An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.
As for the movie I’m watching, I came to adore it more than I ever expected to. It sent me down a Lou Reed rabbit hole. Transformer and Mick Ronson led to Bolan and Mott and then to glam writ large. For a theater kid with a nascent interest in songwriting, the serotonin fireworks are nearly impossible to describe.
Following up on Ryan Adams.
Last week’s news is a colossal disappointment for Adams’s fans—many of whom, like myself, had remained loyal to his music despite his career of public tantrums and well-documented selfishness. And it is an embarrassment for many writers and critics who gave him our words, thereby ensuring his celebrity and thus his power, so often situating his assholery as an excusable byproduct of tortured genius.
Ella had grown up in the Smoky Mountains, first on farms and then in lumber camps, where she and her mother took in laundry while singing old mountain ballads. According to accounts, Ella’s singing voice was deep and seasoned with pain, and her lyrics reflected the plainspoken style of her speech.
A poem from the North Carolina Music Issue.
My burnt body hangs crisscross over Carolina beach dunes below where
family gathers children’s ringing sand splash toys tangled in teenage lust
the skin consciousness potential of everyone eyeing one another
in sunbursted bottoms there is nothing here but the bliss of this day
& so I think on death hanging out over the Atlantic so many dead
In Lexington, where I’m from, a federal medical prison stands on the town’s west side. Far off the main road, it does not ask our attention as we drive home from the Kroger’s or Goodwill—another sight among many in our urban pastoral. Not so long ago, this building held the nation’s attention as the world’s leading drug rehabilitation center, constructed to save civilization from the addict, and the addict from himself. Though, if the United States Narcotic Farm is today known for anything other than its eventual failure, it’s for the legendary figures who came there.
Told though the hybrid means of diptychs, overlaid polaroids, archival materials, and more, Alec Kaus’s Haunts and Related Incidents creates a “nebulous yet self-contained constellation” of images inspired by the W.P.A. Georgia Writers Project collection.
A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music issue.
My hometown is just over an hour from Myrtle Beach, and so it was not unusual for people to make the pilgrimage to the Pad or the Spanish Galleon or Fat Harold’s on Ocean Drive to hear bands like the Embers, the Tams, Chairmen of the Board. I had heard the songs and the names of all the bands long before I was old enough to go. I have a vivid memory of a teenager in the neighborhood, her hair rolled on jumbo orange-juice cans while she danced around barefooted in pedal pushers and a cropped eyelet top, playing Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs’ “May I” over and over again.
A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.
Even with all the influences on his style and songs—Fred Miller, Blind Boy Fuller, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGhee, to name some—Henry had a large collection of originals, could improvise effortlessly (and endlessly) with his talking blues, and never seemed to tire of stories connecting the dots of his life as a fisherman, preacher, musician, and observer of the world. He could glide easily from a voice of defiance to a lonesome wail of abandonment and isolation, fusing the occupational calls of menhaden singers with the eternal sacred pleas for help and ease of pain.
All aesthetics arises from life and ends up going home to the world of art, no matter how or where it started, in the church or the counterfeit palace of pleasure known as the cathouse. What was understood by jazzmen like Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Sidney Bechet, and Louis Armstrong was of such profound importance to jazz performance that it has continued to influence every solid approach to the music, regardless of style.
Mentor to Alice Gerrard, beacon to all of us North Carolina folkie wannabes, revered by those of us with any musical knowledge, and—music’s highest compliment—sung by many of us who don’t know how we know the words. This Chapel Hill woman is the very heart of what we call Piedmont blues.
A Points South essay from our North Carolina Music Issue.
After twenty-four years of educational experimentation and financial struggle, Black Mountain College closed in 1956. Today it is remembered primarily for its tremendous impact on the visual arts. Among the famous painters to emerge from its tiny student body (yearly enrollment was consistently well below one hundred) were Robert Rauschenberg, Kenneth Noland, Susan Weil, Dorothea Rockburne, Ruth Asawa, and Cy Twombly. But it’s also fair to say that the most notorious experimental music composition of the twentieth century would likely never have been composed or performed if not for its cultivation there. John Cage’s two terms as a summer instructor, four years apart, bookended his larger transformation from a critically accepted, if minor, experimental musician to perhaps America’s most controversial living composer. It began with a food fight in Black Mountain’s dining hall.
In the early 1960s, the Staple Singers marched with their gospel rhythms and church-house fervor into the arena of civil rights–inspired folksong. Some saw this as a straying from the one true way, a betrayal even. For the Staples, it was a seamless progression, a greater embracing of all creation. And so it was that a like-minded admirer came by one day to introduce them to a scruffy young songwriter from northern Minnesota.