Posts Tagged With: UT Press

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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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.

UTPressReach

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At least you didn’t get a ripoff — but I did

Picture 5There’s a saying in the music business that goes something like this: If you’re not getting bootlegged, you’re not happening. So I guess it’s flattering, in a backhanded kind of way, to find “Losering” in places I’d rather not see it. Pretty much every time I take a spin through the worldwide web to see if my book has turned up anyplace new, I’ll find links to where it can be downloaded for free. Stolen, in other words; the work of pirates. Arrrrrr! No, I’m not going to link to any of them here because they’re easy enough to find and I’d rather you didn’t.

So yesterday, I happened onto one where “Losering” is being offered as a “Free eBook Download.” Between the picture of the cover, publisher’s summary and ISBN serial number, you’d figure this is authorized and legit if you didn’t know any better. It’s anything but. Because while the content (my book) is free, the Usenet account needed to download it is not. Nice setup, eh?

I forwarded the link along to University of Texas Press and heard back from rights manager Laura Young Bost, who spends a great deal of time battling this kind of piracy without much success, and it went the way these things usually do. Laura sent a take-down notice to the site’s operators, who proceeded to pass the buck. They refused to do anything because, Laura said, “the file is not hosted on their site; they only link to the illegal file.” Truly, plausible deniability is not confined to politics. Laura went on to write about the frustrations of seeing UT Press titles in places like this:

This is truly like Whack-a-mole; if we get ebooks taken down one place, they immediately pop up elsewhere. We actually found a couple of books in the past two weeks where pirates had hijacked legitimate websites (one was a carpet company), which went up and down, and they moved on to hijack other legitimate websites before we could even act. I am not trying to make light of this — it is piracy out and out. I wish I could tell you that we can successfully combat it, but unfortunately that is not the reality of the situation. My fondest wish is that everyone who downloads an illegal ebook gets a virus with it.

Amen to that sentiment. Yes, I know this is the modern age, and I’m familiar with all the arguments about how information “wants to be free,” everyone needs to grow up and join the 21st century and so on. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. Not that I wrote this book expecting it would amount to any sort of windfall. Writing is like making music — don’t do either expecting it to be lucrative because the odds of significant payoff are about the same as winning the lottery.

Still, it’s a drag to see anonymous people brazenly offering up one’s work as bait for their download service, just cuz they can. David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker triggered a huge debate last year with this essay, which elegantly lays out the creator’s viewpoint from the musician’s side (Lowery also had some interesting things to say about the aftermath when I interviewed him back in January — see the last two paragraphs here). Or as Gillian Welch put it in a very prescient song back in 2001:

Everything is free now
That’s what they say
Everything I ever done
Gotta give it away.
Someone hit the big score
They figured it out
That we’re gonna do it anyway
Even if it doesn’t pay.

No, it doesn’t really do you any good to speak up about these things. And yet I can’t keep my mouth shut. For reasons unknown, the aforementioned pirate site actually has a “comments” section. Even though I knew it would be an exercise in futility, I entered the rather pointed comment below. You’ll notice that it’s flagged as “awaiting moderation,” meaning it has yet to be posted where others can see it. But I’m sure they’ll be letting that one through any time now, right? Riiiiiiiiight.

Ripoff

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“Losering”: Looking even better

LoseringWhatever “Losering”‘s writerly merits (or, ahem, lack thereof), it’s undeniable that the book has a truly spectacular cover. As designed by the incomparable Lindsay Starr at UT Press, the “Losering” cover has already won some very fine accolades. And here’s another nice place it has turned up — on the design-display site Cover Reference, where “Losering” more than visually holds its own among the many amazing cover illustrations archived there.

Thank you again, Lindsay! That beer I owe ya is coming right up, just as soon as I make it to Austin. And I also hope to get a look-see at the cover for the upcoming American Music Series book on Merle Haggard…

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Holland calling: Too Country and Proud off it

DrifterCountryI recently happened onto another interesting little “Losering” reference from overseas, although it’s not a full-fledged review. This one is on a blog called DrifterCountry.com, which bills itself as “Too Country and Proud off it”; and no, that isn’t a typo — note the logo here on the right. Anyway, my book gets namechecked in a Whiskeytown mini-history posted by “The Drifter.”  It looks to be written in Dutch, if Google Translate is to be believed; the translation is below.

