A few words about…Ryan Adams

DRANYTBack on Feb. 13, when the New York Times dropped its bombshell piece alleging sexual misconduct by my old book subject Ryan Adams, about a half-dozen emails with the story link appeared in my inbox within two minutes of it going online. Most of them were along the lines of OMG have you seen this?! But a few were also inquiries, from people asking what I thought or if I’d be writing about it.

One of the people asking if I was going to write about it was an editor at the paper, to whom I responded: “I’m not touching this with a 10-foot pole.” Figuring that the world could do without my hot take on the situation, I opted to leave it alone.

And yet that did not stop anyone from asking.

I was scheduled to do a few events at last month’s North Carolina Book Festival, and I figured (correctly, as it happened) that I’d get asked about Ryan. So I wrote out a statement that I read at my Feb. 23 presentation about book-writing, figuring that would be the end of it.

Weeks later, however, people are still asking — and I figure it will inevitably come up next week, when I’m at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. So what the heck, I’ll put the statement on here, too, even though I have no grand revelations. I wish I did.


I have said very little in public about the recent Ryan Adams allegations. Almost nothing, in fact, and I’ve had my reasons.

Ryan has been gone from Raleigh for a very long time, and he has not even played a show anywhere in North Carolina in nearly 14 years — since June 2005. He and I have not communicated directly in many years, either, so whatever insight I may have once had into him as a person does not seem relevant to his current circumstances. Moreover, I have not wanted to give the appearance of trying to sell books or otherwise capitalize on a terrible situation.

For whatever it’s worth, I never witnessed or heard about anything like the allegations in the New York Times story, either back in the day or while reporting on him after the fact. This should not be surprising. Ryan’s time in Raleigh was more than 20 years ago. He was just breaking into the music business and did not yet have his own recording studio, record label or standing in the industry to boost anyone else’s career.

Of course, I heard some stories because everybody in Raleigh of a certain age who was crawling clubs back then has at least one Ryan Adams story. As told to me, they were mostly humorous anecdotes in which no one took him too seriously — like the time he jumped into a hot tub full of women uninvited, or got chased out of a house and down the street in Boylan Heights with a broom.

In light of recent revelations, stories like that don’t seem nearly as funny or innocent as they once did. I think of Phoebe Bridgers, a singer/songwriter and one of the women quoted in the New York Times story. She wrote a song about her time with Ryan, “Motion Sickness,” that kind of induces shudders from the very first verse.

I hate you for what you did
And I miss you like a little kid
I faked it every time but that’s alright
I can hardly feel anything at all…

That leads to the chorus, in which Bridgers declares she has “emotional motion sickness” and croons in a shell-shocked voice, There are no words in the English language I could scream to drown you out.

At least we got to actually hear that song. Some of the other women in the New York Times story gave up music altogether, and the word “tragedy” seems somehow inadequate to describe that.

At this point, I have no idea what a right or just outcome would look like. It’s not my place to either condemn or defend Ryan. I’ve written a lot about Ryan over the years, very possibly too much. So right now, what seems appropriate for me to do is this: to listen.

Sara Romweber, rest in peace

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Let’s Active in a 1984 promo shot. From left, Sara Romweber, Mitch Easter and Faye Hunter.

Well, that didn’t take long. Here it is only Tuesday of my first full week away from the News & Observer after 28 years — and already, there’s a story that’s killing me not to do for the paper. If I were still in the newsroom, I would be spending today writing a proper N&O obituary and remembrance of Sara Romweber, who died Monday night from cancer at the much-too-young age of 55.

Romweber was one of the great drummers in North Carolina music history. I was a fan long before I moved here, thanks to her time in the band Let’s Active in the early/mid-1980s. And once I got here and started seeing her in other bands, that fandom only grew. From Let’s Active’s brainy art-pop to Snatches of Pink’s metallic glam-rock, with the runaway-train garage-rock of her brother’s Dex Romweber Duo somewhere in between, she played a very wide range of music and did so brilliantly, invariably displaying casual nonchalance — always on-point, never unnecessarily showy.

So here is a sample of her at work, and below that a quick remembrance I put out on Facebook and Twitter.

