Fifteen years of “Gold”

Today is the 15-year anniversary of one of those Ryan Adams records I sure wish I liked better than I do, Gold. This is the album that was supposed to rocket him to the toppermost of the poppermost back in 2001; and while it didn’t quite do that, it remains his commercial high-water mark. Having written tons and tons about this album over the years, including here as well as Chapter 13 of “Losering,” I don’t feel the need to rehash it all again one more time. But Ryan’s take on Gold and that time of his life is interesting — he published an anniversary note today on Instagram, and it’s worth a read.

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So close!

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in on “Losering”‘s sales ranking on Amazon, mostly because I quit checking regularly when it got to be too depressing. So I took a look today and saw that it’s up to 39 reviews, which is nice; and even nicer, that it’s currently the closest it’s ever come to the summit of Amazon’s Country Books, at least in America. It did get all the way up to No. 1 in the same category up in Canada, but never in the U.S.

Anyway, fun to see “Losering” at No. 2, right behind the noted song scribe Whisperin’ Bill Anderson and just ahead of bluegrass deity Ricky Skaggs.

 

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Launching “A Life in Pursuit”

Just in time for this week’s Americana Music Festival & Conference in Nashville — where T Bone Burnett is scheduled to deliver the keynote speech — dig our latest American Music Series title, which is about that very artist and penned by the estimable Chicago-based scribe Lloyd Sachs. Officially, “T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit” won’t be published until after the calendar rolls over to October. But it’s already picking up reviews, and here is an excerpt.

Lloyd and my University of Texas Press editorial colleague Casey Kittrell will be in Nashville to unveil “A Life in Pursuit” with some events at the Americana festival (which was also where I launched “Losering” four years ago). This brings us to an even 10 titles for the series. Meanwhile, “A Life in Pursuit” should already be on the shelf of your favorite retail establishment wherever fine books are sold. And of course, you can order it online from the usual places.

ADDENDUM (9/23/2016): Here is Mr. Burnett’s Americanafest keynote address.

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Bookmarking Scuppernong

ScuppernongWhat will most likely be my final round of “Comin’ Right at Ya” promotion happens later this week, with a couple of book events over in the greater Greensboro/Winston-Salem Triad vicinity. Friday evening (Sept. 9), I’ll be at Greensboro’s Scuppernong Books to chat about “CRAY” as well as “Losering” as part of Scuppernong’s Words of Note Festival — which coincides with the National Folk Festival and 17 Days Festival, both happening concurrently in Greensboro.

BookmarksThe next day (Saturday, Sept. 10), I’ll be in Winston-Salem for the annual Bookmarks Festival. My bit happens from 12:30 to 1:15 p.m. Saturday on the City Stage of Winston Square Park (on Spruce Street right by the Hanesbrands Theatre), a panel called “What’s in a Name? Eye-Catching Titles.” I’ll be there alongside “Good Morning, Midnight” author Lily Brooks-Dalton; and Steven Sherrill, author of “The Minotaur Takes His Own Sweet Time.”

Bookmarks is bringing in close to 50 writers for this year’s edition and the author list  includes best-selling novelists Jonathan Safran Foer and John Grisham, as well as a couple of my former News & Observer colleagues, Debbie Moose and Bridgette Lacy. The complete Bookmarks 2016 schedule grid is below.

Both of these events are free, so I hope to see some folks.

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Coming in November: New Ryan Adams LP

DRANovLPRyan Adams will release his still-untitled next album on Nov. 4, and from the sound of things this seems to be the project he was working on back in February when he claimed to have recorded more than 80 songs. Studio svengali Don Was is back behind the board in what Ryan calls his “Gandalf” mode. And in Entertainment Weekly’s announcement interview about it, Ryan goes into excitable-boy mode and mentions the following sonic reference points:

Bruce Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town
The Smiths, Meat Is Murder
Bruce Hornsby
AC/DC, Fly on the Wall
Bachman-Turner Overdrive
Electric Light Orchestra

I have no idea what a combination of all that might sound like, but I guess we’ll find out! Below is a live version of a new song Ryan debuted at Red Rocks recently, “Do You Still Love Me.” If the rest of the record is anything like this, well, I would not call that a good omen.