Between this and an earlier review, I’d say there’s a groundswell building for a translated edition of “Losering” in Dutch. So how about it, UT Press?

DrifterCountryWTPeriodic spent Drifter Country attention to bands that have meant a lot for the alt-country genre. The appearance of an English book: Ryan Adams, Lose Ring, a Story of Whiskeytown was for me a good reason to pay attention to a band that has meant a lot for the alt-country: Whiskeytown. The group was active from 1994 to 2001 and finally three studio albums failed. Faithless Street (1995), Strangers Almanac
(1997), and Pneumonia (2001). Established in 1994 in Raleigh, North Carolina with frontman Ryan Adams, Caitlin Cary, Phil Wall Cher, Eric Gilmore and Steve Grothman. But only Adams and Cary are featured on all three albums. The history of Whiskeytown’s turbulent called and the band structure is there only a limited part of. Already after the release of their first album Faithless Street on the Mood Food label get larger labels interested in Whiskeytown. Geffen Records signed the band and then in 1998 Faithless Street re-release. With the contract of Geffen pocket starts the tape recording of their first major release Strangers Almanac. During the recordings leave Gilmore and Grothman the group. Wall Cher makes the recordings but ultimately still get just after the appearance of Strangers Almanac from the band. The following is a messy period with many personnel changes that have an impact on the live sound of the band. But meanwhile Strangers Almanac well received by a wide audience and have magazines like Rolling Stone rave reviews. In this same year (1997) Mood Food brings an album titled Rural Free Delivery with remaining recording of the debut album Faithless Street. Whiskeytown continue touring and Ryan Adams shines in this period to more extreme behavior. The tensions in the band are up to a climax. In 1999 Whiskeytown Pneumonia on the album. It takes a while for the album finally in 2001 by Lost Highway Records is released. Whiskeytown is already history and Ryan Adams is widely acclaimed for its released in 2000, and never surpassed, solo album Heartbreaker.

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Steve Grothmann counts down

GrothmannLast year, when UT Press unveiled its online “Losering” catalog listing with an excerpt including the book’s preface, the very first person I heard from was original Whiskeytown bassist Steve Grothmann. He sent me the link, and a congratulatory note mentioning that he was among those who witnessed the events described in the preface:

btw, I was the bartender that night at the Berkeley when the Dix patient took over the bar. He threw a bunch of bottles at the cops, and I cleaned up broken glass ’til the sun came up. Jennifer nudged me that this guy seemed dangerous, her radar was on, and then it escalated. 

That had me smacking my forehead, because I didn’t remember Steve being there that night and this would have been a great little extra detail to have in there (my reply began, “NOW you tell me this???!!!”). But so it goes; if I ever have the opportunity to revise “Losering” for a future printing, that is definitely going in, along with all the other pithy details that have come to light since the book was published.

Steve has traveled a long and varied road since leaving Whiskeytown in 1996, right before the band signed its major-label deal with Outpost Records. If memory serves, the first time I saw him onstage after that was in 6 String Drag’s horn section. That was around the time Steve also emerged with a new funk-slanted band called the Tonebenders — check out this 1998 No Depression feature I wrote on them. But Steve’s most notable post-Whiskeytown venture would be Countdown Quartet, which he started up with Tonebenders hornman Dave Wright in 1999.

Wide-ranging, free-swinging and lots of fun, Countdown Quartet has always sort of been the Triangle’s answer to Booker T & the MGs — only with vocals. Squirrel Nut Zippers co-founder Jimbo Mathus was a part-time member for a long stretch, and he added plenty of blue-note funk. I remember them being one of the hardest-working bands in town. For about five years, it seemed like I never attended a local show, party or wedding where the Countdown guys weren’t playing in some capacity or configuration.