UPDATE: Whattaya know, I was able to give her a proper sendoff in Indyweek.

 

Whenever I’d see Sara Romweber onstage, I would ask myself: How does she hit those drums so hard? Because even though she was soft-spoken and slightly built, Sara could flat-out bring the thunder — especially in her brother-sister act Dex Romweber Duo, and in Michael Rank’s Snatches of Pink. She also played on some of my all-time favorite records with Let’s Active.

I think the only time I actually interviewed her was for the Flat Duo Jets box set liner notes a few years ago. And she told me one of my favorite anecdotes of that whole project, about life growing up in the Romweber family home in Carrboro:

“Dex would be practicing by himself in the basement, where the furnace was. His voice really carried & it would come up thru the vents. You could hear his voice & guitar really well on the 2nd story from the basement, like a speaker. He’d be learning songs our mom knew, Elvis ballads, and he’d keep stopping because he did not know the lyrics. So mom set down her knife, opened the door & said, ‘Dex, honey, that goes…’ ‘Okay, thanks!’”

She also talked at length about monster movies, soccer, Catholic school, the many bands she and her siblings played in over the years — about everything except herself, in fact. I think that was pretty typical, because Sarah did not seem like one to call attention to herself. But you only had to see her play once, and you’d never forget her.

Alas, she is another one gone too soon — from cancer at age 55, preceded in death by her old Let’s Active bandmate Faye Hunter.

Rest in peace, Sara. Gonna fire up “Cypress,” “Dead Man” and “Ruins of Berlin” in your honor.

Thank you, friends

Last month, when I began telling people privately that I was going to leave the News & Observer after 28 years, almost everyone reacted with enough genuine shock to surprise me. But that was nothing compared to the response when I put the word out to the world at large.

UglyCryThese past two weeks have been amazing — the most wonderful, depressing, heartbreaking, uplifting and bittersweet experience of my life. I have wept, repeatedly and embarrassingly, in public and private. And every time I think I’m done, here it comes again; seems like I’ve still got some grieving to get through. And while my head knows it’s the right time to leave the N&O, my heart is going to take a little longer to come around.

LastDeskShotIn all, nine of us left the N&O newsroom, representing around 200 years of total journalistic experience and institutional knowledge. It was a similar story at other McClatchy-owned papers across the country. I think most of us departed more in sorrow than in anger, and I’m hoping for the best for my former co-workers who are still trying to hang in there at the N&O. I’m afraid it’s going to be rough, and it hasn’t exactly been a picnic up to now.

Probably for some byzantine accounting reason, McClatchy is classifying this as “retirement” for everyone leaving. But full-on retirement is not an option for me at this point. I do have a few months of breathing room, with book-writing and Piedmont Laureate activities and a little freelance work to get me through this stretch of time. Nevertheless, I’ll have to figure out a Next Act pretty soon. I’ll keep you posted.

SocksFirst, though, I’d like to bask just a little while longer in the afterglow of all the love and kindness that’s come my way. I’ve heard from people across social media, in-person and even in my mailbox at home, where various neighbors have left pick-me-up gifts including chocolate, notebooks and cool socks. Jeri Rowe, a longtime friend and colleague from Greensboro, checked in with a written tribute so nice, it’s kind of impossible to feel worthy. It’s been like getting to watch my own funeral, and hearing from so many people has meant a lot.

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Martha and me. Photo by Dave Russo.

It reached a crescendo this past Saturday afternoon at Kings nightclub in Raleigh, where my wife Martha Burns orchestrated a lovely going-away bash I’ll remember forever. I’m not great at guessing crowd sizes, but it looked like close to 100 people came by to pay respects, give me a hug, tell a story. Some were kind enough to play a song or two — Caitlin Cary and Matt Douglas, two-thirds of Tres Chicas, Dana Kletter, Ryan Kennemur, The Sirens, Kenny Roby and even our neighborhood super-group Patrick Ward Ramsey leading the crowd in a sing-along version of “With a Little Help From My Friends.”

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Matt Douglas and Caitlin Cary. Photo by Dave Russo.

