June 11, 2019

A Points South essay from the Summer 2019 issue

I have wanted to visit this house for years. Like many North Carolina kids, I grew up with the broad strokes of Thomas Wolfe’s story, the prolific, small-town genius who became one of the most revered writers of his generation. I lived in North Carolina for most of my life, but I never took the opportunity to visit. Not enough money, not enough time, too much to do: that’s an old story, I know, and a true one. It is also true that we seldom value the places where we live, not enough anyway.

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). 

November 20, 2018

A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue. 

Growing up, Taj encountered a music that sounded like it was “disappearing.” “It was black music, but it was also country music. It turned out to be this fingerpicking that gave me a feeling of being connected to an older style of music that I assumed was African, though I didn’t know.” I said that might be the truest definition of the Piedmont blues I’d ever heard. “It was that little . . . somethin’-somethin’,” Taj said. “I didn’t have no ‘ethnomusicological’ term for it. My name for it was stumblepicking.” Stumblepicking? “Meaning,” he said, “you’re kinda stumbling over the notes to make them. That chord of Etta Baker’s on ‘Railroad Bill,’ it was like an E7 going into an F but it doesn’t stay there. It moves. It jars you. I found something close to it by accident once, and I could probably spend my whole life trying to find it again.” 

March 13, 2018

A Points South essay from the 100th issue.

If the earth is wet enough and acidic enough, the first thing you’ll find when you start digging up a grave is a coffin-shaped halo in the ground. That’s the mark left by the pinewood walls of the casket as they decayed into deep umber in the dirt. Everything else—the lid, the body itself, and whatever earthly treasures went into the hole along with it—has been pushed down to the bottom. The halo descends about a foot, until you reach the grave’s lowest stratum, where you can find scraps of bone, or metal, or just more multicolored dirt. In drier conditions, you might find a lot more than that.

November 20, 2018

A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.

I remember the dB’s. I was eighteen. It was 1982. The band was still together. 

I remember time and space were different then, and information moved incrementally through these media. Only a handful of things ever happened to everyone all at once—things like John Lennon’s murder, or Reagan’s election.

July 22, 2015

While Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown sat in prison, my sisters and I went on school trips to the Biltmore House and Six Flags; we took family trips to Blowing Rock, Chimney Rock, Sliding Rock, Callaway Gardens. By the time I memorized the counties of North Carolina for Mrs. Eddington’s sixth grade class, Brown and his stepbrother had been on death row a couple years.

August 05, 2013

“Before, you said my songs were ‘intensely moral,’” he says. “It took me off guard. And it’s the same thing with my sound—I don’t sit down to write a moral song, and I don’t sit down to write a country song; these things just happen.”

June 12, 2018

A Southern Journey from the Summer 2018 issue. 

Even though I knew it was only temporary, I found riding the Tornado a profoundly lonely experience. For many of those around me, the journey was more permanent, one after which they would emerge into a future of perpetual outsider status, in communities where they would likely be subject to wage theft, housing discrimination, dirty looks for speaking their own language, and racial profiling by police regardless of whether they were documented or not. If they weren’t, they could be uprooted again at a moment’s notice. 

November 20, 2018

A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.

As deeply in love as I was with blaring guitars, exploding amps, and metallic raving, I’d also been listening to James Taylor’s more intimate style of music since his first album, James Taylor, came out in 1969, issued by Apple Records, the Beatles’ label. I owned a prized 45 of the original (and still my favorite) version of “Carolina in My Mind,” the song on which Paul McCartney and George Harrison (“the holy host of others standing ’round”) played bass and sang harmony. “I was homesick when I wrote it,” Taylor has said of the tune that he composed in London. That number made even us sixth-graders at Glenwood Elementary indulge in a kind of premature nostalgia. Kids we might have been, but we too could hear the “highway call”; we too could see those “geese in flight and dogs that bite.” The lyrics and melody induced in us an aching yet pleasurable homesickness for the place from which we hadn’t yet departed. 

April 19, 2016

I came to Replacements, Ltd. to see the huge collection of Fiestaware, the beloved American-made brand of colorful china, and to follow a hunch I had that a plate has special significance in the South. This was both an ethnographic mission for my work as a cultural anthropologist and a personal quest: I am one of countless Americans who collect Fiestaware.