It’s a fundamental irony that while music industry insiders have begun to fear a decline in contemporary country music’s popularity, interest in vintage country music only seems to be growing. Indeed, right here in Nashville, one can point to label closings, flagging record sales, and low Arbitron ratings as proof that country music is on its way out. But one could just as easily note other hometown trends that suggest appreciation for artists such as Ray Price, Moon Mullican, and Kitty Wells is at an all-time high in this post-honky-tonk era: Just recently, we’ve witnessed excellent reissues of Merle Haggard and The Louvin Brothers, BR5-49’s growing national popularity, and the phenomenal success of Eddie Stubbs’ Classic Saturday program WSM-AM.
Established long before the current revival of interest in classic country music, The Journal of Country Music has carefully and thoughtfully observed the music’s evolution over the past 70 years. Indeed, this publication has done much to prove country music’s credibility not just as a form of entertainment but also as one of 20th-century America’s most important art forms. First published in 1971 by the Country Music Foundation, the Journal initially maintained an academic focus, according to editor Paul Kingsbury, but through the years it has incorporated works by such well-known writers as Roy Blount Jr. and Greil Marcus, thus increasing its readership and its editorial palette. This combination of popular and scholarly appeal seems to have worked: The Journal of Country Music is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
In honor of this milestone, the Country Music Foundation Press and Vanderbilt University Press recently published The Country Reader, a solid collection of articles originally printed in The Journal of Country Music. Kingsbury edited the book, and his eye for detail and appreciation for the reader make the book an in-depth and entertaining history of country music.
Divided into three partsessays, photographs, and reviewsThe Country Reader covers everything from the 1927 Bristol Sessions (where The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers were first discovered) to Elvis Presley to Alan Jackson. The writing is simply top-notch; any of these articles could have just as easily been printed in the New Yorker. Peter Guralnick’s essay, “Elvis Emerging: A Year of Innocence and Experience,” explores the singer’s life during the pivotal year of 1956 and in the process manages to reveal the man behind the myth. Guralnick, who later went on to write the award-winning Last Train to Memphis, called his essay “one of the principle spurs towards writing the book.” Other noteworthy pieces include author Lee Smith’s poetic review of Hank Williams: The Complete Lyrics and Charles Wolfe’s “The Legend That Peer Built: Reappraising the Bristol Sessions,” an article that ultimately helped to rewrite country music’s history.
Music-business insiders can worry all they want about sales figures. The Journal of Country Music and The Country Reader have established that there will always be an audience interested in learning about country music’s history. It might be a small audience, but it’s a dedicated oneand as long as the Journal keeps publishing, they’ll keep reading.
At the end of this month, Nashville will be hosting what amounts to a miniature Southern Festival of Books. Unfortunately, the Southeastern Booksellers Conference isn’t open to the public, but its four participating writersLee Smith, Jill McCorkle, John Welter, and Larry Brownwill also participate in a couple of book signings. On Saturday, Sept. 28, Davis-Kidd will host Smith, McCorkle, and Welter, who’ll read and sign copies of their latest works. Best known for Fair and Tender Ladies, Smith recently published a novella, The Christmas Letters, that traces three generations of women through their annual holiday missives. McCorkle’s latest sounds ambitious; she balances six love stories and several unsolved mysteries in Carolina Moon, her first book in six years. Welter’s I Want to Buy a Vowel is another strange and absurd portrait of everyday life by the author of Begin to Exit Here and Night of the Avenging Blowfish. Larry Brown, the former firefighter turned award-winning writer, will have his own signing Sept. 29 at Tower Books. His latest, Father and Son, is a psychological thriller; Publishers Weekly Show Daily hailed the book as one of the breakthrough works at the American Booksellers Association convention earlier this year. It should be noted that only Jill McCorkle will return for the book festival in mid-October, so make a point to catch these writers while you can.
Actor Jack Palance, famous for his tough-guy roles and his one-armed pushups on the Academy Awards, recently decided to try his hand at writing with a collection of love poems. Not suprisingly, The Forest of Love, published by Summerhouse Press, is about as romantic as a ham sandwich. Clunky and heavy-handed, the unintentionally hilarious title poem reads like one of Jack Handey’s Deep Thoughts: “The Forest of Love is everywhere/And if love is a forest, love is a tree/And a tree is love./ There is nothing more beautiful than a tree, nothing/except perhaps the human mind.”
Press materials claim that “The Forest of Love establishes Palance as a fresh voice of male sensuality,” but we can’t find anything fresh or sensual about Palance’s poetry. Perhaps he should stick to acting. Look for the actor to read from his book 1:30 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Southern Festival of Books.
There were plenty of jumps and screams at the severed-head reveal at the Sunday night…
I just...this recap...why did I not know these were here until now?! 4 times on…
So long Don. Your creative energy and encouragement were inspirational to me.
It was so great being one of those kids in Dayton.
I miss Iodine.
^ It's nice to see an official acknowledgement by management. Kristen Mcarther Miles (the girl…