Peter Blackstock, one of my closest friends for over three decades, came all the way from Austin, Texas, and read a few very entertaining excerpts of our writings back and forth over the years. My old N&O co-worker Bob Langford got on the mike to do a comedic roast of a tribute, showing the perfect onstage timing I’ve always envied. And my BFF Scott Huler…well, I’m including it below because words fail me beyond noting that the thought of it will make me tear up for the foreseeable future.

Scott, of course, was the first creative-non-fiction Piedmont Laureate back in 2011, and I am honored to follow in his footsteps. As it happens, his latest book just came out, “A Delicious Country: Rediscovering the Carolinas Along the Route of John Lawson’s 1700 Expedition.” He’ll debut it with his first reading on Wednesday, March 6, at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. So we’ve made it a “Piedmont Laureate Presents” event — two Laureates for the price of one! — which means I have the honor of introducing Scott and his co-presenter, Tom Earnhardt of UNC-TV’s “Exploring North Carolina.”

Y’all come.

# # # #

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Me and Scott. Photo by Dave Russo.

My best friend is David Menconi, so what I have is music.

Menconi watched my life explode in the 1990s, waited for the flames to die down and then came up, dusted me off and said, ‘There’s a band you have to go see.” And then came years of my life where the entire playlist, live and on records, was the Backsliders. Someone who leads you to the Backsliders manifestly has your best interests in mind.

But apart from the local bands David introduced me to are the mixtapes. I once was heading out on a car trip and asked David for a mix, with a few requests. That became mix number 1, and along with that he made a second tape with two albums: On one side, Hollywood Town Hall by the Jayhawks, and on the other The Gilded Palace of Sin by the Flying Burrito Brothers. So if you’re keeping score, David introduced me to the Backsliders, the Jayhawks and Gram Parsons.

At some point I began responding with mixes of my own, and we developed a shorthand, the tapes accompanied by song sheets with song titles followed by half-spoken thoughts, staccato comments understood almost subliminally, a personal semaphor — twin talk, a bestie language.

I want to share one of those with you.

When long ago it became clear that the News & Observer and I were going to have to start seeing other people, David made me a mixtape with a title cribbed from a line from “Animal House,” and that tape has some resonance now. The tape is called “Leaving: What a Good Idea.” Subtitle: “The Rearview Mirror at the end of the rope.” The song sheet is no longer with the tape because the song sheet lives in the treasure box on my dresser, with the birth certificates and passports and pictures of the kids. With the stuff I must not lose track of.

It started with the Replacements’ “Hold My Life” — comment, “Because I just might lose it” — followed by “Downtown Venus,” and his crib note reminded me of a drive down Wade Avenue when I had recognized a sample in that song. Menconi’s the music guy, but he’s giving me credit for hearing things. This is the tape that introduced me to Joe Henry’s “Trampoline”: note: “So this time I’m not coming down.” The Elvis Costello song “We Despise You” has only the crib note “hee hee hee,” and the Tom Waits version of the seven dwarf’s marching song (“heigh ho…heigh ho…”) refers to our work turning into toil. David’s comment: “I’ve got this story I’d like you to localize.” Ennio Morricone is there, Shawn Colvin is there, Nirvana is there. Towards the end David gets literal, and we get Willis Alan Ramsey singing “Goodbye Old Missoula,” Booker T and the MGs’ version of “Exodus,” and it ended, perfectly, with the B-52s’ “Follow Your Bliss” and David’s benediction: “may we all find it.”

And now David is leaving — what a good idea! — and I, and we, will manage his departure, though surely not as gracefully as he managed mine.

David has traveled with me and eaten burgers with me, watched endless sports games and movies and kids with me. And in fact, that’s really the whole thing, isn’t it? We’ve been eating lunch together at one place or another at least once a week now for nearly 30 years, and there are times when we barely talk at all because we just know everything the other one has to say, and at the end of that lunch I still feel like I’ve been to therapy. We talk about writing and stuff because we’re writers, but it’s like plumbers talking about plumbing. We just talk.

