I think the best that we can do as songwriters is try to document and try to record something about the time that we’re living in. If you want to connect with people who are alive now—unless you’re singing to ghosts—you better talk about things that are happening in the present.
At some point in the late Gilded Age of America, rich white people decided winter would no longer be tolerated. The impertinence of cold, the incommodiousness of ice, the dirt of the coal fire, the gray of the sky—these were for ordinary people, not the titans who controlled the banks and the steel mills and the oil fields and the railroads and the bootlegging. They went to Florida.
We sat cross-legged on the cement floor of a warehouse in the Upper Ninth Ward, not far from the train tracks. In the center was a small wooden house with singing pipes built into its walls. This was Chateau Poulet, a musical shanty about to perform for all of us.
Selling fireworks has traditionally been the province of carny types and college kids, though lately there’s been a change in this small Mississippi slice of the industry. I had driven up from New Orleans, where I live, to join a group of twenty-going-on-thirty-somethings from Lawrence, Kansas, led by my friend Cyrus, to sell fireworks in these hinterlands.
From the archive.
Billy Mitchell, the most knowledgeable and masterful Pac-Man player ever to drop a quarter in a machine, is a hard man to find. When I asked one of his best friends, Walter Day, the best way to get in touch with him, Day told me, “First I spend an hour praying to God, then I visit a psychic, then I place a classified ad, then I hire a plane to carry a banner that says CALL ME BILLY! and make it fly all over South Florida. Because he might be anywhere.”
When Ben Metcalf’s first novel, Against the Country, was published in January of this year, it drew scant attention from the world we designate “literary,” and none from the marketplace of what we call ideas. But another look reveals that Metcalf seems guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of sentences written with intent—sentences of extraordinary interest and beauty, originality and art, drama and delight.