A Kentucky Music Issue web-exclusive liner note.
For some twenty-five years I’ve maintained an obsession with four specific seconds in all the history of rock & roll. Four seconds of a single guitar ripping a hot lick, the opening salvo to a rock & roll song from 1969, a song I don’t particularly love (it’s not my typical go-to music), played by a band I almost never listen to (no disrespect intended). But these scant seconds thrill my ear, lift my spirit, and send me back to my own guitar with renewed enthusiasm, and they capture the singular virtuosity of Steve Ferguson—a great musician from Louisville you’ve likely never heard, which I consider truly unfortunate, because boy is he ever worth the hearing.
It was 1995, the year Joan Osborne’s “One of Us” was released, the end of my eighth-grade year, in rural Kentucky where homophobia was—and continues to be—rampant. My secret boyfriend and I—the one I had kissed in darkened classrooms after Science Olympiad practice, his blond scruff chafing my freshly shaved cheeks—had broken up. We were bullied and threatened in the hallways at school, and gossiped about when we passed notes between classes and had lunch together. I ache for those two boys now, for the normal acne-scarred romance they were never allowed to have.
Interviews with Dwight—at least mine—always occurred on Dwight Time and largely in Dwight Space. About two hours before that first phone interview, Dwight called to apologize and say his day was crazy. Could we reschedule? I said sure, we set a time a few days later, and then he proceeded to talk for at least another hour.
An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.
Music enters us unmediated by the intellect. Every other form of art goes through the brain on its way to your heart, your gut, your soul. We don’t “enter into” music, the way we do with a book, a movie, a piece of visual or tactile art; it enters us. And it enters whole.
Forks & Branches is an intimate meditation on the people and landscapes of Western North Carolina, where Aaron Canipe was raised. Tinted with a pervasive sense of loss and nostalgia, the project captures the particular poignancy of an adult returning to the geography of his childhood and reckoning with both his love for the place and a new understanding of its deep flaws, “hurt, detachment, and stubborn grace.”
Although the journey of this book is more fraught than a cloud forest, it is more magical, too. The games we play become the way the poems tell their stories, the way they love and grieve. These games help reader and poet get to know each other, while also introducing other urgent relationships between country and self, mother and son, the living and the dead.
In 1966, Loretta Lynn was anything but little. She had already released eight solo studio albums. Just one year later she would be the first woman in country music to achieve a certified gold album for Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind). But a “little girl singer” was not considered a true solo act. She was there to support and round out the male stars of a show. The “girl singer” moniker was used by her male colleagues and by emcees as a way to separate and diminish the achievements of women in the industry.
The Old Regulars sing loud. “You can’t whisper it, it needs to have zip,” one told me. Another: “If you can’t shout down here, what are you gonna do when you get to Heaven?” There is an orderliness to their singing, a formal quality—it has the shape and thrust of liturgy. But it is also indisputably wild.
In Myths of the Near Future Rob Stephenson considers the “Space Coast” of Florida after the closing of the Kennedy Space Center’s shuttle program. Interested both in documenting the very real economic struggles communities surrounding the Space Center have faced in the aftermath of the program’s end, and in exploring the “ambiguous realm between dream and reality, between past and future, nature and technology,” Stephenson’s photographs provide a portrait of a place suspended: “nostalgi[c] for the future as the promise of the Space Age slowly fades away.”
A girl was singing in one of the houses we passed. The sound rose up on the wind and out of the brownstone and out of the window down to us on the air. This girl behind that fluttering window curtain was an odd bird whose song I craved. I walked slow and deliberate to try and catch every note. I wanted to tell Glory to hush. This moment felt important to me, like I had just discovered some world for the first time, but Glory kept talking and kept walking. Knowing that I’d miss the end of that song, that I’d never know how it ended, made me want to cry.
When I was growing up here in the 1980s, the larger world told us we had nothing to be proud of. As Eastern Kentuckians, we knew better. We had our people, our work ethic, and our land. And we had our internationally known musicians: Loretta Lynn, Tom T. Hall, Jean Ritchie, Patty Loveless, Dwight Yoakam, many others. In our little corner of Southeastern Kentucky, we had the Phipps Family—lesser known but still a great source of pride for us.
An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.
Stories of sin and salvation are plentiful in serpent handling communities, and over the years, I’ve heard dozens of tales of Signs Followers backsliding into different vices and leaving church, only to repent later and rejoin the congregation.