDATE (8/18/2015): Getting close!
ADDENDUM (8/20/2015): Ryan is apparently not the only 1989 fan representing.
So I’m gearing up for this October’s release of the Ray Benson/Asleep at the Wheel book, “Comin’ Right at Ya” — which is being published by University of Texas Press, but is not actually part of the UT Press American Music Series that I co-edit. Things are coming along on various fronts with the AMS, too, including two very fine books coming out this fall. I’m especially psyched to see the reaction to Kristin Hersh’s “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt,” a book I think is scary good.
Looking forward to next year, spring 2016 will bring the publication of the series’ first venture outside the Americana universe with “Madonnaland and Other Detours Into Fame and Fandom.” It’s the third book by the fabulous Alina Simone; here on the right is the title-page design, which I find quite elegant and cool-looking.
Alina put a huge amount of work into “Madonnaland,” which I had the pleasure of co-editing. Her manuscript improved immensely from draft to draft, and it was well worth the effort because we’re all really proud of the result. It’s an ambitious book that’s less about Madonna than the nature of fandom, tribalism and obsession, all of which she ties together with aplomb. Alina being Alina, the writing is fantastic, of course (and if you’ve never read her first book, you need to rectify that right now).
This is gonna be good.
A couple of stories in today’s Sunday News & Observer pertain to the supporting cast and setting of Planet “Losering” — namely Raleigh-nightlife people and places, then and now. First is a piece I did, about the incredibly cool guitar-themed decor at a new downtown nightspot called Ruby Deluxe. That’s not a real guitar here on the right, but it was made by a real luthier with as much care as goes into a real instrument; you’d almost swear you could reach right through the clear bar-top and play it. Click on through and take a closer look.
One of the Ruby Deluxe partners is none other than Van Alston (aka The Renaissance Man Of Raleigh, North Carolina), who has a long and tangled history with Ryan Adams. Among other things, Van co-wrote Ryan’s signature song “Come Pick Me Up”; co-owns Slim’s, where Ryan gave his last public performance in Raleigh a decade ago; and used to co-own two key Hillsborough Street establishments from Raleigh’s mid-1990s Whiskeytown era, the Comet Lounge and the Brewery.
Regarding those last two, the business section of Sunday’s paper has a story about Hillsborough Street’s metamorphosis from the funky collegiate strip it used to be (which I actually liked!) to a more upscale slickness. The story mentions the Aloft Hotel going up on the old Sadlack’s site, but it mostly focuses seven-tenths of a mile west, on the soon-to-open Stanhope Center — a fancy new housing complex for NC State students that occupies the block where the Brewery and Comet used to be. They were at about the right edge of the picture below, and it’s kind of astounding to think there’s a joint with a swimming pool there now.
So in case you missed it, Ryan Adams kind of broke the internet a couple of days ago when he started posting soundbites of his latest PaxAm Studio project. He’s been recording a cover version of Taylor Swift’s current megahit album 1989 in his Los Angeles studio, with various songs in the style of the Smiths and other unlikely sonic templates.
“Guaranteed saddest version of Welcome to New York ever — or your tears back,” Ryan tweeted, referring to his version of Swift’s second single from 1989 — and the entire rock–press music blogosphere went wild. Swift herself did, too, responding via twitter, “I WILL PASS OUT.“
The whole thing is almost too adorable for words because (a) pretty much everybody loves Taylor Swift nowadays; (b) Ryan is kind of the perfect deconstructive genius to pull off a gimmick like this convincingly; (c) it’s perfectly in-character with his 1984 fetish; and (d) thanks to social-media buzz, it seems like there’s more of a chance we’ll actually hear the finished product this time than his never-released Strokes cover album from a few years back.
Nothing like a release date has been mentioned yet, but stay tuned. Meantime, despite the silly headline (“Grizzled Old Rock Music”?), this story is a pretty decent summary and also has some video clips.
Based on what I’ve heard so far, I’m thinking I’ll like this a lot more than Ryan Adams. And heck, maybe she can even talk Ryan into giving Raleigh another chance.
ADDENDUM: Here’s another update, with a preview of “Bad Blood” done Heartbreaker-style.
A dozen long years before “Losering” was published, I put out my first book, a self-published novel called “Off The Record.” Despite the vanity-press taint, it actually out-performed the Ryan Adams book in terms of mainstream-press response. It picked up reviews in some big newspapers (Hartford Courant, Los Angeles Daily News) and even made Greil Marcus’ “Real Life Rock Top 10” column one week (props from one of the grand old men of rock criticism, and still very possibly the highlight of my writing career). These and other greatest hits from that book can be found at the “Off The Record” link above.
Then in May 2013, another “Off The Record” review unexpectedly and belatedly turned up — close to 13 years after that book’s original publication date. Not bad, even if it was somewhat mixed, and I figured that was surely the last review it would ever get; wrong! The Blotter, a publication billed as “The South’s free, unique international literature and arts magazine,” was kind enough to review “Off The Record” as one of its “Books You Should Have Read” in the August 2015 issue.
The review is penned by Blotter Publisher/President/Treasurer Martin K. Smith, whose recent novel “All Tomorrow’s Parties” is also set in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill music scene. That got him to wondering about similar books out there, and mine was the only other one that turned up (on the recommendation of Ross Grady). So he wrote a very nice review that takes up a good four-page spread in the magazine. It starts on page 4 here, and below is the closing paragraph:
I’ve only skimmed the surface of all the good stuff in here. You’ll read of corporate skullduggery, insurance fraud, faked CD barcodes, sinister drug dealers, gunplay (funny how those two go together, isn’t it?); self-satisfied sexists deflated; S&M, concert riots, junkies doing faceplants into various restaurant meals, and more. When I’d finished it, after two evenings of binge-reading, I wanted to raise my lighter to it in proper rock & roll appreciation, until my husband reminded me that it was a library copy. Does it compete with my novel? Not at all. They’re two different tales, with one subject in common: a devotion to live local music. “All Tomorrow’s Parties” is an outsider/fanboy’s view, from out in the audience. “Off The Record” takes long experience from onstage and backstage, from touring van and rehearsal space and record-industry offices, and from all the human crap that can happen there, and puts it on the record. [Translation: I’m still jealous.]
I am honored and humbled, sir.
It’s been close to nine months since the last time we checked in on the site of the late, lamented Sadlack’s, the old Hillsborough street watering hole where Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown formed more than two decades ago. Done in by Raleigh’s ongoing real-estate boom, Sadlack’s closed for the last time in the wee small hours of Jan. 1, 2014, following an epic New Year’s Eve show; fittingly, it fell to the Backsliders to do last-rites honors.
The lot was soon fenced in and the building boarded up, but it didn’t go under the wrecking ball until May 2014. And since then, a 135-room Aloft Hotel has been under construction on the site. In the upper right is what it looked like last November and below is what it looks like today, close enough to opening day that a “NOW HIRING” banner is already up.
Sadlack’s stood where the left edge of the new building is now, and yeah, I still miss it. Not to mention the Brewery, the Berkeley Cafe’s old music-hall space and a bunch of other joints around town. But time marches on…