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Ryan Adams, “Flying Dracula”

It’s been years since Ryan Adams has lived in (or even visited) the setting for “Losering,” his old pre-fame stomping grounds of Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill. A lot has changed in the years since Ryan has been gone, but a few traces of his time here linger into the present day. And below is an artifact, if you could call off-color graffiti an artifact.

This is written on a bathroom wall of The Cave, a cool subterranean nightspot on the main Franklin Street drag over in Chapel Hill whose co-owners include Van Alston (Ryan’s “Come Pick Me Up” co-writer). It is of uncertain provenance and looks like something Ryan could have written himself, based on the handwriting and how often he has used variations of “Dracula” as a pseudonym over the years — including “Sad Dracula” and, going way back, “Count Chocula.” And for a limited time, you can get this on a T-shirt, red print on black. They’re gong for $20 while they last. Email MarkConnor@mac.com to check on availability.

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The late great Stevie Ray Vaughan: dynamicals

RIPSRVI went to college in and around Austin, Texas, during the first half of the 1980s, right before Stevie Ray Vaughan launched to fame. Even then, Stevie Ray was pretty much the last word in guitar flash. I used to see him playing clubs there quite a bit, probably scores of times, and I rarely had to pay more than a couple of bucks (at least up until the point he played lead guitar on David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, got on MTV himself and became huge). But what I remember most is the time I missed Stevie Ray, and it was my own damn fault.

It was in July of 1990 and by then I had moved on from school to the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, Colo. Stevie Ray was playing down the road in Denver, and I went to the show mostly because I’d never seen his opening act, Joe Cocker. There was some other band I wanted to see playing elsewhere in town later that night; more than a quarter-century after the fact, I can’t even recall who it was — just that I left before Stevie Ray came on. I figured I’d always have another chance.

Well, you know how that turned out. On Aug. 27, 1990, Stevie Ray died in a helicopter crash in Wisconsin. That was 26 years ago today. Years later, when I was working on “Comin’ Right at Ya” with subject/star/co-writer Ray Benson and recounted that story, he told me I was a dumb-ass. He was not wrong about that, either. Ray and Stevie Ray were tight, and we talked about him a good bit. Below is some of it, from the book chapter titled “Deadly Sins.”

Stoned or straight, Stevie Ray was always an astonishing player to watch, even if he could be hard to take for anybody onstage with him. I went to see him play this all-star thing before he sobered up and he was coked out, twitching, all over the place and not leaving a bit of room for anyone else. Dr. John, a man who knows a thing or two about mind-altering substances himself, was onstage, too, and he could tell what was happening. He called it to a halt and announced, “What we NEED here is some, uh, DYNAMICALS.”

Everybody who ever jammed with Stevie Ray had a similar experience, but it wasn’t just the drugs talking. I remember one late-night jam in this old union hall near where he lived. When you’re jamming like that, you play until you relinquish the solo spot; go until you run out of ideas and then let somebody else jump in. Stevie Ray, however, just would not let up. He kept on playing and playing and playing, to the point where everybody else got fed up. Nobody got mad, exactly, but we were all a little irritated because he was hogging the jam.

The line you always heard about the Vaughan brothers was that Jimmie only played some of what he knew because he’s a great, understated player, while Stevie Ray played every last thing he knew every time. Which was true, and after he died, I thought back to that jam session. Somewhere deep down, it almost seemed like Stevie Ray knew he would not be here for long. So he put it all out there and never held back a thing. Playing guitar was a full-body experience for him. I went to his house once and found him practicing making faces like B.B. King, getting his whole body into it.

