Posts Tagged With: Jon Langford

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 co-wrote with Ray Benson, the Asleep at the Wheel history “Comin’ Right at Ya.”

ADDENDA (10/6/2015): A kind review from NPR; and there are high commercial stakes for this book.

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Hello in there: More From UT Press

PrineEddie“Ryan Adams: Losering, A Story of Whiskeytown” was published in the fall of 2012 as the second book in University of Texas Press’ American Music Series (following Don McLeese’s “Dwight Yoakam: A Thousand Miles From Nowhere”), and it’s taken a while for us to get it going. As originally envisioned, we’re supposed to be putting out four AMS titles a year — two every spring, two every fall. Some right fine books have come out on Merle Haggard in 2013 and the Flatlanders in 2014, but we haven’t been able to maintain that schedule. Finally, however, we’ve found our footing enough that the pace of publication is about to pick up.

First off, the next American Music Series book coming out will be “John Prine: In Spite of Himself” by my fellow North Carolina music journalist Eddie Huffman. The official publication date is March 15, and it’s our series’ first book to come out in a hardcover version (also, it’s the first with an actual photograph of the subject on the cover). I was one of this book’s primary editors and the process wasn’t always easy. As Eddie writes of me in the book’s acknowledgements, tongue planted firmly in cheek, “He and I are probably both glad he won’t have to ask me ‘How are the rewrites coming?’ next time we cross paths at Cat’s Cradle or the PNC Arena.”

UTPressLogoBut my peskiness and his hard work paid off with a book we’re all quite proud of. And so far, the early pre-release response has been gratifying indeed. “In Spite of Himself” picked up a very fine review in Publishers Weekly, which also named it one of this spring’s most-anticipated books. Kirkus weighed in with a nice review, too, and there are a number of other reviews and reading-type events in the works as well. Eddie’s blog will be the place to keep up with all of that, so bookmark it. I think Eddie did a fantastic job on this book, and I hope you’ll like it.

Beyond that, here’s what else is on the AMS schedule so far:

October 2015

“Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt,” by Kristin Hersh
“Los Lobos: Dream in Blue,” by Chris Morris

Spring 2016

“Madonnaland,” by Alina Simone
Mary J. Blige (title to come), by Danny Alexander

Fall 2016

T-Bone Burnett (title to come), by Lloyd Sachs

Spring 2017

Chrissie Hynde (title to come), by Adam Sobsey

To be scheduled

Tom Jones (title to come), by Jon Langford

The book on the list I’m most excited about is “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt” by Kristin Hersh, leader of the band Throwing Muses and one of Chesnutt’s closest friends. I was blown away when I saw her manuscript because it’s spine-tinglingly brilliant, the best book of any sort I’ve read in years. Seriously, it gave me chills. I’m thrilled to be a part of that one, and I can’t wait for everyone else to read it.

Meanwhile, you might notice that yours truly is not on the AMS schedule anywhere. But I do have a book coming out on UT Press in October, one I think turned out really well. It’s called “Comin’ Right at Ya: How a Jewish Yankee Hippie Went Country, or, the Often Outrageous History of Asleep at the Wheel,” which I co-wrote with Asleep at the Wheel founder and guiding light Ray Benson. I’ll have more to say about this project later, but for now there’s a bit more about it here.

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News about the American Music Series, and me — I’ll be Asleep At The Wheel

So “Losering” is still semi-current and getting some attention here and there; I’m curious to see whether or not the next Ryan Adams album (whenever one emerges) might generate some more interest. But the book has been out there for more than six months, which means it’s high time to move along to the next thing. I’m happy to have some news about that, as well as the University of Texas Press American Music Series.

RayBensonMy next book will be co-writing a memoir with Ray Benson, founder and guiding light of the Western swing band Asleep At The Wheel, and it’s a project I could not be more excited about. I grew up in Texas during the ’70s progressive-country era, and I wrote my UT Master’s thesis about the Armadillo World Headquarters. I’ve always had a soft spot for that era’s icons, and as icons go Ray is one of the best — a fantastic musician and raconteur who, as the saying goes, has been around the world twice and talked to everybody at least once. This should be a raucous good time.

So that’s what I’ll be working on for the next year or so. While the Benson book is also for UT Press, this one won’t actually be part of the UT Press American Music Series. But work there continues apace. As mentioned previously, David Cantwell’s “Merle Haggard: The Running Kind” is next up, out in September, to be followed by John T. Davis’s “The Flatlanders: One More Road” in 2014. I’ve been asked to keep mum about several other titles in the works, but here are the ones in the pipeline that I can tell you about:

Los Lobos, by Chris Morris
John Prine, by Eddie Huffman
Vic Chesnutt, by Kristin Hersh
Ray Charles, by David Cantwell
Mary J. Blige, by Danny Alexander
Madonna, by Alina Simone

Obviously, the last two names are what jump off that list, possibly leaving you to wonder what the heck is going on here. Thus far the American Music Series has had an Americana focus, which is not surprising given that it’s an outgrowth of No Depression magazine. But the series is still developing an identity, and the truth is that we were always going to have to broaden it in terms of both styles and approaches to make it work. Thus, Mary J. Blige and Madonna.

UTPressLogoNow it’s certainly possible that American Music Series might eventually come to mean just “books about music.” Nevertheless, even though Blige and Madonna are both outliers (and probably as far as I’d care to go in this direction), I think you can build a case for both being a better fit than they might seem at first glance. Blige, The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, is firmly grounded in the r&b tradition, and I’ve always thought of her as more soul than hip-hop. A decade from now, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if she were singing straight-up gospel because such an evolution would make perfect sense.

That brings us to Madonna, who is admittedly more of a stretch. But I think the real draw here will be Alina Simone, one of the most exciting new writers out there. I first met Alina a few years back when she lived in Chapel Hill and was playing intriguingly dark indie-rock along the lines of Cat Power and PJ Harvey. She really found her voice on 2008’s Everyone Is Crying Out To Me, Beware, a tribute album to the late “Yanka” (Soviet-era punk icon Yana Stanislavovna Dyagileva, who is Russia’s answer to Patti Smith). Sung entirely in Russian, Beware is a fascinating album with an even-more-fascinating back-story; you can read some of it here or here. Better still, read Alina’s wonderful 2011 memoir “You Must Go and Win.”

If Steve Earle, Jon Langford or another writerly Americana icon wanted to write a book for our series, I think we’d jump at the chance even if the subject they proposed fell outside the Americana universe. While Alina doesn’t have as high a musical profile as those two, she’s still part of this century’s indie-rock flock — someone that No Depression probably would have been reviewing if the magazine were still publishing when Beware came out. I think Alina’s idiosyncratic take on a cultural icon like Madonna will make for a great book. I can’t wait to read what she comes up with, and to be a part of sharing it with you.

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