"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."
It’s an American tradition made manifest in class ascendancy (moving to New York to escape a hick town, getting an education and altering an accent): when we feel incomplete—when we feel uncomfortable in our own skin—we seek newer, richer identities. We examine the people who have what we want; we costume ourselves.
An Omnivore essay from the 100th issue.
In the coming skirmishes over the legitimacy of color photography, the image would take on a great symbolic significance. This minor, inexplicable moment—in which a photographer had pondered a light bulb in the Mississippi Delta—would come to be understood as a shot across the bow of art-world atrophy.
I love potatoes in all their forms—even raw—but especially hash browns, latkes, French fries, baked potatoes, soufflés, puffs, pastries, and homefries. And vodka. Don’t get me started on vodka. Please don’t! The last time I imbibed potato liquor I wound up hiring a bicycle taxi to pedal five people to my mother’s house for a nightcap. Mom was delighted; the taxi-cyclist quite a bit less so.
In a book entitled What Is Art? Leo Tolstoy writes, “The satisfaction of our taste cannot serve as a basis for our definition of the merits of food.” In other words, being accustomed to a particular dish does not mean it’s good for us. In his own convoluted way, Tolstoy was defining “comfort food.” He was a nineteenth-century aristocrat who sold portions of his vast estate to pay off gambling debts, so his concept of comfort would differ mightily from yours and mine. He also got depressed a lot. He lost four children to early death and killed a bear at point-blank range, making him dang near a Russian version of Daniel Boone. He certainly thought like a Southerner when he wrote the opening line to Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; and every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
An introduction to a previously unpublished James Dickey essay, from the 100th issue.
In “The Kingdom of the Other,” an essay adapted from a manuscript titled “Under the Social Surface,” written in the 1950s, Dickey says that our written words, meaning our take on everything from abstractions to the glint of a new pocketknife’s blade, are formed from our memories, those shape-shifting resources that turn into people and forests, train stations and the ruminations of characters. (I was very young—twenty-one—when I took Dickey’s class, and I needed to hear that something inside me could be fascinating to a reader.)
You see one thing when you look at the state from a distance, but if you come closer, dig deeper, you always find something else. This probably has something to do with Disney World, but it also relates to the entire construct of Florida—the mythology of the state as a paradise preserved in time just for you.
An Omnivore essay from the Spring 2019 issue.
Due to his health, Leon Redbone can no longer be interviewed. In a way, he’s become a version of the old-time musicians he so admired, about whom little is known: You can only reach them through recordings, archival materials, and the accounts of other people. Longtime friends and band members tell me they knew never to ask about his past. Others say they were sworn to secrecy, and intend to keep the secrets. His own family members say they know little about his early life.
Male romantic friendships in art and life
Everything about my reading and living felt belated. I’d missed by one hundred fifty years the cultural context that somehow explained my intimacy with Luke Henry better than I could, and my education in nineteenth-century romantic friendship came too late.
An Omnivore essay by James Dickey, previously unpublished, from the 100th issue.
The point I would make here is that so much of the mind is just chucked away, discounted, overlooked, junked. The real use of the imagination begins precisely with the recognition that this is happening: the recognition that all one’s inner life matters, from the most habitual modes of thought to the most secret, and the recognition that each of us carries within him his own symbolic drama, never completely understood, but always glowing with the potential of meaning, the meaning of life itself, of our life, of human life as we have known it, each from his own vantage point.