Introducing Home Grown, my new Kindle Single


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.

Taylor Swift, Auto-Didact

In this week’s Rolling Stone, Taylor Swift talks history. “I just read a 900-page book called The Kennedy Women,” she tells the magazine. “This morning I bought books about John Adams, Lincoln’s Cabinet, the Founding Fathers and Ellis Island.”

Let’s run down Taylor’s syllabus, which is pretty easy if you’ve got a working knowledge of the nonfiction dustbins at your local Barnes & Noble. In addition to Laurence Leamer’s The Kennedy Women, she’s reading David McCullough’s John Adams and his 1776 (or maybe Joseph Ellis’s Founding Brothers) and — regrettably — Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals. The Ellis Island title’s harder to identify: I’m guessing it’s not David R. Roediger’s Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White. Maybe Kate Kerrigan’s new historical novel Ellis Island? Maybe the oral history Island of Hope, Island of Tears? Maybe Vincent Cannato’s American Passage?

Anyway, it’s nice to see someone so young and so famous reading all this semi-serious nonfiction, even if Swift seems to base her choices on the last few years’ most popular Fathers’ Day gifts. A friend quipped that Swift surely bought Mark Twain’s Autobiography last year. But here’s the crazy thing: while a copy of Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time must be floating around her tour bus, Swift was born eighteen months after its publication.

Bonus link: this interesting 1988 New York feature, pegged to the publication of Hawking’s book, on “the great unread books of our time.”

Michael Jackson and Monoculture

[x-posted at Splice Today]

Not even Lester Bangs could eulogize Michael Jackson as effectively as has the collective car stereo of my New Haven neighborhood. Each time I went out this weekend—for pizza, for a library book, for a mind-clearing walk—two or three vehicles per block were blasting Jackson’s music, mostly at CD quality. My favorite example was a panel van, vaguely associated with the construction industry, in which two largeish, rough-looking men, one black, one white, nodded silently to “Billie Jean.”

Of course, this happy occurrence didn’t stop critics from assessing Jackson’s death, and many of them have made the same point. I’ll let Slate’s Jody Rosen stand in for the masses: “Weeping for Michael, we are also mourning the musical monoculture—the passing of a time when we could imagine that the whole country, the whole planet, was listening to the same song.”

Given the structure and citizenry of today’s pop world, this seems true enough. But it’s also a truth we’ve heard before—for example, in the final paragraph of Bangs’s seminal “Where Were You When Elvis Died?”:

If love is truly going out of fashion forever, which I do not believe, then along with our nurtured indifference to each other will be an even more contemptuous indifference to each other’s objects of reverence. I thought it was Iggy Stooge, you thought it was Joni Mitchell or whoever else seemed to speak for your own private, entirely circumscribed situation’s many pains and few ecstacies. We will continue to fragment in this manner, because solipsism holds all the cards at present; it is a king whose domain engulfs even Elvis’s. But I can guarantee you one thing: we will never agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis. So I won’t bother saying good-bye to his corpse. I will say good-bye to you.

The entire essay is this good, if not this positive. (“Elvis was perverse; only a true pervert could put out something like Having Fun with Elvis On Stage, that album released three or so years ago which consisted entirely of between-song onstage patter so redundant it would make both Willy Burroughs and Gert Stein blush.”) But it’s worth remembering that the Village Voice (which has inexplicably never put it online) published Bangs’s Elvis obit on August 29, 1977—a full five years before Thriller, the album named by Rosen et al. as the moment of Jackson’s pop apotheosis.

Now, when an artist reaches the level of an Elvis or a Michael, comparisons seem beside the point. But so do conclusive socio-historical death knells.

The Lester Bangs of Saudi Arabia?


A few months ago, the New York Times ran a front-page story on Accolade, a Saudi Arabian rock band composed of female college students. Most of the reaction to this story focused on the band—their MySpace friend count went from 17 to more than 1,000 in 24 hours—even as no one seemed willing to admit that they sound like a watered-down Evanescence (a thought that didn’t even seem possible five minutes ago).

Anyway, a few of the story’s quotes come from a young Saudi reporter named Hasan Hatrash. Hatrash is a musician too, but he also writes about the Middle-East music scene from the inside. He’s a fascinating and thoughtful person, and, in a new interview at Gelf, I talked to him about rock and roll, at home and abroad.

(Thanks to my editor, Michael Gluckstadt, for the original story idea.)

Axl and the Banshees

[x-posted at Gelf]

In an excellent review of Guns N’ Roses’ excellent new album, Chuck Klosterman writes, “The weirdest (yet most predictable) aspect of Chinese Democracy is the way 60 percent of the lyrics seem to actively comment on the process of making the album itself.” I’ll see Chuck’s point and raise him—the reviews of Axl’s opus also spend 60 percent of their space commenting on the process of making the album.

Of course, we shouldn’t judge the reviewers too critically since they rarely get 17 years and $13 million to work with. But one thing that keeps recurring in the assessments of Chinese Democracy, in addition to those two numbers, is the phrase “banshee [noun].”

  • Spin (on the album’s title track and first single): “Once the overture of muffled voices, ominous drums, and plinky Edge-ish guitar gives way to a thick, muscular four-chord riff and that Axl banshee wail, only the most stubbornly jaded will manage to suppress the goosebump reflex.”
  • Entertainment Weekly: “At times it’s possible to hear the world-changing CD that Rose—whose banshee howl remains gloriously intact—must have had in his tightly braided skull all these years.”
  • Slate: “On Chinese Democracy, his voice is still an amazing, bludgeoning instrument, rising from demonic low rumble to piercing banshee wail.”
  • TimeOut: “The only salient elements throughout are Axl’s outlandish banshee howl and numerous ludicrous guitar solos.”
  • Blender: “. . . a blast of iMax Lynyrd Skynyrd complete with string section, a couple na-na-na refrains, several bridges to nowhere and lord knows how many latticed layers of Axl’s bandana-banshee singing.”

This raises the obvious question—what the hell is a banshee? My first guess was that it’s a flexible, downright lazy bit of rock-critic shorthand. Just in the archives of Rolling Stone, whose review did not deem Chinese Democracy banshee-fide, the phrase “banshee whatever” covers bands from AC/DC to the Replacements; it seems the guitars on Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy sound like a “banshee,” as does the Divinyls’ entire fifth album. Also banshee-like: Sinead O’ Connor.

Maybe it’s better to ask what was a banshee? The Oxford English Dictionary defines “banshee”—and the word dates back to at least the late eighteenth century—as “a supernatural being supposed by the peasantry of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands to wail under the windows of a house where one of the inmates is about to die.” But now that Chinese Democracy‘s actually out, it seems time to move past the mythological allusions to death, failure, and disease. Based on the album’s early success, might I suggest the “Orpheus croon“?