Posts Tagged With: North Carolina

Next up: “The Big Book of North Carolina Music”

ncblueNot quite a year ago, I found myself at an industry convention gathering with some of my rock-writing peers, doing what we all do at these things — swapping stories, telling lies and catching up about projects we had in the works, real as well as imaginary. Talking to another writer I knew, I mentioned that I was working on a book proposal for a history of North Carolina music. His reaction was…surprising.

“Yeah,” he scoffed, “that’ll be a short book.”

Words were exchanged, some of them unpleasant; no, it didn’t go especially well. But almost a year later, I am pleased to report that this “short book” has taken a major step from abstraction to reality. I’ve come to terms and shaken hands with University of North Carolina Press for a book with the working title “The Big Book of North Carolina Music,” which will have a format similar to UNC Press’ 2008 best-seller “Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue.”

uncpressWhile this won’t be an encyclopedic A-to-Z history of North Carolina music, my “Big Book” will cover a lot of ground in its 16 chapters — from Charlie Poole in the 1920s to “American Idol” nearly a century later, with Blind Boy Fuller and Rev. Gary Davis, Arthur Smith, “5” Royales, Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs, the dB’s and Let’s Active, Superchunk and Squirrel Nut Zippers and Ben Folds Five, Nantucket and Corrosion of Conformity, beach music, 9th Wonder and J. Cole and more in between. It should come in at close to double the heft of my Ryan Adams book “Losering”; and while that still isn’t nearly as long as it could be, it’s nevertheless the most ambitious book project I’ve ever taken on.

But the beauty part is I’ve already been working on this book, piecemeal, for more than a quarter-century. I moved to Raleigh in 1991 to take the News & Observer music-critic job, and my first day was Jan. 15 — two days before Operation Desert Storm started in Kuwait. That was a time when the Worldwide Web wasn’t much more than a gleam in Paul Jones’ eye, back when most people still got their news by reading it on paper or watching the 6 o’clock news.

I must confess that I didn’t come here thinking the News & Observer would be a long-term destination, but it just worked out that way. Back when newspapers were still prosperous, the desired career trajectory was to spend five years or so at a mid-sized paper like the N&O before trying to move up to the New York Times or some other prestige publication. For a variety of reasons, that never happened. Most of the opportunities that came my way over the years felt like they would have been lateral moves rather than upward ones, although I did get a call from the Washington Post in 1999. But that was right after the birth of my twins, Edward and Claudia. At that moment, starting over in a big city was just not in the cards.

So I stayed in Raleigh and I’ve never regretted it, in large part because North Carolina music turned out to be fascinating and beguiling in ways I never imagined before I lived here. When I arrived, I was fairly well-versed in the North Carolina music I’d heard from afar on college radio — Connells, Let’s Active, Flat Duo Jets and such — without knowing much of anything about the history from farther back. So I’ve spent my years here filling in the history, bit by bit, learning as much as I could about North Carolina’s wildly varied music.

Despite the many variations of this state’s music, I do see all of it as of a piece and part of the same continuum — and “The Big Book of North Carolina Music” will, I hope, tie it all together as one story. I’ve spent the past few months going through my archive of stuff to get it organized (see below), and now begins the real work. TBBoNCM will be my side-project for the next two years, the thing keeping me up late nights and weekends and days off. If all goes according to plan, it will be done and dusted by the end of 2018, with publication to follow in 2019. Fingers crossed!

And yeah, whenever it’s done: I’ll be sending an autographed copy to that colleague.

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Echoes of “Strangers Almanac”

WorldCafeNot sure why this particular artifact popped up today — maybe because of all the hideous things happening in North Carolina right now, and they figured we could use a break — but public radio station WXPN has resurrected a World Cafe broadcast from 1997, “Sense of Place North Carolina: Whiskeytown.” Dating back to shortly after Mike Daly‘s arrival in the lineup as a sideman, it features about three minutes of excruciating small talk followed by performances of five songs: “16 Days,” “Somebody Remembers the Rose,” “Too Drunk to Dream,” “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart” and a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.”

This was recorded at WXPN during the Strangers Almanac tour, not much more than a month before Phil Wandscher’s departure from Whiskeytown. Not surprisingly, the vibe is…tense. Check it out here.

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North Carolina passed over — again

The headline reads, “Ryan Adams Announces East Coast Dates” — and sure, I took a look even though I knew what East Coast state would be missing. Upon scanning the itinerary below, however, there was a brief moment when I thought that the end of Ryan’s boycott of his native state might be at hand.

