Introducing Home Grown, my new Kindle Single

[Amazon]

Some big news: today Amazon is publishing my Kindle Single Home Grown: Cage the Elephant and the Making of a Modern Music Scene. You can buy it here for $1.99, then read it on your smart phone, iPad, computer, or Kindle. (Find instructions on that here.)

Home Grown, in short, tells the story of Cage the Elephant, a group Rolling Stone has called “one of rock’s best young bands.” But it also tells the story of Bowling Green, Kentucky, the small town where Cage got its start. It turns out the town helped the band make it big — and now that they have made it big, the band has returned to invest in the town. Music fans will enjoy the in-depth original reporting on how a music scene works today. (And Bowling Green has grown into a full-blown music scene. Heard of Sleeper Agent or Morning Teleportation? They’re from there, too.) But the Single will also resonate with any reader who grew up in a place like Bowling Green.

I put a lot of work into Home Grown. (If you think the subtitle’s wordy, well, the Single stretches past 20,000 words.) You’ll get to meet everyone in Cage, along with a bunch of other bands and some amazing locals. Click here for an excerpt about one of those locals at Deadspin. Also check out a Tumblr I created, Way Down in Bowling Green — it includes a bunch of rare images and videos and songs related to Cage and the local scene.

I’ll update this post with any interviews or reviews (and there are already a couple lined up). In the meantime: the excerpt . . . the companion Tumblr . . . and the Single itself.

  • Interview with Bowling Green’s best DJ, Tommy Starr [mp3 download]. “It’s fantastic,” Tommy says of Home Grown. “You nailed it from beginning to end — it is the article on the local music scene, especially what’s happening right now.”
  • Interview with David Goldenberg at Gelf Magazine: “Many of these bands are starting to tour around the country, making names for themselves on a national level. How did this Southern town become a Mecca for hipster music? Fehrman trekked to the source to find out.”
  • Interview with Marr Sparr of Young Mary’s Record: “Whether you grew up and shared a babysitter or a blunt with Cage . . . [whether] you’re a Cage fan, or a ‘music’ reader—or just a reader . . . download Home Grown.”
  • Interview with Howard Polskin of the website Thin Reads. “Home Grown is one of the best e-book singles about rock and roll ever written. . . . Craig Fehrman hits all the right notes.”
  • Interview with Stephen Trageser of The Nashville Scene: “There’s plenty in the short volume for both Cage fans and those whose interest is more academic, documenting the conditions that made it possible for the scene to develop. . . . Icing on the cake: a chapter devoted to master horror director John Carpenter, Bowling Green’s most famous export.”
  • Long review from Galen Smith, Sr., the dad of Tony from Sleeper Agent. “I give Fehrman’s Kindle Single five stars. It’s an awesome read and spot on regarding the ins and out about Cage The Elephant and the Bowling Green Music Scene. . . . I was totally fascinated how this very talented writer had captured the essence and the current mood our fair city of 60,000.

Finding the biographer in the biography

[Wall Street Journal]

In this Sunday’s Wall Street Journal I’ve got a  long review of A. Scott Berg’s new biography Wilson. It’s also an essay on what exactly a biographer adds to any biography. Just four years ago, another excellent biography of Wilson  appeared — John Milton Cooper Jr.’s Woodrow Wilson — and that means we’ve got an excellent test case for just how two different biographers create two different versions of Wilson.

Anyway, read the review for more. One of my main points is that Berg tries too hard to fashion Wilson as a president who feels distinctly modern. Don’t just take my word for it, though. Here’s Berg talking to to Los Angeles magazine: “As I was writing,” he said, “there were literally days I would say, ‘I’m going to forget the name is Wilson. I’ll pretend it is Obama. And I will write it as though it is Obama.'”

Berg’s an excellent biographer. (Last month, in a separate review, I praised his decades-old book on Max Perkins.) But this method strikes me as problematic, to say the least. Cooper is also an excellent biographer, and I think his book is a better fit for anyone new to Wilson. But Berg’s scrupulous research — he spent a decade on Wilson — has unearthed lots of new supplementary detail, and for experts it’s worth checking out, as well.

One last thing: not many people know that Sigmund Freud cowrote a biography of Wilson with William Bullitt. It’s called Thomas Woodrow Wilson: Twenty-eighth President of the United States, —A Psychological Study, and it’s really, really awful. Freud’s estate worked very hard to separate Sigmund from it, and a lot of historians still seem dubious about his involvement. But in 2008 J. F. Campbell published a scholarly article based on his research in Bullitt’s papers. It turns out Freud more than earned his status as co-writer, and more scholars should check out Campbell’s work.

