Monthly Archives: August 2010

David N. Meyer on Gram Parsons Biography

The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music

Over the past few years, my increasing interest in Americana music has prompted me to explore its roots. This exploration recently led me to David N. Meyer‘s book, Twenty Thousands Road: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music. As a Georgia native, it surprised me to learn that Parsons spent his earliest years in Waycross, Georgia. But that’s far from the only thing I learned in this engaging book. Meyer was kind enough to discuss the book and his research process in this recent email interview.

Tim O’Shea: In writing about Parsons’ life, considering that his musical career was essentially 10 years, were you surprised you were able to devote 300 pages to that aspect of his life or could you have written more if you had had the time and space (in publishing terms)?

David N. Meyer: I had to be conscious of holding back from writing too much. I found pretty much every detail fascinating, and given how compressed GP’s career was, illuminating as well. And it’s tempting to include every nugget; ask any biographer. So, no, I was not surprised.

O’Shea: Most biographies don’t sport encyclopedias. What motivated you to do one?

Meyer: I imagined a 15-year-old finding this book 15 years from now, and not having any idea who a number of the mentioned musicians, family members and cultural figures were. While ample web resources exist, I wanted to provide context. It’s that completist thing, too. I wanted readers to be able to instantly read and contextualize anyone mentioned in the book. It was also a lot of fun to write.

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On Vinyl: Jack White and Conan O’Brien!?!

Pop & Hiss, the LA Times music blog, has the details regarding a release involving musician Jack White and TV host Conan O’Brien:

“‘And They Call Me Mad?’ — that title is amazing for various reasons — is a 7-inch single with O’Brien’s improvised, spoken-word retelling of Frankenstein on one side and an interview with O’Brien by White on the other.”

Interviews I Wish I Had Done: Sam Phillips

Dw. Dunphy at Popdose has scored an interview with one of my favorite singer/songwriters Sam Phillips. Phillips is just too damn modest, but I think she would disagree. Consider this quote from the interview:

“I am happy when I like a melody enough to repeat it.  It is a thrill when other musicians play things you want to hear over and over again. I have never been good at professional songwriting.  I aim at the target and always end up hitting something else.”

Phillips’ melodies roll around in my head all the time, even years after hearing them. That’s how great of a songwriter she is.

Reader Tip: An Interview with Ken Burns

Thanks to a reader, Stephanie Williams, who wrote in to make me aware of an interview with documentary maker  Ken Burns that aired on a WPSU-TV program called Conversations from Penn State (hosted by Patty Satali). [Full disclosure, in contacting me, though she did not specify her association, I assume that Williams is somehow connected to the show. Either way, I’m appreciative of her making me aware of the show.]

I’m not a big fan of Ken Burns documentaries. They are important projects that are thorough and well researched, no doubt. But they are just too dry for me. Maybe I need to revisit them, particularly given my affinity for baseball–and his project of the same name.

Hal Duncan on His Fiction, Other Creative Pursuits

Hal Duncan
Hal Duncan

I always appreciate when a friend of the blog broadens my area of knowledge by suggesting an interview subject. This week, thanks to a suggestion from Allison Baker (of MonkeyBrain Books), I present my interview with self-described strange fiction writer Hal Duncan. Here’s a snippet of Duncan‘s bio: “A member of the Glasgow SF Writers Circle, his first novel, VELLUM, won the Spectrum Award and was nominated for the Crawford, the BFS Award and the World Fantasy Award. As well as the sequel, INK, he has published a poetry collection, SONNETS FOR ORPHEUS, a stand-alone novella, ESCAPE FROM HELL!, and various short stories in magazines such as Fantasy, Strange Horizons and Interzone, and anthologies such as NOVA SCOTIA, LOGORRHEA, and PAPER CITIES.” In addition to discussing his theories on fiction as well as his work in general, he and I also discussed a musical recently produced that was written by him–and the experience of writing a screenplay. I always thank folks when they give me the honor of their valuable time, but I have to give Duncan an extra big thanks for the level of detail and consideration he gave to his answers.

Tim O’Shea: Your first novel, Vellum, was translated into several different languages. How much were you involved in that process? Can you think of any country where you were pleasantly surprised to find readers took strongly to the book?

Hal Duncan: With some of the translations I’ve had no involvement at all; with others there’s been a lot of back-and-forth. They’re not the easiest books in the world to translate by a long shot, I know; there’s all manner of poetic techniques, dialect, wordplay, even a mixture of mythical, historical, and alternate-history settings that means passing references could be authentic history or utterly spurious. I regard my translators with a mixture of shame at what I put them through and wonder at the fact they’re tackling it. So if there’s anything I can do to help, I’ll do it. It’s fascinating to see the process anyway.

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Robert Plant: “Kick the Door Open…or Edge it Open With My Hips”

Thanks to PASTE magazine, I became aware that Rounder Records has posted a “making of the album” discussion with Robert Plant, regarding his Band of Joy project (set for release in mid-September).

Plant’s a witty as hell fellow, but my favorite line happens around the first minute, when he discusses covering other people’s music and instilling the pieces with his personality. Plant said: “I wanted to bring my personality with other people’s songs…and kick the door open… a little bit … or edge it open with my hips. I sing the way I sing–attack those songs…I can only do it Plant-like.” Also be sure to look out around the seven-minute mark for Plant’s take on Townes Van Zandt (while discussing Band of Joy’s cover of Harm’s Swift Way).

Heard on the Radio: Alpha Rev’s New Morning

It’s rare that I hear a new song on the radio that catches my attention. The nature of mainstream radio these days is that it seems everything sounds similar. But when I heard Alpha Rev‘s New Morning on Dave FM the other day, it definitely gave me reason to pause. And then scramble to the station’s website to find out who did the song.

The band clearly knows they have a good song here, as it’s what greets visitors when they first arrive at the band’s website. Fortunately the band also allows folks to embed the video on their own site as well, so here we go.