Mystery Garden

There are a whole lot of weird things going on in my yard.  Join me for a tour.

For You Dog Lovers

My friend Liz, who gave me the awesome lilac in my front yard, just sent me a link to this etsy shop that sells neckerchiefs for your dog.  I think the best part is that they’re designed to not tickle your dog’s ears–an important consideration when dressing your dog up like a train engineer or old-timey bank robber or just for decoration while she’s lying around the house.

Ha, I tease.

The best part is that 10% of proceeds from the sales go to the Stanly County Animal Rescue League.  So you’re not just making your dog pretty, you’re helping animals in need.

In Which Our Hero Interviews Barry Mazor

That’s right, The 9513, I scored an interview with Barry Mazor.  Every day, I cry bitter tears in jealousy at all the cool stuff you do and today, like Bob Dylan says, it’s your turn; you can cry a while.  (Yes, I am taking a moment out of this important post to talk smack about the one country music blog everyone in the world should be reading.  That’s just how I roll.)

So, this is quite possibly the coolest thing that has happened at Tiny Cat Pants in ages.  Barry Mazor, music journalist extraordinaire and author of the new book, Meeting Jimmie Rodgers: How America’s Original Roots Music Hero Changed the Pop Sounds of a Century, agreed to be interviewed by me about the book, even though I warned him that I am a giant nerd and would ask nerdy questions.

If you have better questions for Mazor or just want to learn more about the book, he’ll be speaking tomorrow Friday at noon down to the Country Music Hall of Fame and signing books after.  See here for details.

And, I admitted to him that I haven’t read the book yet, since I was planning on buying it tomorrow Friday to help the CMHoF keep their lights on, and he said he’d be happy to talk more after I’ve read it.  So, I guess what I’m saying, music nerds, is that, if you want to buy the book or check it out from the library, we’ll be having an informed discussion about it later.

But for now?  On to the uninformed discussion!

Me: Nolan Porterfield is one of the legends of country music scholarship.  And he has been, for a long time, not just the expert on but also kind of the fact-keeper about Jimmie Rodgers.  Like you point out in your interview with Peter Cooper, a lot of people are highly influenced by Jimmie Rodgers and don’t know it. I think it’s obvious that even less of his influence would be known if not for the knowledge and advocacy of Porterfield.  I know that Porterfield is very supportive and excited about your book.  But I wonder, how do you feel about stepping into the realm of not one, but two legends?  Is there a sense that Porterfield is handing to you some important piece of country music?  Like now it’s your turn to help keep things straight about Rodgers?  And is that exciting or a little scary or both?

Mazor: It’s been–and I raise this in the book’s acknowledgments–terrifically gratifying that Nolan’s been supportive of this project from the beginning. I don’t think either of us see what I’m trying to do in Meeting Jimmie Rodgers—delving into the story of his legacy, in effect, exploring the life story of his music and image-—as  competitive or stepping on his contribution of his definitive Rodgers biography.

I couldn’t have taken this ride if the facts of his career hadn’t been pinned down–and the amount of new biographical info uncovered since Nolan’s book was published 30 years ago is not that huge.  I include what’s been found and, yes, have gotten access to some material not previously available, but it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a new biography, as such,  all along.

But I’m not trying to be cute.  I hear what you’re asking–and all I can say, Aunt B., is that Nolan seems pretty happy that  after all this time someone else will potentially be an alternative  “go-to guy” on this subject.  People have been coming to him for comments and guidance on Jimmie Rodgers for that whole 30 years and more.   And, finally, if the subject didn’t excite me enough to take on questions and at least  little responsibility on the subject going forward from here, I guess I couldn’t have done the work to deliver the book. And it’s done!

Me: Speaking of legends, you just won the Charlie Lamb Award for Excellence in Country Music Journalism (which, by the way, congratulations).  I love and admire your writing because you write in such a way that it always makes me want to go back and listen more closely to the music, to try to hear what you’re getting at or what you draw out of the artist in your interviews.  Your writing style seems to me one in which you bring the reader together with the music and the artist and you step back.  So, I’m curious, for a writer whose rhetorical strategy seems to be to make sure he’s not getting too much of the attention, what’s it like to get all of this attention?

Mazor: First–gee, thanks! That award is quite a surprise, and means a lot to me. Journalism is still most of what I do.  And bringing the reader closer to this  Rodgers musical legacy is  what I’m up to again in the book, so you’ve got me pegged there.  I do try to make my writing be about its subject, not about me all the time, which I would find a very limited, limiting and potentially boring focus—though, with the cheeky assumption that my turn on the matters at hand will be coming through anyhow.  But that’s a matter of writing style.  In life, I am prepared to sacrifice my unintentional near anonymity on the alter of massive book sales. (Well, massive in terms of non-fiction about music!.  Mini-massive.)

