Had all gone according to my original scenario, some version of this photograph on the right would be on the cover of “Losering.” Taken by the very fine North Carolina-based photographer Daniel Coston, it would have made a fitting illustration for several reasons beyond the fact that it’s just a great picture. I love the fact that Caitlin is more visible than Ryan, whose presence is more implied than seen; and its ambience of dark mystery perfectly fits the book’s story, which reaches its apex with Whiskeytown’s black-night-of-the-soul masterpiece Strangers Almanac. It was also taken at a pivotal show described in the book: October 1999 at Chapel Hill’s Local 506, when Ryan sat down and blew a crowd away with a set of brand-new songs no one had ever heard before (see Chapter 11, pages 124-125 — or download that show from here).
Alas, UT Press had other ideas about the cover and politely put the kibosh on my plans because the marketing department wanted all the books in the American Music Series to have a consistent visual style. Having grown very attached to this picture as the “face” of the book in my mind, I was rather grumpy about the whole thing — a feeling that vanished the instant I saw the brilliant cover that UT Press book designer Lindsay Starr came up with. It makes a great visual representation of the “Losering” story, and I have to admit it’s tons better than anything I had envisioned. It sets a tone I like, equal parts funny and grandly catastrophic, especially the placement of my name on the label. I still owe Lindsay a beer for this, come to think (in an unbroken bottle, of course).
It was a helpful reminder that sometimes other people really do know better, so it’s best to keep out of their way. But I still love Daniel’s photo, too, so I made it the anchor art for this blog when it first went online. Daniel took a lot of pictures of Ryan and Whiskeytown back in the day, some of which turned up as illustrations for the American Songwriter magazine excerpt several months back. He also has a Ryan picture in a show called Visualizing American Roots Music, on display at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Southern Folklife Collection. That’s on the second floor of UNC’s Wilson Library, and it will be up until the end of 2013.
Visualizing American Roots Music opens on Friday (January 11), in conjunction with a series of symposia and performances titled The Fiddle, happening Friday and Saturday (January 11-12) on the UNC campus. Word to the wise, all of the events are free.