Chuck Stewart’s photography provided by Fireball Entertainment Group, courtesy of Chuck Stewart Photographs of John Coltrane, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
A story from our spring 2013 issue.
You see the painter standing outside the book store, smoking, one hand shoved into the pocket of his jeans, a hooded sweatshirt giving him the squat, neckless look of a bodybuilder. But you know, from the opening/reading the night before—he wore a short-sleeved, double-pocketed shirt like the one your father used to wear bowling—that his arms are thin, muscle tone soft. Four months later, when he sends you a picture of himself naked, six muscle-pounds heavier, leaning back in his office chair to better display (you assume) the newly articulate abdominal lines, you will tell him you remember noticing, that first night, the paunch of his stomach beneath the bowling shirt.
My scream moves through a body that has been in working order for more than thirty-four years. It is a five-foot-six-and-one-half-inch female body, around 140 pounds, and its bone structure appears larger than those of most women I see in the park or at the gym or in the market. Only one of these larger-than-average bones—a metatarsal—has broken, but this still affects the body posture and consequently, according to some, the resonance of the voice. I think, however, that the warped state of the neck and shoulders after years in front of a laptop alters the sound much more significantly. Twenty-five-and-one-half percent of this body is fat and up to sixty percent of it is water. It is not without its tonsils or its appendix and it has never been impregnated. All these facts are a part of the sound you hear when I sigh, sing, or say “hello,” or scream it.
Drive north from Raleigh, North Carolina, a city that stands for all that is positive and prosperous in the New South, and you might feel that you’ve entered another world. Warren County is fifty miles away, past farms and hickory forests veiled with kudzu and preternaturally green. It is one of the most rural counties in the state. Also one of the poorest. The population is a little more than fifty percent African American; more than one in four people here live below the poverty line. Jobs are scarce, healthcare is limited, and schools perform below state levels.
The result: as many as a million and a half feral hogs rampaging through Texas, growing as big as sofas, tearing up farmland and creek bottoms with their root-rooting snouts. They gobbled up baby lambs and caused car wrecks. They carried pseudorabies, swine brucellosis, tuberculosis, bubonic plague, tularemia, hog cholera, foot-and-mouth disease, kidney worms, stomach worms, liver flukes, trichinosis, roundworms, whipworms, dog ticks, fleas, hog lice, and anthrax. Their tusks were “razor sharp,” the pamphlet said, and their gallop as fast as “lightning.” Lest some shred of sympathy stay my hand from indiscriminate slaughter, the pamphlet threw in the lurid detail that feral sows had been known to eat their own young.
A feature from our 18th Southern Music Issue: Visions of the Blues.
The place I was raised in and where occurred the events that most shaped and damaged me as a human being was called Silver Hills. It’s a “knob,” as they deem the low hills in that part of the country. This one had used to be Cane or Caney Knob, so named because when the whites arrived it was covered in tall river cane. The cane is gone but the knob remains, and the people rechristened it Silver Hills, claiming as always that this had been the Indian name.
In “A Town Under Trial,” from our Spring 2017 issue, reporter Nick Tabor relates how an unsolved 1994 double murder continues to haunt a small town in southwest Kentucky. To capture Oak Grove and its trailer parks and “commercial strips of liquor stores, topless bars, and cash-advance shops” familiar to military towns across the country, we enlisted Nashville-based photographer Tamara Reynolds, who was already familiar with the area. Her images convey the tenuous, transitory nature of habitation and commerce in Oak Grove and the unavoidable influence of the military-industrial complex on life there.
In the early 1990s, New Life Fitness & Massage kept its lights on twenty hours a day, closing at five every morning and reopening at nine. Everyone in Oak Grove knew it was a brothel. Fort Campbell, one of the nation’s largest Army posts, sits on top of the Kentucky-Tennessee border, and New Life stood right outside its northern gates next to Interstate 24. Many of its clients were Screaming Eagles: paratroopers from the famous 101st Airborne Division. Most of the others were truckers off the highway and locals of all stripes; some say judges and other dignitaries would come up from Nashville, an hour down the highway, to be ushered in and out covertly.
In my youth, I’d often join my grandmother for dinner at the iconic white-tablecloth steak house she owned in the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans. She dominated the dining room from table 83, a four-top with the best sight lines of the entire restaurant. On the wall behind her permanent seat, over her left shoulder, hung a grand painting: a Mardi Gras tableau of a half dozen white-robed men carrying torches, leading a parade down a spectator-thronged French Quarter street.
Think of these women, coming out of the South and up to Milwaukee, arriving finally in tiny, all-white Grafton by either streetcar or automobile and feeling their way in a studio for the first time. As they fought the forces of shell-shocked alienation, disorientation, and possibly stage fright, the musical conversations between these two gifted artists created other worlds for them to fleetingly inhabit. Their duet yielded a recorded history of blueswomen’s subversive interstitial lives forged outside of both the jail cell and the sphere of domestic abuse, conditions which hovered close to each of them.