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.
*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.