November 20, 2018

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.

December 06, 2018

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.

Winding through these towns, behind buildings and homes, across fields—I am struck by the train’s intimate perspective. The very idea that I was looking into people's backyards felt voyeuristic; I could not avert my eyes. The fields seemed close enough to touch as we plowed through. I could almost feel the wind, the tall stalks of grass.

November 20, 2018

A Points South essay from our North Carolina Music Issue.

Reina de mis . . . Reina de mis . . .” And it struck me suddenly, as I stared down at my notebook at my messy handwriting, how without having given it any thought, I’d automatically jotted down Spanish lyrics in English words. “Queen of my . . . Queen of my . . .” A force of habit in a country where I am sometimes discouraged from speaking in my native tongue. 

January 14, 2019

A lyric essay supplement to our 2018 North Carolina Music Issue—plus H. C. McEntire covers Led Zeppelin.

God is right there, in the brier. Turn the rows, change the tires, bow the heads, feed the mouths. Only the rhythm will yield the harvest. Go on, now. Shoot the hog between the eyes. It’s easiest that way.

Serve them all.

November 20, 2018

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. 

June 11, 2019

A Southern Journey from the Summer 2019 issue. 

Lenny did all he could to hang around it over the next couple of years, cleaning lines, fetching balls, brushing the clay to maintain a smooth surface. Eventually, after cocktail hour ended and the guests went home, Gibson set him in front of a backboard and showed him how to rotate his back foot and drive the ball. She even imparted a few life lessons, foremost among them, he remembers now: “Every time you come to this gate, you better be ready to go.” 

September 09, 2014

"It’s exceptionally difficult to talk about Haw—the newest record from Hiss Golden Messenger, the songwriting alias of M. C. Taylor—without talking about death, and Sunday morning seemed like as good a time as any for Taylor and me to get into it. We were seated outside at Durham’s Geer Street Garden, and in between forkfuls of grits I was trying to tell him about an interview I’d read with the Sri Lankan monk Bhante Gunaratana, in which Gunaratana suggested that death is constant, omnipresent."

August 10, 2015

The August night tells me that I’m home once again, down from New York City, where I’ve lived since 1987, a long barreling Interstate drive away. In the garage, the Subaru’s cooling engine ticks and clatters. All around me as I stretch and unbend, the darkness of a Chapel Hill neighborhood resounds, a vast, pulsing rave of cicadas, crickets, and frogs, with the occasional hoot of an owl thrown in to terrify the small mammals.

November 20, 2018

A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.

I first heard Wesley Johnson’s name in 2008 while speaking with Carlotta Fleming (née Samuels) about her vocal group, Odyssey 5. After recording their lone LP, First Time Around, for Brunswick Records in 1974, she’d spent a few years in Italy singing in a group called Wess Machine, the namesake disco ensemble of a man named Wesley Johnson—a Winston-Salem native who’d been moving and shaking to some degree in Italy. I didn’t get tied up in the few details Fleming had to offer, so I was floored a decade later to encounter a box of Wesley Johnson LPs—all Italian pressings—in a Jamaican record shop. These beautiful, gatefold affairs revealed that Johnson was not some draft dodger or bail hopper, but a prolific expat whose overseas success story remained mostly unknown back home. In Winston-Salem, his sister Linda told me the best person to speak to about Wesley would be his best friend, Carl Ray Johnson, whom I knew as the drummer and primary songwriter for the Eliminators, another important local soul combo from the seventies. Luckily, I was already in touch with Carl.

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.