November 20, 2018

A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.

In Ryan Adams, the mythic memory of Thomas Wolfe is reincarnate in a contemporary host: an emotional kid from a marginal city in North Carolina with a precocious—underlined—and prolific—triple underlined—talent for transmuting the cramped circumstances of his childhood into dramatic, heartbreaking art of a rarefied sort. Hailing from opposite ends of the state, they each ended up in New York City as young men by way of a crucial teenage education in the Triangle—Wolfe at Chapel Hill during World War I and Adams in the bars of nineties Raleigh. As creators, the unfathomable volume of each man’s output clouds the artistic legacy.

February 20, 2019

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.

November 19, 2019

A Points South essay from the South Carolina Music Issue.

Myrtle Beach has always capitalized on tourists’ desire to put a soundtrack to their vacations. Long before the days of the megachurch-style country music theaters, like the Carolina Opry and the Alabama Theatre, which would later dominate the north end of town, Myrtle Beach was a regular stop for the working musicians who toured the Southeast.

November 20, 2018

A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.

Around the close of the 1950s, if you wanted to hear the beginnings of the funk music that James Brown would soon introduce to the world, you wouldn’t find much of it on his records. Brown’s late- ’50s recordings with the Famous Flames, like his plaintive “Try Me” and the shatteringly sweet “I Want You So Bad,” are indisputably cool, and they spill over with the vocal histrionics that would characterize his performance style for decades to come. But the overall aesthetic of his music from that era is still redolent of doo-wop and ducktails. He’d only just begun to take some sandpaper to the smooth sheen of ’50s pop music. 

No, if you wanted to hear funk music before 1960, your best bet might be the Maola Ice Cream talent show in Kinston, North Carolina. 

November 19, 2019

A feature essay from the South Carolina Music Issue. 

Outside of his studies, Ron joined, and eventually presided over, the A&T karate club, and still made time to stay sharp on his saxophone. “People talk about born geniuses, but I always thought of Ron as a self-made genius,” recalled Ron’s college roommate, Keenan Sarratt. “He got his through hard work. That’s one thing I learned from him—nothing’s impossible. If it couldn’t be done, you’d have to convince him it couldn’t be done.” 

November 20, 2018

A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.

Funk can be a sense of place, transmigratory memories filtered through the nose. For George Clinton, the smell of pig shit crosses state lines. “I remember feeding them pigs. I was knee deep in pig shit. Cosmic pig slop. That’s why you make the same face when something smells. Funk tickles the same muscle. That Southern vapor. Up in there with the biscuits and bacon. Your mother cooking with that iron stove, especially on Sunday morning. That was that same good smell that make you frown like you hear that funky blues.” 

October 31, 2019

A feature essay from the South Carolina Music Issue. 

Funk is at once spiritual and pugilistic and reparative and confrontational. It does not demand you apologize for slavery but absconds over the Atlantic with its freedom and hovers over the water on the downbeat, wishing you would try to come steal it again. It buries itself deep in the dirt of a sea island and makes its rhythms shake the earth and then shoots out the ground on a spaceship. 

November 20, 2018

A feature essay from the North Carolina Music Issue. 

I wanted to start with the wild weeds and the creaking wood on the front porch, walking up to Nina Simone’s childhood home in Tryon, North Carolina. I wanted to start where she started, imagining her daddy playing jazz standards on the piano, her mama cooking something good and greasy in the cramped kitchen with siblings zooming around. I envisioned myself, like Alice Walker looking for Zora Neale Hurston’s unmarked grave, shouting Nina in the derelict home, hoping somehow she would appear, gloriously phantasmagoric, and answer all of my incessant probing questions.

November 19, 2019

A feature essay from the South Carolina Music Issue. 

There’s a high-achieving aptitude to it all, a certain polyglot prodigiousness. He knows how to hack and fuse genres, how to enter and exit. Part of his genius is that he’s an unrepentant copyist; for a time, his motto was a saying gleaned from Paul Rand, the graphic artist behind logos for companies like IBM and Enron: “don’t try to be original, just try to be good.”

November 20, 2018

Track 1 – “Lights in the Valley” (Live) by Joe & Odell Thompson 

They were part of a dying tradition: musicians from the community playing functional music for social dances, not to make a living but because that’s simply what they did. They were also among the last living links to a vast black string band tradition that used to be spread all over the South and other parts of the U.S. but had slowly disappeared until very few were left. And they were swallowed up by the wider societal notion that fiddle and banjo music was strictly a white preserve.