We both turn for comfort every year to the Christmas specials, and those specials help us communicate, too. One year the annual newspaper awards came out and we got the email with the list, and we both got skunked. I’m a broken, ruined person, with a shriveled black hole where my heart should be, and I desperately need that external validation. But I didn’t even get a chance to get up from my chair before the phone rang. Menconi, in the voice of Charlie-in-the-Box, from “Rudolph”: “I guess we’ll just have to wait til next year.” And suddenly I didn’t need the stinking award because I had Menconi.

We both revere that “Charlie Brown Christmas Special,” and we find in Linus the meaning of friendship. Linus watches Charlie Brown wreck one thing after another, yet Linus just hangs around. Charlie Brown gets no cards, and there’s Linus. Charlie Brown wrecks the play and there’s Linus. Charlie Brown screws up the tree and there’s Linus.

Welcome to my life. I move to Raleigh to start a job and there’s Menconi. My marriage ends and there’s Menconi. His kids come along and there’s Menconi. I leave the paper: Menconi. I get married — Menconi. Kids of my own. Menconi. Lunch every solid stinking week come heat, hell or hurricane — Menconi. And, true enough, the opposite. Menconi’s life hits a speed bump and there I turn out to be, so I guess this works both ways. And Menconi walks away from the N&O, and here I am again.

I have nothing to offer but my company, and nothing to claim but my gratitude for the best friend that I’ve ever had.

I probably should have made a mixtape.

— Scott Huler
March 2, 2019

 

Secret to a long life is knowing when it’s time to go

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Photo by Teresa Moore

And so begins the task I have dreaded the coming of for so long…

Well, folks, I guess it’s time for me to make it official: After 28 years, I am leaving the News & Observer at the end of this month.

February 28 will be my final day there, after which I’ll join this latest exodus from the newsroom. I’ve been at the N&O long enough to become part of the furniture, as the saying goes. The thought of leaving it behind makes me feel…well, a confusing rush of emotions.

Anxious and scared, for starters, especially over non-trivial matters like what we’ll do for health insurance. Bereft, kind of heartbroken, crushed — that starts to cover it. You’d think 28 years would be long enough to stay anyplace, especially when the job has changed as much as this one has. And yet part of me is still not ready to let go, even though this is a voluntary separation. But the only thing that feels “voluntary” about it is the timing. More layoffs and cutbacks seem inevitable, sadly, so at this point it’s jump or be pushed.

At the same time, I have to admit there’s a certain amount of relief to it, too. I’ve been expecting and dreading this for so long, trying to hold it off while living under a sword, and now it’s finally here. The bloodletting in my world began in the spring of 2008, when the bottom dropped out of the world economy and hit print media especially hard. Other sectors of the economy recovered, eventually, but print never did. Making our situation even more dire, the N&O’s corporate owner McClatchy had taken on billions of dollars worth of debt in a merger not long before the crash.

Between steadily declining revenues and lingering debt, we’ve been spiraling downward ever since. More than a decade of layoffs, buyouts and attrition whittled our once-mighty newsroom staff of 250 down to around 40 survivors. I am as surprised as anyone else that I’ve lasted this long. All of us have felt immense pressure to produce, especially during the newsroom’s series of “digital-first reinvention” initiatives the past two years. We’ve given our best, all of us, even as some of us have handled it with more grace than others. I’ll cop to having thrown a tantrum or two, and I’m not the only one. It’s been difficult.

I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to say about this later. Right now I’m still trying to process it in a way that focuses more on being glad it happened than sad that it’s ending. And I’m having trouble figuring out how to say goodbye to a place that’s been home for most of my career. In all probability, this will be the end of me as a full-time journalist, which feels like having an arm torn off. I’m kind of not sure who or what I’ll be after this. I’ll definitely still be writing in some way, shape or form, and not just because I’ve got a book to finish. For better or worse, writing is not something I can stop.

At the very least, I’ll still be posting on this blog through the year. I’ll also be doing my radio show, and Piedmont Laureate programs — maybe one on job-hunting (ha ha ha). Obviously, this is profoundly awkward timing and not what I would have picked for my time as Laureate. I had hoped this year could be one of opportunity for the paper as well as for me, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

If there’s a silver lining to the dark cloud of my imploding career, it’s that this might be an interesting transitional period to share as I try to figure out whatever my “next thing” will be. I don’t like to think too much about it, but it’s very possible that writing is going to become more sideline than primary means of support. We’ll see. At this point, I really don’t know.