Look at the bottom date, July 26, “Ryan Adams at Lincoln Theatre”; yes, there is indeed is a Lincoln Theatre in Ryan’s former hometown of Raleigh. But no, that date is scheduled for the Lincoln Theatre in Washington, D.C. (besides which, these days Ryan generally plays venues with far bigger capacities than what the Raleigh Lincoln Theatre can hold).

Oh well. I will note that, given the political drift in North Carolina nowadays and who else is boycotting the state, I can’t really blame Ryan for keeping his distance at this point.

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Ten years after…

DRA6805Today, June 8, marks a notable double-digit anniversary, and I ain’t talking about Nancy Sinatra’s 75th birthday. No, today makes exactly 10 long years since Ryan Adams last played his old hometown. It happened about a month after the release of Cold Roses (the first of three albums he would release in 2005), drawing a soldout crowd to Meymandi Concert Hall in downtown Raleigh, and it was an evening fraught with tension — but also release and redemption. There’s plenty more about that in the closing stretch of  “Losering,” as well as in this post.

“We hope to see you again very soon,” Ryan told the audience during band bows immediately following a ragged-yet-lovely encore version of “Houses on the Hill” with his old Whiskeytown bandmate Caitlin Cary. That night, there seemed to be no reason to believe this particular show would stand as any sort of final farewell. Yet Ryan has stayed away for 3,652 days now (taking leap years into account), going out of his way to pointedly avoid North Carolina even as this year’s tour schedule has had him playing in every adjoining state. As to why, the reasons seem both mysterious and complicated. I know an area promoter who tried to book Ryan several years ago, to no avail. The answer from his management was that Ryan has stayed away intentionally because while he has “moved on” from that chapter of his life, “North Carolina has not.”

I’m still not sure what that’s supposed to mean. If there are people still nursing grudges in the greater Raleigh vicinity, they’re far, far outnumbered by the legions of fans who would love to see Ryan here. And as I wrote in the “Losering” preface, Ryan is remembered more fondly in Raleigh than he may realize. Yet he chooses to keep his distance, and so it goes. I hope the boycott ends someday, and ends well.

If it doesn’t…well, I guess we’ll always have Meymandi.

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Welcome to Bypass, North Carolina

NCUSAI heard from a fair number of people yesterday, all asking some variation of the same question: Do you think Ryan Adams will turn up at the Jenny Lewis show tonight?…

Aw, bless your hearts, you crazy naive kids.

And yet the question did have some apparent plausibility, all things considered. Lewis and Ryan are chums, he produced her 2014 album The Voyager and she accompanied him to the Grammys this past spring. More to the point, Lewis is the support act on the current leg of his tour, in which capacity she opened for Ryan Sunday night in Charlottesville and will do the same Tuesday night in Charleston. Yes, it’s hard not to notice that his tour routing seems designed to surround North Carolina without playing it, hitting every adjoining state except us with such deliberation that it has to be on purpose (and we’re coming up on the 10-year anniversary of the last time he played Raleigh).

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 10.08.16 AMAnyway, Ryan again bypassing the state that lies between Virginia and South Carolina left a hole in the tour schedule Monday night. So Lewis took the opportunity to play a headlining show of her own at the Haw River Ballroom, in the old mill town of Saxapahaw about an hour west of Raleigh. And if Ryan were to get a wild hair and decide to make an impulsive settle-up gesture with the Old North State, sort of like what he did with “Summer of ’69” at the Ryman last week, an unannounced cameo some distance away from his former downtown Raleigh stomping grounds seemed as likely as anything else.

So of course, it didn’t happen. Lewis played her show and it was quite fine, but Ryan did not appear. The only mention of him onstage was a story Lewis told at the end of her set about Ryan forcing her to write one more song for The Voyager — which he didn’t like, so she made it the album’s title track (ha!). Gotta say, I do like The Voyager a lot more than Ryan Adams, and hearing its songs live underscored that; especially “The New You,” which is still bouncing around my head a day later.

As for where Ryan was last night if not Saxapahaw, if his Twitter feed is to be believed, he was already in Charleston and seeking pinball machines:

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Charlottesville calling

Alas, no, I’m not in Charlottesville, Va., tonight — which is about as close as Ryan Adams is scheduled to get to his old hometown of Raleigh on his latest tour. But even though Ryan doesn’t come around to play here anymore (no matter how much his fans plead), at least other folks are kind enough to pay attention and keep me posted:

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A fan’s plea to Ryan Adams: Come home for supper

So as we’ve covered repeatedly (most recently in Rolling Stone), Ryan Adams don’t come around here no more — “here” being his native state of North Carolina. It’s hard to say why. As I wrote in the “Losering” preface, he is remembered more fondly in his old hometown of Raleigh than he may realize; but I guess that fondness is not two-way, whatever the reason.

