Posts Tagged With: The dB’s

Chris Stamey spies on the house of loud

CSspyIt’s been kind of a long and winding road, involving a title change — but Chris Stamey’s book is officially in the pipeline as the next title up in the American Music Series. The book’s final, full title is “A Spy in the House of Loud: New York Songs and Stories,” and it’s due out next spring on University of Texas Press.

This will be the 13th book in the series, going back to 2012. And as a long-time dB’s fanatic, I could not be more thrilled to have the co-leader of one of my all-time favorite bands be a part of it. Dig the cover here, and look for “A Spy in the House of Loud” in stores in April 2018.

 

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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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The NC Writers Network conference

I spent this weekend as a faculty member at the NC Writers Network Fall Conference, which was a most pleasant affair. Saturday afternoon, I did a reading from “Losering” on a bill with five other faculty authors, which was very cool even if I felt totally outclassed by poet Alice Osborn’s Darth Vader meditation. And Sunday, I co-taught a music-writing class with Peter Holsapple, co-leader of The dB’s, which was great for two reasons. First, he brought along a guitar, which lightened my teaching load considerably. And second, it was a thrill to work with Peter because The dB’s have always been such a major part of my musical constellation. I’ve pretty much written a book’s worth of stuff about them over the years (hmm…).

We had a good group of students, and they were interested in everything from how to describe music on the printed page to how to get published (songs as well as prose). We discussed various legal, copyright and “fair use” issues, which I know a bit about from the Ryan book. I tried to give pointers on how to approach concert reviews to capture the experience for readers. And I borrowed Peter’s copy of Lester Bangs’ “Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung” to read one of my favorite passages aloud — the concluding paragraph of Bangs’ 1977 essay “Where Were You When Elvis Died?”

If love truly is going out of fashion forever, which I do not believe, then along with our nurtured indifference to each other will be an even more contemptuous indifference to each other’s objects of reverence. I thought it was Iggy Stooge, you thought it was Joni Mitchell or whoever else seemed to speak for your own private, entirely circumscribed situation’s many pains and few ecstasies. We will continue to fragment in this manner, because solipsism holds all the cards at present: it is a king whose domain engulfs even Elvis’. But I guarantee you one thing: WE WILL NEVER AGAIN AGREE ON ANYTHING AS WE AGREED ON ELVIS. So I won’t bother saying good-bye to his corpse. I will say good-bye to you.

Still kinda gives me a chill, which also goes for the songs Peter played for us to discuss. One was “She Won’t Drive in the Rain Anymore,” the penultimate track on the excellent new dB’s album. Simultaneously intense and quiet, the song described his wife’s retreat from Katrina-ravaged New Orleans in harrowing terms, with telling details (like keeping an axe in the attic, in case one has to hack one’s way through the roof). It was a haunting, evocative portrait of resolve in the face of danger, and the price paid afterward. Peter said his dB’s co-leader Chris Stamey called that song “cinematic,” and I’d agree.

The other song he played pretty much knocked everybody’s hat in the creek. “Don’t Mention the War” (which Peter wrote for the Radio Free Song Club) starts out describing Lonnie, everybody’s favorite uncle until he went off to war. Then it turns into as vivid a description of PTSD as I’ve ever heard:

Short of temper, slow to respond
Overthinking til half his mind is gone
Too sad and too mad to tell jokes anymore
And he takes lots of trips to the liquor store
Passes out on our couch, that’s when he dreams
You can tell when he jumps and he cusses and screams
And he sweats and he shouts and turns white as a sheet
And he gives off a smell that’s like old rotten meat
And he opens his eyes he’s still seeing what’s dead
And he’s trying to get back on our couch in his head

We all sat, transfixed. Afterward, Peter said this one was pretty much all fiction, even though it was scarily believable. Now that’s writing.

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