Me: Isn’t it Gayle Dean Wardlow* who talks about how, when he was out collecting records, the one artist he found in homes accross the South, both Black and White, was Jimmie Rodgers?  What was it about Rodgers, do you think, that gave him such wide appeal?

Mazor: Well, that’s my subject-, right there, why that is, and  what the effect of that has been.  I think an under-examined key as to why he had such impact, especially in the the small town and rural South is mentioned in  the book’s subtitle, my notion of Jimmie as a “roots music hero,” not just a record seller or star performer.

Jimmie’s own roots always stayed apparent; he was always “one of us,”  even as he got very successful, and that  made him a sort of unelected representative of the people he came from in the wider world–even as he brought that wider, modernizing world to them, in a digestible way. He set a certain mold there, because you can say that, to some degree, of Elvis Presley, of Dolly Parton, say, or of Sam Cooke.  They never walked away from who they were and who their people were, even with such expansive careers.  Audiences know it.
Me: Your book is about the influences of Jimmie Rodgers on popular music, even on down to today.  I’m wondering if you can help my readers know what to listen for when they’re listening to music to try to know if they’re inadvertently listening to something that has been influenced by Rodgers.  Are there phrases we should keep an ear out for?  Is it exclusively the yodel?  What should we be on the look-out for that should send us scurrying for a connection to Rodgers?

Mazor: Jimmie brought a host of subjects into play into American song and singing, which have been taken up again and again till they’re in our musical DNA–and  a performing approach that imposed his personality on whatever he touched.  You’re not going to hear that, replicated  precisely, in others, because the point was for them to do these things their way.  Musicians will tell you–and in the book, they very much do–that there are guitar runs, bits of phrasing, and also the tunes in those yodels (as often picked up by instruments as by yodeling, which a lot of people, of course, can’t handle or can’t stand) that hang on through so many musical mutations and genres.

A moment when I knew I might have a book here was when I was discussing Jerry Lee Lewis with Cowboy Jack Clement and he said, “You know, Barry, Jerry Lee doesn’t play exactly like other boogie piano players–his left hand is often doing Jimmie Rodgers guitar runs.”    So the Rodgers influence is not just personal, it’s also musical–and my subject is how America’s original roots music hero changed the pop sounds of a century.
(Again, many thanks to Barry for being so generous with his time.)


*My books are still in boxes in the garage, but, if I’m remembering it right, it’s in here.

Edited to Add: Sadly, today is not Thursday.

Bitterly Funny News out of the Publishing Industry

The Justice Department has some concerns about the Google settlement.  That’s not the “bitterly funny” part.  That’s the “ya think?!” part.

Here’s the bitterly funny part:

While Google agreed to share the revenues with the publishers and authors, libraries are worried that Google would have solitary and overwhelming control over access to “orphan books”—titles whose authors and rights-holders have essentially abandoned. Since there’s no other online entity with access to these abandoned books, Google could effectively raise prices for access to the collection and libraries would have nowhere else to go for them.

What’s so funny about that, you ask?  Well, where do you think Google got copies of these orphaned titles to scan in the first place?  I’ll give you a hint–it starts with “the” and ends with “libraries.”

Granted, it wasn’t all libraries.  The public library in Stillwater could not control what the library at the University of Michigan was doing.  And I was sitting in Charleston when the terms of the settlement were announced and, in my opinion, it was pretty obvious even then that even other academic libraries realized that a handful of the largest academic libraries in the country had signed a deal with the Devil that could mean the end of all of their existences.

But I’m still laughing a little bit because when publishers first found out about this academic library/Google set up and publishers said, “Um, excuse me.  There’s no interpretation of copyright law that allows a library to give our content to Google,” many, many libraries were like, “What?  We need digital archives.  It’s the wave of the future.  And information longs to be free.  So ‘fair use’ now includes us getting to let Google make digital copies of our collection.  What are you going to do about it anyway?  Be free, information, be free.”  Well, information might want to be free, but a bunch of folks, across the board, would like to be paid.  Including librarians.

And yet, here we are.  Having given Google the farm, it’s suddenly dawning on the folks that handed over the keys to the place that the folks who were complaining about the theft of their chickens were onto something, now that there’s no eggs.

Just Stating for the Record

Lydia Lenker from the Governor’s Office never emailed me back.

Oh, you know how it is.  You email and don’t get an answer and someone says, “Oh, no, you should have called.”  Or you call and they’re all “Who the hell are you?” because the truth is that you already have to be someone in the first place.

Oh well.