Stick around and I’ll let you know how it’s going. Support your local newspaper, wherever you are, because it’s important. Come out and see me at the North Carolina Book Festival this week. And come to my going-away party — the afternoon of Saturday, March 2 at Kings in Raleigh.

Meantime…I loved being the News & Observer’s music critic for so long, more than I can say. It’s been an honor and a privilege, the time of my life.

I’ll be seeing you.

N&OID

Brushes with greatness: The New York Times bestseller list

 

UTPressLogo.JPGOne of my ongoing part-time side hustles is book editor, although that sounds somewhat more high-falutin’ than the reality of the situation. Nevertheless, since 2011 I have been one of several co-editors of the American Music Series at University of Texas Press. My job is to beat the bushes in search of potential authors and subjects, trying to get book projects going in the area of creative nonfiction (yes, it fits right in with this year’s Piedmont Laureate area of emphasis). Early on, the series was pretty heavily Americana-focused, in part because it was an outgrowth of the old No Depression magazine. But it has broadened considerably in recent years with books on Mary J. Blige, Chrissie Hynde and even Madonna.

I would liken the gig to being a freelance talent scout for a record company, the initial point of contact. When I bring in a proposal to consider, UT Press gets the final say because it’s their money. And since it’s a university press, alas, it’s generally not a ton of money. University presses operate on a much smaller scale than the big boys, and we have to find writers who are willing and able to work with us on labor-of-love projects for modest advances. It’s miles away from the J.K. Rowlings of the world, although we’ve done okay in publishing 14 books. It’s not like anybody expects university press books to hit the bestseller list.

HanifATCQcoverAnd yet lightning does strike, once in a great while. I’m pleased to note that the American Music Series has an actual honest-to-God hit on the New York Times bestseller list, the gold standard of sales charts in the book world. It’s the poet Hanif Abdurraqib’s phenomenal new book “Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest,” a highly idiosyncratic critical biography of the legendary hip-hop troupe from Queens. After its Feb. 1 publication date, “Rain” blew onto the Times list at a healthy No. 13 in paperback nonfiction books last week. I’m told it’s the first UT Press title of any kind to make the list since T.H. White’s fantasy work “The Book of Merlyn” way back in 1977 — six years before Abdurrquib was born — which kind of blows my mind.

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“Rain” has also picked up across-the-board critical raves, including glowing reviews in the Washington Post (written by my former N&O colleague Geoff Edgers, who long ago graduated to the big time) as well as the Times. I can take no credit whatsoever for any of this, because “Rain” is my UT Press editorial cohorts Casey Kittrell and Jessica Hopper’s baby. My only role was to add my thumbs-up to the proposal and then say, “Wow, this is awesome” to the finished product. And it really is an incredible book, expertly threading the needle between memoir and biography, deeply personal as well as universal enough to be relateable. I can honestly say that you don’t need to have heard a note of Tribe’s music for this book to resonate for you, because it really is that good.

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As it happens, Abdurraqib’s book tour is going to bring him to Raleigh later this month as star attraction at the North Carolina Book Festival. He’ll be at Kings nightclub on the afternoon of Sunday, Feb. 24. Unfortunately, tickets for that are all gone, although there is a waiting list you can get on in case space opens up.

I’ll be busy doing my Piedmont Laureate duties throughout the festival, starting with opening night on Thursday, Feb. 21. That evening, I’ll join Chris Stamey at Crank Arm Brewery, where he’ll do a reading/performance based on his 2018 memoir “A Spy in the House of Loud” (Another fine American Music Series title from UT Press). It’s a show I saw last year at Quail Ridge Books, and it was fantastic. Stamey tells me it’s only gotten better with practice and I can’t wait to hear it again.