He never stopped, even when he was asleep. His wife Lenny has talked about waking up at night beside Stevie Ray and seeing that he was moving his hands – playing guitar in his sleep. Sleep guitar. She’d just watch, and listen. I bet it was worth hearing.

I miss him.

 

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Connells greatest hits, and mine

ConnellsSCYIt’s not a book, exactly, but it’s something that appears in a compact disc booklet (remember those?). That would be Stone Cold Yesterday: Best of The Connells, a greatest-hits package that Concord Music Group is releasing on Sept. 9, with liner notes written by yours truly. These are the first liner notes I’ve done since Tres Chicas’ debut album Sweetwater way back in 2004, and it was a great honor to be asked. The Connells are a group I’ve been writing about ever since I moved to Raleigh 25 years ago, and regular readers of this space might recall the most recent instance of that — the “’74-’75” video remake we put together for the News & Observer last fall.

Of course, “’74-’75” is on the 16-song track list, which you’ll find below. And for those in the general Triangle vicinity, The Connells will play a free show Sept. 8 at Raleigh’s Schoolkids Records (for the store’s Hopscotch Day Party); and an outdoor show at Raleigh Little Theatre’s Stephenson Amphitheatre on Sept. 17, on a bill with modern-day local stars The Old Ceremony and David J of Bauahus/Love and Rockets fame.

 

1. Stone Cold Yesterday
2.’74 – ‘75
3. Still Life
4. One Simple Word
5. Crown
6. Carry My Picture
7. Slackjawed
8. Something To Say
9. Scotty’s Lament
10. Over There
11. Fun & Games
12. Get A Gun
13. Maybe
14. Uninspired
15. Just Like That
16. New Boy

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Bruce Springsteen rocks the forest

ForestFBThe latest news in my bookish world is a somewhat unusual project: a coffee-table book about a football stadium. I’m one of several contributors to Lee Pace’s “Football in a Forest: The Life and Times of Kenan Memorial Stadium,” a lavishly illustrated history of the University of North Carolina’s sports stadium in Chapel Hill. Kenan has also been the site of a few concerts over the years, most notably a September 2003 Bruce Springsteen show that I attended.

The show was great, of course, and I reviewed it for the News & Observer. But the most memorable part actually happened long before showtime, when I got to accompany a well-connected friend on a backstage visit. That’s where we encountered the late great Terry Magovern, a former Navy Seal who worked for many years as Springsteen’s personal assistant. Magovern was also in charge of gathering “local-color research,” which was how my friend and I found ourselves being grilled about North Carolina trivia “in case Bruce wants to say something onstage.” Turned out he did!

That wound up being the basis of my contribution to this book, an essay titled “A Visit From The Boss,” which can be found on pages 130-133 (accompanied by a spectacular onstage concert photo shot by Bernard Harris from the Durham Herald-Sun). Priced at $39.95, “Football in a Forest” is available at various brick-and-mortar stores around the Triangle including Chapel Hill’s Flyleaf Books, where Pace will do a reading-and-discussion event on Sept. 14; and Johnny T-Shirt, where Pace will be on Sept. 16. You can also order the book online here.

ADDENDUM (9/20/2016): Author interview about this book in the News & Observer.

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“1989 Is Hell”

The “Ryan Adams Covers 1989″ concept grows ever more meta. The latest wrinkle comes from Babetown, (Jessica Leibowitz and Danny Ross), a self-described “surf-rock duo based in New York.” They’ve made 1989 Is Hell, a remake of Ryan’s 2003 album Love Is Hell with the songs rearranged as Taylor Swift-style pop — including “Wonderwall,” which is itself a cover of a 1995 Oasis song. Wow.

Release date is Aug. 31, but you can preview three of its tracks below or on the group’s Soundcloud. And Ryan himself has given the project his enthusiastic blessing via Instagram post (“SO RAD!”), which is also below.

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