A brief history of revising

[Boston Globe]

revise

In this week’s Ideas section, in the Boston Globe, I’ve got a story about the history of revising. Today, we think of revising as an arduous, necessary process. But in an interesting new book an Oxford prof named Hannah Sullivan argues the Modernists were actually the first group to revise in this way.

Check out the story for more — there are cameos by Ernest Hemingway, John Milton, and Virginia Woolf, among others. But on my blog I did want to address one obvious (if insider-y) question. If the Modernists loved revision so much that they kept at it throughout the literary process, including when their work was in proofs — and one of Sullivan’s key points is that these discrete stages actually encouraged revision — then why didn’t their printers and publishers complain? James Joyce would call in revisions by phone even as his novels were in their final proofs. But, as any editor will tell you, changing work in proofs is expensive.

The answer to this question — and another important context for the Modernists and the rise of revision — comes from the patron-like figures who supported their work. In her memoir Shakespeare & Company, Sylvia Beach recalls Joyce’s publisher warning about “a lot of extra expenses with these proofs. . . . He suggested that I call Joyce’s attention to the danger of going beyond my depth; perhaps his appetite for proofs might be curbed.”

But Beach explains that, for her, the most important thing was that Joyce could work as diligently and obsessively as he wanted to:

I wouldn’t hear of such a thing. Ulysses was to be as Joyce wished, in every respect. I wouldn’t advise ‘real’ publishers to follow my example, nor authors to follow Joyce’s. It would be the death of publishing. My case was different. It seemd natural to me that the efforts and sacrifices on my part should be proportionate to the greatnes of the work I was publishing.

So there you have it — one reason “Thou Shalt Revise” has grown into the literary world’s first commandment is that the Modernists had the resources to revise and to experiment with the rules of revision.

Xavier’s next great team

[Cincinnati CityBeat]

As part of their cover package on the NCAAs, Cincinnati CityBeat asked me to write about Xavier’s lost season. The Musketeers didn’t just whiff on the NCAAs — they whiffed on the NIT, too. But as I argue in my story, Xavier’s future, for next season and for the next decade, looks bright.

If you’re interested in more on Xavier, check out a long profile I wrote of head coach Chris Mack last year (with more info here and here).

And in the small chance you’re interested in still more Xavier, check out Shannon Russell’s excellent interview with Mack. You’ll see that he’s the most honest coach in Cincinnati sports and, in my opinion, a big reason why Xavier’s in great shape.

A profile of Vito Montelli

[New York Times]

In today’s New York Times, I’ve got a long profile of Vito Montelli, who coached the boys’ basketball team at St. Joseph High School for 50 years — and to 11 Connecticut state championships.

Montelli’s a great character, and you should also check out the photos by my friend Chris Capozziello. But one of the things that drew me to this story was a chance to think about a larger question: why high school sports aren’t as big in New England as they are elsewhere in the country. We had to cut a lot of that material, and I hope to write about it again in the future. But I will say that while New England high school athletics occur on a smaller scale, there are pockets of passion and commitment.

One of those is at the gym in Ridgefield, Connecticut, where I watched Montelli’s successor, Chris Watts, coach (and win) his first game. Ridgefield is not a traditional state power, but a couple years ago it hired a new athletic director and coach named Carl Charles. Charles used to be an assistant under Montelli, and he’s built up a solid program — and a serious home-court advantage.

Like most Connecticut high schools, Ridgefield has a small gym — there wasn’t enough room for the St. Joe’s cheerleaders, which meant they sat behind the bench — but at least a quarter of the seats were devoted to the Tigers’ Lair, the school’s college-quality student section. The Tigers’ Lair boasts a Twitter feed, a collection of inventive cheers (when Watts walked out, they chanted “Vito Montelli”), and one of those custom Big Heads signs for Kurt Steidl, the senior star who is heading to the University of Vermont on a scholarship. Now, I’ve been to a lot of high school basketball games, including a bunch in basketball-crazy Indiana, but Ridgefield and the Tiger’s Lair had one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever seen. It was a fun game for a lot of reasons. (In the fourth quarter, Montelli, who was sitting next to the cheerleaders, motioned a St. Joe’s assistant over: “Let Chris know he has two fouls he can give.”) But most of all, it was fun because of some great basketball — Watts didn’t need any help, as he masterfully coached St. Joe’s to a 48-42 win — and because of some crazy fans. In fact, I’d stack those fans up against those from anywhere in the country.

A profile of Aroldis Chapman (plus an annotated bibliography!)