In any event, Ryan seems to go to some lengths to avoid playing shows in North Carolina these days, even when he’s in the vicinity. His upcoming late-spring Southeastern tour, for example, will find Ryan playing in Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, South Carolina and later Georgia — surrounding The Old North State without playing there. His tour mate Jenny Lewis is scheduled to peel off from Ryan’s tour for a night and play Saxapahaw’s Haw River Ballroom on May 4, but Ryan is not on the bill.

Still, hope springs eternal. And here we have a grassroots campaign by Raleigh superfan Tony Sicilia to lure Ryan back home via the Tweet below, with a dinner invitation. Come on, Ryan, how can you refuse an offer of home-cooking?

 

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Songs of the South with Ryan Adams, among others

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Between the book and this blog, there’s no doubt that I’ve already spieled a lot more about Ryan Adams than any sane person should — probably more than enough for one lifetime. Nevertheless, when Rolling Stone sent out a list of songs they wanted written about for a “25 Best Songs About The South” feature and it included Ryan’s “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” I just could not resist taking that one. They let me have it, so here it is (and also below). The editors decided on the ranking and put “Sweet Carolina” at No. 16.

Elsewhere on the list, I also got to do blurbs on Drive-By Truckers’ “Three Great Alabama Icons” (No. 21); George Strait’s “All My Exes Live in Texas” (No. 20); Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind” (No. 2!) and James Taylor’s “Carolina in My Mind” (No. 1, whoo hoo!!). Getting to write about two of my favorite North Carolina-themed songs, as well as the entries that the editors wound up putting in the top two spots on the list, was pretty heady stuff for the likes of little old me.

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From Kalamazoo to Timbuktu

Here’s a moderately cool little thing that I stumbled across recently: the University of Texas Press Influence Map, an interactive map that was made to show off the geographic scope of subjects and authors that the press publishes. Most of UT Press’s books originated in the United States, and it’s hardly surprising that a sizable cluster of those are within Texas. But they also go as far east as Turkey and Iraq; as far south as Panama and Ecuador; and as far north as Canada and England. Take a look; and if you click on the balloons on either my hometown of Raleigh or Ryan Adams’ birthplace of Jacksonville, North Carolina, my book “Losering” is what pops out.

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Jacksonville’s a city with a hopeless streetlight…

UlinskyLandscapeRyan Adams has always had a rather complicated love-hate relationship with North Carolina, particularly his birthplace of Jacksonville. With me or anyone else, I don’t think Jacksonville ever came up in one of Ryan’s interviews where he didn’t speak of it in disparaging terms. In one of the first interviews I did with him way back when, he called Jacksonville “a dismal town with a military base.”

That’s of a piece with most of what Ryan has said about it in public over the years. When it came to writing “Losering,” Jacksonville didn’t figure much into the story beyond being a place Ryan fled the first chance he got. I remember calling up someone who lived down there, asking about local landmarks and getting laughed at.

“Buddy,” he said, “this might be as unlandmarky a place as there is.”

For all that, however, Ryan’s first hometown has also inspired some of his best songs, including “Midway Park” and especially “Jacksonville Skyline” — a gorgeously bittersweet remembrance, and one of my favorites from his Whiskeytown catalog. Jacksonville is not without its virtues, of course, but you just have to look a lot harder to find them. And sometimes, as this lovely and astonishing essay points out, it takes being in a place like Jacksonville to find those virtues within yourself:

Something about this town has brought me to the bottom of myself, to the place I have been avoiding for years, covering up with power yoga and running, volunteering and a second glass of wine…I am discovering that wisdom hides in the most wretched of places, buried deep in the towns with the hopeless streetlights.

But some of the charms of Jacksonville and the rest of Eastern North Carolina are evident if you’re willing to take a step back, open your eyes and really look. That’s the subject of an exhibit by Anthony Ulinski, a Raleigh painter who used to think the same thing most inlanders do about the territory south and east of the Triangle: that it was nothing more than what you drove through on the way to the beach. But Ulinski has spent the past few years painting landscapes of the seemingly desolate Down East flatlands between the mountains to the west and the beaches to the east. It’s literally “The Places In Between,” a collection that will be on display in various galleries in North Carolina through this year. You can find a piece I’ve written about Ulinski and the exhibit in Sunday’s News & Observer.

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