Posts Tagged With: Kristin Hersh

John Prine — out in paperback, in spite of himself

If a hardcover title subsequently comes out in a paperback edition, that’s a solid sign that the book in question book has done pretty well. So congratulations to Eddie Huffman, whose 2015 book “John Prine: In Spite of Himself” is the second American Music Series title to make the hardcover-to-soft transition (after Kristin Hersh’s “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt,” also from 2015 and our top-selling AMS book to date).

The “In Spite of Himself” paperback has a June publication date, but you should be able to find it in better bookstores already. And in an interesting twist, Prine himself has a book of his own coming out in June, “Beyond Words.”

 

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Who owns Vic Chesnutt’s story?

Coming up on seven years since his death on Christmas Day 2009, the late great James Victor “Vic” Chesnutt remains a sadly obscure figure to the mainstream at large. He has his fans, of course, many of them quite famous. But that hasn’t been enough to spread Chesnutt’s reputation much further than the cult following he had when he was alive, and that is too bad.

The music Chesnutt left behind speaks for itself, 18 albums of rough-cut brilliance (1996’s About to Choke, which is Chesnutt at his most accessible, is a good place to start). If you’re interested in his story, I can’t help but steer you toward the AMS/UTP book “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt” by Kristin Hersh, a beautiful, harrowing and deeply personal portrait of Chesnutt written by one of the artist’s closest friends and fellow travelers.

And for an accompanying macro view, there’s a rough cut of an amazing little documentary film making the Youtube rounds — “What Doesn’t Kill Me: The Life and Music of Vic Chesnutt.” Assembled by obsessive Chesnutt fan Scott Stuckey, “What Doesn’t Kill Me” deftly captures the artist’s twisted charisma and onstage brilliance, with testimonials from numerous friends and fellow fans (including Kristin).

But Chesnutt was a complicated artist and human, who left an equally complicated legacy in his wake. So it’s not at all surprising that this film has been a source of controversy, even though it’s never been conventionally released. Over the past year or so, there’s been a heated war of words between filmmaker Stuckey on one side and Chesnutt’s widow, Tina Whatley Chesnutt, on the other.

Who is right? And will things ever be resolved enough for some version of “What Doesn’t Kill Me” to someday show in theaters? I sure don’t know. Nevertheless, I still appreciated seeing it, and knowing this film is out there for however long that might be. If you’re interested, I’d advise watching it sooner rather than later.

 

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Kristin Hersh’s lighter side

TobySnaxOf the 10 books that University of Texas Press has published on our American Music Series imprint, one stands out as the best by a mile: “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt” by the phenomenal musician/author Kristin Hersh, which will also be coming out on paperback this fall. It’s a beautiful and amazing book, and intermittently hilarious — but it’s also very, very dark, to the point that I found it shattering to read.

Kristin’s literary followup to “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die,” however, will be a considerably lighter affair. Coming this fall, right around the same time as the “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die” paperback, is “Toby Snax,” a children’s book that Kristin wrote and illustrated based on stories she used to tell her four sons. Kristin originally self-published “Toby Snax” herself in 2007 with a few hundred copies (which have since become very valuable collector’s items). UT Press is reissuing the book, which will get it back into wider circulation; look for that in September. Meantime, the catalog description is below.

Toby Snax is a little bunny who’s reluctant to experience things away from home. When Mama asks him to join her on a trip, he needs a bit of encouragement. So Mama tells Toby about the wondrous things that await him out in the wide world, helping him to look forward to new adventures.

This charming, gentle book will resonate with any child who’s nervous about trying new things. The acclaimed musician Kristin Hersh created Toby Snax to encourage her son, Bodhi, to embrace the experiences of touring the world together while she performed both solo and with her bands 50 Foot Wave and Throwing Muses. The first edition of the book sold out immediately and has become highly collectible. This new edition makes Toby Snax available again for all fans of Hersh’s evocative storytelling, as well as children—or even adults—who need a little reassurance that the world is full of wonders.

