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.
[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.
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.
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.
[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.