[Cincinnati Magazine]

Just in time for spring training, you can read my long profile of Aroldis Chapman in the March issue of Cincinnati Magazine. While the Reds did not cooperate with the story, I still talked to a ton of people. I may have even figured Chapman out — or at least realized that no one’s going to figure him out. He’s got a strange pattern of isolating himself, whether that means living far from the ballpark; avoiding friendships with teammates; or spending thousands of dollars at chintzy tourist dives, instead of at the Miami Heat-approved bars you might expect.

Then there’s the speeding ticket(s), the stripper(s), and the extremely serious $24-million lawsuit Chapman’s facing. To learn more about all of it, read my story here. And when you’re finished, check out the annotated bibliography I’ve put together — because Chapman’s the kind of subject who demands further study.

  • Aroldis Chapman, ESPN attraction: As I mention in my profile, ESPN (and the very talented Jorge Arangure Jr.) covered Aroldis in depth right after his defection: an ESPN.com story, an ESPN The Magazine story, and a TV segment. I relied extensively on these stories, but you’ll find tons more in them. For instance: “‘Pujols?’ [Chapman] says. ‘Who is that?’ When asked which big leaguers he’s heard of, Chapman names David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez,Alfonso Soriano, Alex Rodriguez — and there’s one other. ‘What’s the name of that Yankees shortstop?’ he says.”
  • Aroldis Chapman, sabermetrician: The other reporter who did great work on Chapman’s early days is Melissa Segura at Sports Illustrated. Check out one of her stories here, in which Chapman, way back in 2009, addresses starting versus closing: “Chapman expresses reluctance to move to the bullpen, though he worked as a closer for part of the 2006-07 National Series season. ‘It went OK, but I like being a starter better,’ he says. ‘The difference in starting the game is that you can impact the game greatly. You can pitch a lot of innings. As a closer, you only get one or two innings. You pitch more frequently, but I don’t have a lot of interest in being a closer.'”
  • Aroldis Chapman, reluctant interview: Once Chapman signed with the Reds, he stopped talking as deeply and openly as he did to Arangure and Segura. It’s hard to tell whether this comes from Chapman or the Reds (or both). But the reporter who’s consistently gotten the best quotes — a reporter who, unlike the Reds’ two or three beat reporters, speaks Spanish — is Jorge L. Ortiz. See here and here and here, among others. That last link also has an interesting quotation from Walt Jocketty: “When Dr. (Timothy) Kremchek did the physical and did the MRI of the shoulder and the elbow, he said it was unbelievable how pristine it was.” That’s interesting because the Reds have DL’ed or benched Chapman several times for shoulder problems — or “shoulder” problems. A couple sources I talked to suggested that those DL trips were more the result of mental issues than physical ones.
  • Aroldis Chapman, automobile enthusiast: Any Reds fan knows that Chapman owns several sweet cars, but I’m not sure people realize how into those cars he is. Check out this detailed story in Rides Magazine on the $40,000-plus Chapman’s spent customizing his not-too-shabby-from-the-factory Lamborghini Murcielago. Or contemplate the fact that Chapman has found time to upgrade his license plates with each record-setting pitch: his vanity plates have alluded to velocities of 102, 103, 104, and 105 MPH. Or marvel at his multimillion dollar home with its five-car garage. Or, best of all: watch this simultaneously amazing and terrifying video of him zooming around downton Cincinnati.
  • Aroldis Chapman, dubious record holder: Chapman’s most recent vanity plate is “MR 106,” but as Jeff Passan points out in his excellent Yahoo! story, it’s unlikely that the 106 MPH pitch actually hit 106 MPH.
  • Aroldis Chapman, troubled soul?: If you want to know more about Chapman’s off-field issues, check out Cincinnati CityBeat‘s comprehensive cover story from last summer.
  • Aroldis Chapman, control artist: I analyze Chapman’s remarkable 2012 at some length — especially his newfound control. For more on that, check out this terrific FanGraphs interview with catcher Ryan Hanigan: “It was simpler for him as a closer. I was like, ‘Look man, throw as many strikes as you can.’ You have to really understand what your check points are in your delivery, because if you get just a little out of whack with your mechanics, you’re going to be wild. He knows that, and really got it down to where he could stay consistent. He knew what to do when he was starting to miss. He knew why and how to fix it. But that’s not as hard when you have to throw 15-18 pitches. When you have to throw 100, it’s a different ballgame in terms of keeping your body in control.”

Mike Pence’s fiscal (and total) conservatism

In my Indianapolis Monthly profile of Mike Pence, which you can read here, I pointed out that Indiana’s new governor has taken “vocal conservative stands on just about every issue: foreign policy, fiscal policy, social matters, and more.” Yet the media continue to fixate on those social matters (e.g., Pence’s attempt to defund Planned Parenthood). To me, that sells Pence-the-congressman short — even as it also makes Pence-the-candidate seem even more slippery.