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Fifteen minutes at No. 15 on the best-of-2015 list

NDTRRlogoWith Christmas approaching and holiday buying season in full effecthint, hint — yearend best-of lists are beginning to roll in. And I’m happy to note that “Comin’ Right at Ya” has made it onto a really nice countdown alongside some very choice company in No Depression’s book column, “The Reading Room’s Best Books of 2015” as compiled by Henry Carrigan (who was kind enough to include me in another column last month about bookish influences).

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“Comin’ Right at Ya” appears at No. 15 on No Depression’s top-40, right between legendary Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty and “Dean of American Rock Critics” Robert Christgau. Heck yeah, I’ll take that — especially since we quoted a few of Christgau’s “Consumer Guide” reviews of various Asleep at the Wheel albums in the book.

Being at No. 15 also puts “Comin’ Right at Ya” ahead of Chrissie Hynde’s memoir “Reckless” at No. 18; my American Music Series colleague Chris Morris’ “Los Lobos: Dream in Blue” at No. 20; Texas country icon Willie Nelson’s “It’s a Long Story: My Life” at No. 35; and (how about that) my idol Greil Marcus’ “Real Life Rock: The Complete Top Ten Columns” at No. 39.

As for the books at the top end of No Depression’s list, the No. 1 placement of Peter Guralnick’s exhaustive and much-acclaimed “Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll” is no surprise. The same goes for Patti Smith’s “M Train” at No. 3 and Kristin Hersh’s gorgeously painful American Music Series title “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt,” plus memoirs by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon at No. 9 and Elvis Costello at No. 10.

I’d also like to note that it’s extremely cool to see my buddy Steve Knopper’s “MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson” come in two notches ahead of Ray Benson and me, at No. 13 — even though I don’t want him to be getting any ideas about that.

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November brings another first: A two-for-one bonus

October has given way to November, but I’m still regularly checking in on the foursome that I call The Books of October. And while none of them are hitting the toppermost of the poppermost just yet (still waiting, world!), there are some encouraging signs along the amazon.

“Los Lobos: Dream in Blue” is up to 14 reviews on amazon, all of them perfect five-star scores. Enough favorable reviews have amassed for “MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson” to pull its overall amazon average above four stars. And “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt” is still getting great reviews on and off amazon (even, ye Gods, from Pitchfork — a truly unexpected pleasure).

As for yours truly, Team Benson/Menconi’s “Comin’ Right at Ya” has a half-dozen amazon reviews now, all of them five-star, which is a nice start. And in the process of checking up on it the other day, I noticed a brief interlude when I had not one but two entries in the top-20 of amazon’s country-books chart. It came to pass that “Losering” pulled within a couple of spots of “CRAY” — also in the vicinity of yet another friend, Barry Mazor’s Ralph Peer book (which I wrote about in the paper earlier this year).

As you can see below, screen-grabs of such moments are the stuff of cheap-thrill dreams.

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Coming in March: Madonnaland, and The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul

MadonnalandI’ve had a blast on the “Comin’ Right at Ya” promotional front this month, including a very nice event Wednesday night at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh that drew a kindly attentive full house. I read a bit, took questions and repeated some of Ray Benson’s jokes, which tend to be a lot funnier than my own jokes, so it worked out great. Of course, I also couldn’t let the crowd go without getting in a plug for Kristin Hersh’s “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt.” I even told them that if they could only buy one book, it should be that one instead of mine (sorry, Ray, but know that we sold plenty anyway).

Everyone in the University of Texas Press orbit is still pulling for “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die” and the rest of our current titles to break out. Hope springs eternal, but pretty much all of that is out of our hands at this point. Meantime, work continues on getting the next round of American Music Series books out into the world. Coming in March are two books that will, at the very least, break us out beyond the Americana universe; and we have final titles and cover art on both.

MJB“Madonnaland And Other Detours into Fame and Fandom” is the third book by the fabulous Alina Simone, with a nice pink cover and a terrific testimonial blurb at the bottom from cabaret icon Amanda Palmer. You probably can’t read that here without a magnifying glass, so I’ll spare you the trouble:

“A profound and hilarious stream-of-consciousness funfair ride through the postmodern theme park of super fans, celebrity, taste, and capitalism.”