The morning of Saturday, Feb. 23, I’ll be at CAM Raleigh to conduct an onstage conversation with the great Jaki Shelton Green, who was the very first Piedmont Laureate 10 years ago. I am honored to follow in Green’s footsteps, especially since she is North Carolina’s Poet Laureate nowadays. She is even more spellbinding live and in-person than she is on the page. I’ll try to keep up.

 

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That Saturday afternoon, Feb. 23, I’ll be at Kings to do a presentation of my own called “A Life in Music Books.” I’ll talk a little about my past books, and also get into the in-progress history of North Carolina music I’m working on.

Sunday afternoon, Feb. 23, I’ll be back at Kings again to take part in a panel discussion about A Tribe Called Quest’s landmark 1990 debut album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. I’ll be speaking alongside St. Augustine’s University professor Natalie Bullock Brown, an Emmy-nominated producer/consultant, and Duke professor Mark Anthony Neal, who has published seven books. I’ll try to keep up with them, too.

Abdurraquib will follow our panel, so I guess you could say we’re his opening act. Which is as it should be. Everything’s free, so come on out and bring your book idea. I’m always on the lookout for the next lightning strike.

Hello in there

ralartsplWay back in 2011, in the early years of the Piedmont Laureate program, my best friend Scott Huler served as its first non-fiction fellow. I remember going to a few of his events that year, including a wonderful mini-festival with area writers and musicians, and thinking that I really wanted to be Piedmont Laureate myself someday when I grew up. I believe I told Scott something to that effect, too.

I’ve kept up with the program since then, doing a few stories on newly appointed laureates like poet Mimi Herman two years ago while waiting for the nonfiction category to come back around, which it did for 2019. I threw my hat in the ring, and here we are. It is an honor and a thrill to be the 11th Piedmont Laureate, following in the footsteps of so many people I admire so much — especially Jaki Shelton Green, now Poet Laureate for the state of North Carolina, and my dear friend Scott. It’s humbling and also daunting.

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Photo by Teresa Moore.

So let me tell you a little bit about myself beyond what you see under my byline in the News & Observer. Long before I ever became a journalist or even started writing anything down, I already had the mindset of a writer. When I was a kid, the voice in my head sounded like an observer recounting what was going on in a given situation. Thinking about how I was going to describe something afterward and tell a story about it was an early instinct, one that has persisted into adulthood. Music was always important, too, somewhere between passion and obsession going back to the days when I’d tune in Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40” every week to hear what was top of the pops.

Early writing efforts began with comic books, quickly abandoned because I cannot draw to save my life. So I moved on to straight prose, fiction at first but eventually mostly non-fiction. I did have a regrettable, mostly disastrous stretch of college where I took a stab at pre-law and pre-med (you know, the actual well-paying professions) before finally deciding to cast my lot with writing.

That was the summer before my senior year, at which point my transcript and grades lay in smoking ruins across multiple institutions of higher learning. It took summer classes and an extra semester to cobble together an English degree, and then graduate school at the University of Texas to figure out the beginnings of a career path. I came away from UT with a Master’s degree in journalism, not the most useful degree in the world. But grad school did allow me to learn the craft a bit at the college newspaper.

That led to my professional career at daily newspapers starting with the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colo., where I spent five years reviewing concerts and writing features on everything from local bands to gun-toting mercenaries. It was highly educational and almost never dangerous, even the stories about mercenaries.

Boulder was lovely but expensive and I was pushing 30, so it was time to move on. I came to Raleigh as newly hired music critic for the N&O in January 1991, thinking it would be a good place to spend the next few years. It never occurred to me that North Carolina was going to be my permanent destination. But there’s just never been a good-enough reason to leave, especially because I quickly grew to love it here.

 

pldesk.jpgI covered music almost exclusively for a lot of years, which was a blast because it put me in the room with a notebook to watch the rise of everybody from Superchunk to Rhiannon Giddens. But as the paper’s staff has contracted over the past decade, my beat has expanded to the arts in general under the rubric “Things To Do.”

It’s not just my beat that has gone through a metamorphosis. Life at the N&O has changed tremendously since the early 1990s, especially in recent years with the move to more of an online focus. Writing for a real-time news organization is a vastly different beast from writing stories that appear on paper days or even weeks later. It’s not enough to just write the story anymore, you also have to package it with the right headline and keywords to achieve search-engine-optimization nirvana. It’s…a process.