Although Steve declined to be formally interviewed for “Losering,” he was immensely helpful in providing historical background. We had some e-mail back and forth about Whiskeytown’s earliest recordings, in which he filled in a few details about how the band cut its fantastic cover of “Blank Generation” for the 1995 Richard Hell tribute album Who The Hell  (see Chapter 4). For all you tech-nerd studio types interested in things like this:

I recorded it on my 4 track cassette machine, in the living room of the house Jennifer and I were renting then, near North Hills in Raleigh. As I remember we set up sort of like being on a stage, drums and amps in a line facing forward, with two mics in the room, one toward each side facing us– like we were playing to an audience of two mics. The vocals were overdubbed, I believe. It was LOUD, really LOUD, and simply done, and really fun.

I mixed the 4 tracks a little and Ross Grady came over and we just played the stereo mix into his portable DAT machine and that was that.

I remember that a bunch of  Voidoids songs had already been claimed by other bands involved in this project, and I was really glad that “Blank Generation” was still available. I transcribed the lyrics for Ryan as best I could- they’re hard to get, (this was before any lyric was on the internet) – and then he came back with completely different chords than the original. Basically, the same verses put to new music, which is the same thing we did with Nervous Breakdown– and it turned out much better than if we had more strictly “covered” the song.

Also, here is how Steve remembered Whiskeytown coming together at Sadlack’s back in 1994:

CDQSadlacksStompWhiskeytown version 1 started around Sadlack’s and the house where Ray Duffey and Phil W[andscher] and Dave Wright lived on Park Ave. Skillet owned Sads at the time, and a bunch of NCSU English masters students hung there — Caitlin and me included. Phil worked there and then Caitlin and Ryan too eventually.

6 String Drag, Whiskeytown, and How Town (Dave Wright’s band) rehearsed at the house on Park, and the Tonebenders must have started there too. At that time Ray Duffey played drums with all of those except Whiskeytown, and I was in the Tonebenders later too, and the Countdown Quartet eventually came out of that.  Dave W and I were the part time horn section for 6 String Drag. Lots of creative people hanging out.

A version of Countdown Quartet still exists today, gigging on an occasional basis (including last October’s YR15 shows; check this). But they’ve not been heard from on-record since 2002, when they put out an album with a title paying tribute to the place where it all started: Sadlack’s Stomp. Steve has another band going nowadays, too — Clear Spots, a noisy garage-type band he classifies as “hard to describe,” long on feedback with some Neil Young overtones. I look forward to seeing them sometime soon.

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“Losering”: Looking good

LoseringWhen it comes to drawing attention toward a book, it never hurts to have a great cover. For “Losering,” I feel like I have one of the best, thanks to the fantastic work of cover artist Lindsay Starr — and it’s not just me who thinks so, either.

The American Association of University Presses recently put out its list of best-designed 2012 books; and I am pleased to report that not only did “Losering”‘s cover make the grade, but also Lindsay’s cover for another American Music Series title, Don McLeese’s “Dwight Yoakam: A Thousand Miles From Nowhere.” Those are two of 44 covers selected (from 331 submissions), and they’ll be on display this summer at the Book, Jacket & Journal Show as part of the AAUP Annual Meeting in Boston.

Congratulations to Lindsay, and also renewed thanks for making me look better’n I deserve. You can see more of her handiwork here.

ADDENDUM: Lindsay tells me that both of her American Music Series covers have also been selected to appear in the 27th annual New York Book Show, happening April 9. Meanwhile, she also reports she’ll soon be working on the cover for the third book in the UT Press series, on Merle Haggard.

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Judging a book (and a blog) by the cover

RyanWordpressHad all gone according to my original scenario, some version of this photograph on the right would be on the cover of “Losering.” Taken by the very fine North Carolina-based photographer Daniel Coston, it would have made a fitting illustration for several reasons beyond the fact that it’s just a great picture. I love the fact that Caitlin is more visible than Ryan, whose presence is more implied than seen; and its ambience of dark mystery perfectly fits the book’s story, which reaches its apex with Whiskeytown’s black-night-of-the-soul masterpiece Strangers Almanac. It was also taken at a pivotal show described in the book: October 1999 at Chapel Hill’s Local 506, when Ryan sat down and blew a crowd away with a set of brand-new songs no one had ever heard before (see Chapter 11, pages 124-125 — or download that show from here).