Nice! More to follow, I hope.

Alongside “Madonnaland” next spring, we’ll also have Danny Alexander’s “Real Love, No Drama: The Music of Mary J. Blige” (which, title aside, nevertheless has a very dramatic cover). I’d say this is the most ambitious critical appraisal of the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul’s catalog that any writer has ever attempted. And I can’t wait for other people to get to read both of these.

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Pulling for friends along the amazon

October’s an exciting month for me, book-wise, because I have a lot of irons in the fire and books to root for right now. I’ve got my own book out, of course, to go with a pair of just-published titles in the American Music Series I co-edit for University of Texas Press — Chris Morris’ “Los Lobos: Dream in Blue,” and Kristin Hersh’s spectacular “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 3.59.21 PMThose three books came out via UT Press on Oct. 1. Five days later, my good friend Steve Knopper published his latest book, “MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson” (Scribner). It should come as no surprise tht I’ve been obsessively checking amazon every day to follow the progress of this quartet of books. And while none of them are exactly burning up the charts just yet, they all seem to be off to solid starts. How the sales picture will turn out over the long haul, that’s up to the universe. All we can do is hope for the best.

At the moment, however, the most interesting metric to track is not sales positions but reader reviews, which have become increasingly important for us lowly mid-list types struggling for traction in a crowded marketplace. Get a bunch of reviews, and that might help sales along. Morris’ Los Lobos book is farthest along in that regard, already with eight reviews — all of them with the maximum five-star rating. Nice, very nice.

Vic“Don’t Suck, Don’t Die” has just three reader reviews so far (two of them five-star), but I expect that pace to pick up in a hurry. National Public Radio recently reviewed “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die” and said it is “not only one of the best books of the year, it’s one of the most beautiful rock memoirs ever written.” I thought the same thing when I read the original manuscript, and reviews like that have inspired UT Press to give this one the maximum push — they’re thinking that 50,000 in sales might be possible. Well, on behalf of the entire American Music Series list…I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, Team Benson/Menconi’s “Comin’ Right at Ya” has just a single amazon reader review so far, but at least it’s of the five-star variety. That takes a little of the sting out of the fact that I recently got my first-ever one-star amazon review, for “Losering” — more than three years after its original publication date. A reviewer identified as “Amelia, Austin Texas” called it “A weird book” in a four-sentence dismissal that questioned if I’d ever actually spoken to Ryan Adams (snicker) before concluding, “This book sucks.” A more generous soul would refrain from noting that this particular reviewer has a “helpful” rating of just 38 percent, but I am not that person. So I’ll just say this: Bless her heart.

MJStill, that’s nothing compared to what’s happened on amazon thus far to Steve’s Michael Jackson book, which is being savaged by hyper-protective Jackson partisans who will not tolerate anything less than 100 percent glowing praise of their hero. So even though “MJ” earned a Booklist starred review that called it “very powerful” as well as an excerpt in Rolling Stone (where Steve has been a contributing editor for many years), four of his six amazon reader reviews are one-star takedowns accusing him of slander and bias.

Steve is one of the most all-around fair-minded people, let alone writers, I’ve ever known. But given what a fraught subject Jackson continues to be, I was afraid something like this might happen, after the amazon-reviewer reception given to 2012’s “Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson” by Steve’s Rolling Stone colleague Randall Sullivan. “Untouchable” drew so many anonymous one-star slams from Jackson partisans who didn’t appear to have even read the book that the New York Times cited it as a prime example of books victimized by orchestrated campaigns of bad amazon reviews as “attack weapons.”

After the attacks subsided, “Untouchtable” eventually picked up enough decent reviews to bump its overall average (for 389 total reviews) up above three stars, which is at least respectable. I hope a similarly kind long-term fate awaits “MJ” — and also success, whatever that means nowadays, for all four of these books.

ADDENDUM (9/17/2016): Well how about that — another of Steve Knopper’s books comes in at No. 44 on a great list to be on.

