November 12, 2018

An essay supplement to our North Carolina Music Issue.

It’s easy to become bored with common things—a four-lane highway, or a daily schedule at the nursing home, or a type of bird or music. But maybe these days we make too much of what awes us or infuriates us, and too little of the regular life in the middle. What’s common only became common, after all, because it adapted and learned to fit in. A cliché was once original. Country music was once meaningful. Walking was once easy. A common robin once saved Jesus.

November 20, 2018

Notes on the songs from our 20th Southern Music Issue Sampler featuring North Carolina.

The profiles, eulogies, and essays herein boast of remarkable achievements of North Carolina’s musicians across eras and genres: from unassailable legends (High Point’s John Coltrane, Tryon’s Nina Simone, Chapel Hill’s James Taylor) to contemporary masters (Snow Hill’s Rapsody, Jacksonville’s Ryan Adams, Raleigh’s 9th Wonder) to the seen-afresh (Dunn’s Link Wray, Kannapolis’s George Clinton, Winston-Salem’s dB’s, Charlotte’s Jodeci)—and, of course, the often-overlooked and in-between (Winston-Salem’s Wesley Johnson, Morganton’s Etta Baker, Chapel Hill’s Liquid Pleasure, Kinston’s Nathaniel Jones, Black Mountain’s period of hosting John Cage). 

October 02, 2018

The Oxford American magazine’s celebration of its twentieth annual Southern Music issue, this year featuring North Carolina, will be held Monday, November 26 – Saturday, December 1, 2018. This weeklong celebration, co-presented by Hillsborough, North Carolina-based Yep Roc Records, and designed in partnership with North Carolina-native singer-songwriter Tift Merritt, will be comprised of music events featuring a Statewide Singing Circle and literary readings highlighting stories from the issue. 

October 08, 2018

A feature essay from the Fall 2018 issue.

Prine radiates a sense of well-being, along with a sort of amused nonchalance toward potential disaster. This is a good thing, because the Coupe, as it turns out, has no passenger-side safety belt. Or rather it has the shoulder belt, but the thing on the seat into which it is supposed to latch is missing. I noticed this awhile back, and it worried me for a few minutes. But then I thought, If you’re going to buy the farm it might as well be in a ’77 Coupe de Ville with John Prine.

August 14, 2018

In a 2017 interview with Bill Flanagan, Bob Dylan held forth on his views regarding Don McLean’s “American Pie,” a song that I have loathed with an almost inchoate malice since first encountering it as a young child. Dylan didn’t seem like a fan either, and in particular addressed the long-standing conjecture that he himself was the so-called “jester” referred to in McLean’s bloviating marathon.

August 02, 2018

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

The pilgrimage to The Store is a ritual exercise of re-centering that anchors me in something common and universal; strangers converge at a single nexus for that unavoidable suburban rite, the completion of errands, and I happily join the other shoppers wandering through rows of soda, dog food, and detergent like a sleepy school of fish.


June 14, 2018

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

Violence as a concept is easy to oppose, but it is harder to condemn human beings tangled in the various machines of violence that permeate our world. I’m unable to clear the hurdle of invalidation it takes to dismiss a person completely; I find myself more dismayed than critical. My opinions about violence, war, and guns, however deeply rooted, are predicated upon second-hand knowledge of others’ experience.


April 26, 2018

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

It is easy to dismiss a person as ignorant; it is hard to recognize the ways in which I am still ignorant. My ego retaliates violently against this possibility because it threatens my self-image as a Good Person, the moral superiority that enables me to pity those with whom I disagree from the relative safety of higher ground.

March 08, 2018

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

It was devastating to find how much I enjoy quiet. For a person whose life is consumed by music, it felt like blasphemy. The first time that I sat down to play guitar and nothing came out, I was terrified.

January 26, 2018

Mary Gauthier and the art of writing war.

She’s a queer Opry star and recovering heroin addict turned postwar Virgil. A surrogate of sorts for the new war narrative. “I have done this process on myself for twenty-odd years and ten records, so I know where we’re trying to get.” Mary’s cowriting with veterans isn’t about slogan or ritual.