Anyway, I wanted to review Pence’s fiscal bona fides, which seem especially relevant as he rolls out his first two-year budget at the State House. Pence became a congressman in 2000 — in the age of George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservative,” which, as Pence loved to point out, “ultimately [is] another way of saying ‘big-government conservative.”

Again and again, Pence fought for his small-government ideals. The only exception I found, and it’s a partial one, was the federal Farm Bill. Pence’s Sixth District, which covers much of southern Indiana, receives more Farm Bill money than any other district in the country. It created an obvious dilemma for Pence, and one of his staffers told me that, early on, at least, their office took a flexible tack. “Mike would talk about fighting over the size of the pie,” the aide told me, “but once the pie was set he’d fight to get his district as big a slice as he could.”

This method applied to the Farm Bill and to earmarks, as well. But Pence ultimately modified his approach, even though it meant working against his constituents’ interests. By the spring of 2008, he was refusing to vote for Farm Bill. “It has always been my ambition to support Indiana farmers,” Pence said. “But I’ve always sought to do that in a way that protects our federal budget and protects the American taxpayer at large.” Stands like this are why I suggested, in a previous blog post, that Pence has “a more consistent and coherent world-view . . . [than] other Bush-era conservatives like Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell.”

Stands like this are also why Pence became the chairman of the powerful (and extremely conservative) Republican Study Committee. In fact, one source told me that Pence did such a bang-up job that the organization changed its term limits so he could stay in power. “I don’t believe the mission of the RSC is to achieve conservative legislation,” Pence has said. “I believe it is the objective of our committee to ensure that conservative values are given their proper weight with leadership as it seeks the equilibrium of getting a bill to 218 votes.”

(This, by the way, is one of many places where you can see why John Gregg, Pence’s gubernatorial opponent, ran such a poor campaign. Gregg loved attacking Pence for not passing bills — but far more telling was the reason he didn’t pass bills, with that reason being that Pence was a far-right legislator.)

Pence and the RSC caused plenty of trouble for the compassionate crowd. The best example came in 2005, when Pence made a very public demand that any Hurricane Katrina relief be offset by spending cuts. (It was an early version of what we’re seeing today with Hurricane Sandy.) Then-Speaker Dennis Hastert and then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay called Pence in for a meeting — what Robert Novak described as “a closed-door auto-da-fe, with GOP leaders as the inquisitors and Pence as the heretic.”

That’s a pretty great description, but the Washington Post did Novak one better. After that meeting, the paper reported, the congressman “had the look of a hunted man.” Pence was scheduled to deliver a speech at the Young America Foundation. The topic? “Conservative leadership in Congress” and its “massive spending splurges.” But Pence had a change of heart. Instead, he told the crowd, “I believe in the men and women who lead the House of Representatives and the Senate. I see them as men and women of integrity and principle, who work every day to bring the ideals of our Founders into the well of the people’s house.” Then he left abruptly. According to the Post, Pence didn’t even stick around for the Q&A he’d agreed to, which left the Young America crew in a tough spot: “Unfortunately, the congressman will be unable to answer questions today,” the host said. “But we are going to have a door prize.”

Now, you can interpret this event in one of two ways: 1) Pence caved to Republican leadership; or 2) Pence was so good at needling Republican leadership that, eventually, they had to go nuclear on him. I’m inclined toward Option 2 — and not just because that makes Pence’s Young America speech a rare (and revealing) bit of unscripted drama. Pence never stopped needling. In 2010, he was one of very few Republicans to admit that attacking Democrats for their (alleged) cuts to Medicare was dumb and incoherent. Then there’s this, from Michael Grunwald’s excellent book The New New Deal:

[Eric] Cantor and Mike Pence were both part of the conservative Republican Study Committee as well as the leadership team. But as one aide put it, Pence rolled out of bed thinking about being a conservative, while Cantor woke up thinking about being a leader. Infrastructure reflected that difference. In leadership meetings, Cantor argued that the Republican stimulus alternative should go big on public works . . . Pence pushed back: Aren’t we supposed to be against government spending?

All this to say that when people portray Pence as a social crusader, they obscure an important point: he’s a crusader, full stop.

Or at least he was. But there’s one more thing worth noting here: more and more Republicans share Pence’s comprehensive ideology. He’s what the Pew Research Center calls a “Staunch Conservative.” In its political typology survey, Pew highlights “a single bloc of across-the-board conservatives . . . [who] take extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues — on the size and role of government, on economics, foreign policy, social issues and moral concerns.” Yet Pew didn’t identify this bloc until recently, in 2011. In other words, as in so much else with the Republican party, Mike Pence was way out in front.