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Coming in Rocktober: The Texas Book Festival

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The author lineup is out for the 2015 Texas Book Festival (a great time on the festival circuit, the literary world’s equivalent of South By Southwest), and I’m very pleased to report that yours truly made the cut. I’ll be appearing with my “Comin’ Right at Ya” subject/co-writer, the legendary Ray Benson, and we’ll be doing…well, something.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure just what Ray and I are going to do yet, or even where or when; maybe some sort of Q&A session involving an Asleep at the Wheel performance. But I can tell you that it will happen sometime on Oct. 18 in Austin — and I believe it will be a free event. This will be my second time at TBF, following a very fun and enlightening 2012 appearance when I was promoting “Losering.”

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The one and only Ray Benson.

Me aside, it’s a great-looking lineup of authors featuring Kristin Hersh (about whom I’ve raved at some length in this space) among the other festival participants. Other music-related participants include my fellow rock scribes Jessica Hopper and “Dean of American Rock Critics” Robert Christgau; and from the non-music end, a long-ago News & Observer co-worker of mine, Joby Warrick (nowadays a certifiably big deal Washington Post reporter, promoting a mighty important-looking book called “Black Flags: The Rise of Isis”).

Golly, the Austin Chronicle is referring to the author list as “The Mighty 300.” And here’s some more love for the lineup from the Dallas Morning News.

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Kristin Hersh won’t suck, won’t die

VicDon’t get me wrong, we’re proud of how “Comin’ Right At Ya” turned out. Nevertheless, the undisputed highlight of this fall’s music offerings from University of Texas Press is a different book, “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt” by the wonderful author/musician Kristin Hersh — an American Music Series title that is seriously beyond great. And the cool thing about publishing a book by a working musician like Kristin is how neatly bookstore appearances can fit into a tour itinerary. To wit, below is her reading/show schedule for the month of October, when “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die” arrives in bookstores.

I hope a city near you is on the itinerary. And even if it’s not, please check out this book.

Oct. 1 40 Watt Club, Athens, GA (8 PM Performance)
Oct. 2 Highland Inn Ballroom, Atlanta (7 PM Book signing)
Oct. 3 Smith’s Olde Bar, Atlanta (10:30 PM Performance)
Oct. 4 Schuba’s Tavern, Chicago (8 PM Performance)
Oct. 5 57th Street Books, Chicago (6:30 PM Book signing)
Oct. 9 Boulder Bookstore, Boulder, CO (7:30 PM Book signing)
Oct. 10 Swallow Hill Music, Denver (8 PM Performance)
Oct. 12 Octavia Books, New Orleans (6 PM Book signing)
Oct. 14 Cactus Cafe, Austin (9 PM Performance)
Oct. 15 Book People, Austin (7 PM Book signing)
Oct. 16 Waterloo, Austin (5 PM Performance & Book signing)
Oct. 18 Cactus Music, Houston (4 PM Performance & Book signing)
Oct. 18 McGonigels, Houston (7 PM Performance)
Oct. 21Brooklyn Voices at St. Josephs College, Brooklyn (7:30 PM Book signing)
Oct. 26 Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco (8 PM Performance)
Oct. 27 Green Apple Books, San Francisco (7:30 PM Book signing)
Oct. 28 Nectar Lounge, Seattle (10 PM Performance)
Oct. 29 — Elliot Bay Book Company, Seattle (7 PM Book signing)
Oct. 30 Powell’s City of Books, Portland (7:30 PM Book signing)
Oct. 30 McMenamins Theatre, Portland (10 PM Performance)
Nov. 1 Book Soup, Los Angeles (4 PM Book signing)
Nov. 1 The Echo, Los Angeles (7:30 PM Performance)
Nov. 4 New England Mobile Book Fair, Boston (6:30 PM Book signing)

ADDENDA: Kind words from Salon, and even (ye Gods!) Pitchfork. And here it is in Rolling Stone’s year-end top-10.
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Also comin’ right at ya: “Madonnaland”

MadonnalandSo 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.

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