We’ll talk more about that over the course of this year, and I’ll try to give you a sense of what it’s like to try and feed the online beast and reach page-view goals while retaining a sliver of sanity. I’m not gonna lie, it’s a tough racket. The media in general is under siege on multiple fronts right now, with newspapers struggling to survive even as those in power brand us as “fake news.” Anyone who claims to know how it will turn out is either deluded or lying or both. All we can do is try to change with the changing times.

that-old-state-radio-hourWhile the N&O remains my mothership and primary means of support, I’ve also developed various side-hustles because diversification is pretty much a survival strategy in the content-generating business nowadays. I do a little magazine freelancing and I started a radio show last year, “That Old North State Radio Hour,” playing the music of North Carolina (and I hope you’ll tune in, Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on WCLY, 95.7-FM). I also do some book-editing for University of Texas Press, where I’m co-editor of the American Music Series. We’ve put out 13 books, with title number 14 due out any day now.

I’ve written a few books myself, too, starting with a genuinely terrible, never-published novel I wrote in my early 20s (locating and burning every copy on earth while I’m still alive remains on my must-do list). Several years later I wrote my University of Texas journalism Master’s thesis, “Music, Media and the Metropolis: The Case of Austin’s Armadillo World Headquarters.” It was about the concert hall that served as spiritual center of progressive country music in Austin, Texas, a scene so bucolic that it created a media image that fueled the growth that doomed a lot of the very things that made the city special. And yes, the sequel is happening right now in the Triangle, which is hard for me to watch.

otrIn 2000, I took another crack at fiction by self-publishing a  novel, and it went better this time. “Off The Record” was a roman a clef set in the music industry, tracing the misadventures of a fictional one-hit wonder, and it got some decent reviews. In the thrill of a lifetime, the legendary grand old man of rock criticism Greil Marcus put “Off The Record” in his “Real Life Top-10” one week. It remains the high point of my career.

loseringcoverThen came “Losering” in 2012, a critical biography of Ryan Adams — who as it happens had been one of my real-life models for the unhinged rock-star main character in “Off The Record.” Ryan used to live in Raleigh, and I started writing about him when he was still couch-surfing down the street from where I lived at the time. He fled town and became famous long ago, and for reasons unknown (but much speculated upon) has not played a show anywhere in North Carolina since 2005.

crayMy most recent book was 2015’s “Comin’ Right At Ya: How a Jewish Yankee Hippie Went Country, or, the Often Outrageous History of Asleep at the Wheel,” although it’s not really my book. It’s the memoir of Wheel founder/frontman Ray Benson and I was his co-writer, which mostly involved trying to keep up with all his jokes and doing my best to put them in the right order. “Comin’ Right at Ya” was a great time, the most fun I’ve ever had writing a book; I think of it as the sequel to my old Armadillo thesis, since Asleep at the Wheel played there so much.

I have another book in progress and this one feels like my magnum opus. It has the working title “The Big Book of North Carolina Music,” covering about a century of Old North State musicians from bluegrass forefather Charlie Poole in the 1920s to the present-day rapper Rapsody. University of North Carolina Press is scheduled to publish it in 2020, assuming I get it turned in on time. So yeah, in 2019 I’ll be finishing a book while writing for the paper and also conducting the workshops, readings and other events and responsibilities of a Piedmont Laureate. It’s going to be a busy, fun and challenging year.

comehearncI hope to set up some cool, entertaining events involving live performance as well as writing, maybe tied into 2019’s “Come Hear North Carolina” year of music. And I plan to draft a wide range of other writers to put on programs where we discuss nuts and bolts and logistics, whether it’s about various aspects of the writing process or how to submit a book proposal.

Watch this space for details, and news about what I’m up to. My induction as Piedmont Laureate will be on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 4 to 6 p.m. at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh. And then my first official event will by at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 30, at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books, where I’ll talk a bit more about plans for the year and also offer a preview of “The Big Book of North Carolina Music.”

I hope to see you around and about.