In my 28-year tenure at the News & Observer, I was accustomed to thinking of the Indy Week as my competition. There were a few interludes when that competition was heated and not altogether pleasant — but more often than not, things stayed cordial and friendly over the years. They’ve been quite kind to my past books, as well as to my time as Piedmont Laureate last year.
Because we were covering the same turf, there was always just enough of an edge to where it felt like we made each other better, which seemed as it should be. Of course, circumstances change, and I even wrote a piece for Indy Week last year after leaving the paper (a remembrance of the late great Sara Romweber). That means I’ve had a byline in Indy Week more recently than the N&O, which I have to admit feels a bit strange.
And in the here and now, I must thank Indy Week and writer/editor Brian Howe for the extraordinarily kind coverage they’ve given “Step It Up and Go,” complete with a headline I can’t help feeling unworthy of: David Menconi, the Dean of North Carolina Rock Critics, Pens a Loving Landmark History of Our State’s Popular Music.
Holy Robert Christgau, that is amazing. Shucks, y’all — thank you. I am beyond honored.
With Christmas approaching and holiday buying season in full effect — hint, 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).
“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.
Tags: American Music Series, Chris Morris, Chrissie Hynde, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Don't Suck Don't Die, Elvis Costello, Greil Marcus, Henry Carrigan, John Fogerty, Kim Gordon, Kristin Hersh, Los Lobos, Michael Jackson, No Depression, Patti Smith, Peter Guralnick, Ray Benson, Real Life Rock Top Ten, Robert Christgau, Sam Phillips, Sonic Youth, Steve Knopper, The Reading Room, Vic Chesnutt, Willie Nelson
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.”
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.