LoseringAlas, UT Press had other ideas about the cover and politely put the kibosh on my plans because the marketing department wanted all the books in the American Music Series to have a consistent visual style. Having grown very attached to this picture as the “face” of the book in my mind, I was rather grumpy about the whole thing — a feeling that vanished the instant I saw the brilliant cover that UT Press book designer Lindsay Starr came up with. It makes a great visual representation of the “Losering” story, and I have to admit it’s tons better than anything I had envisioned. It sets a tone I like, equal parts funny and grandly catastrophic, especially the placement of my name on the label. I still owe Lindsay a beer for this, come to think (in an unbroken bottle, of course).

VARMIt was a helpful reminder that sometimes other people really do know better, so it’s best to keep out of their way. But I still love Daniel’s photo, too, so I made it the anchor art for this blog when it first went online. Daniel took a lot of pictures of Ryan and Whiskeytown back in the day, some of which turned up as illustrations for the American Songwriter magazine excerpt several months back. He also has a Ryan picture in a show called Visualizing American Roots Music, on display at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Southern Folklife Collection. That’s on the second floor of UNC’s Wilson Library, and it will be up until the end of 2013.

Visualizing American Roots Music opens on Friday (January 11), in conjunction with a series of symposia and performances titled The Fiddle, happening Friday and Saturday (January 11-12) on the UNC campus. Word to the wise, all of the events are free.

ADDENDUM: Aggie Donkar’s photos of Friday night’s concert can be found here.

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More year-end love: Hats Off!

OnThatNoteGot another nice little end-of-the-year notice from On That Note, which modestly bills itself as “Just another WordPress.com weblog.” But heck, I live on that planet, too. And I will definitely vouch for OTN’s superlative taste, based on the kind words given to “Losering” in its recap “The Year In Music — 2012”:

Hats off to David Menconi for writing the finest rock book of the year.  ‘Losering: A Story Of Whiskeytown,’ is a look at Ryan Adams, starting when he was an unknown in Raleigh. Menconi was covering the scene for the News & Observer, immediately was taken with the unpredictable, gifted songsmith, who led Whiskeytown to acclaim before going solo.

Great anecdotes and keen observations fill the tome. It’s a rare rock book that’s addictive as potato chips.  You just can’t put it down. Fun take on one of rock’s few remaining characters.

“The finest rock book of the year…addictive as potato chips” — now that is one cool soundbite. Hats off to you, too!

(ADDENDUM: Turns out the author of the above assessment is one Ed Condran.)

In other year-end news, “Losering” picked up an honorable-mention nod from Music Tomes’ 2012 Favorites recap of music books — tied for second with RJ Smith’s “The One: The Life and Music of James Brown.” And the winner of that category is my American Music Series colleague Don McLeese’s Dwight Yoakam book.

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More talk: The debate picks up

There’s more yackety-yack related to Planet “Losering” out there today, starting with part two of the Music Tomes interview. Yesterday’s installment was specific to “Losering,” while today’s edition is mostly focused on the UT Press American Music Series that my book is part of.

Meanwhile, a “Losering” review on NoDepression.com has led to a quite-lively debate in the comments section. Not surprisingly, fans of Ryan’s late-period work are taking issue with my…well, let’s call it less-than-enthusiastic assessment of his recent output. One commenter on the NoDepression review said I come across as “bitter” — and as I replied to her, I’m not bitter but I do find the Ryan/Whiskeytown story to be quite bittersweet.

Similar sentiments turned up yesterday on the Ryan Adams Superfan Facebook page (and the initial version of this post concluded with Mr. Kampa saying, “Fuck you” — which he edited out before I could ask him if he kissed his mama with that mouth):

Oh well…

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