A Southern Town, a Country Legend, and the Last Days of a Mountaintop Honky-Tonk
Read my list of inspirations for Homeplace on Goodreads
“[Lingan] often conjures the place and its people with novelistic detail, saying a lot with a lyrical little... You end 'Homeplace' thinking that every American town could use a book like this one written about it; every town could afford to be this lovingly but critically seen. Like many of the best country songs, the book is sentimental in a way that makes you wonder why sentiment is such a dirty word.”
—John Williams, The New York Times Books Review
“[Lingan] finds dignity and even heroism in the lives of those in its orbit and reminds us, on every page, that the times are always a-changing, though often not for the better… He is at his most passionate when depicting the ‘constant collision’ between the past and modernity and between the powerful and those who are displaced by economic and cultural shifts. He wields a joyful hatchet when taking the high and mighty down a notch.”
—Dave Shiflett, The Wall Street Journal
“Remarkable...Homeplace does something that is almost never done in writing about music: it considers not just the songs and the singers, but the listeners too. People didn’t just write, sing, and play country music; they lived, loved, drank, and died to it. This book is about them.”
—Shuja Haider, Bookforum
What has happened to small-town America? The story of one Shenandoah town offers a clue.
Winchester, Virginia is an emblematic American town. When John Lingan traveled there, it was to seek out Jim McCoy, a local country music icon and the DJ who first gave airtime to a brassy-voiced singer known as Patsy Cline, setting her on a course for fame that outlasted her tragically short life. What Lingan found was a community in the throes of an identity crisis. Winchester's strict hierarchy, hammered out in the colonial era, put landowners at the top of the heap and shunted "white trash" and minorities to the sidelines.
But as the U.S. economy and American culture have transformed in recent decades, the ground under centuries-old social codes has shifted, throwing old folkways into chaos. Homeplace tells the story of Jim McCoy and the revered honky-tonk bar that he built on the McCoy family land in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Lingan teases apart the tangle of class, race, and family origin that still defines McCoy’s hometown, and illuminates questions that now dominate our national conversation—about how we move into the future without pretending our past doesn't exist, about what we salvage and what we leave behind.
“John Lingan writes in penetrating, soulful ways about the intersection between place and personality, individual and collective, spirit and song.”
—Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams and The Recovering
“Homeplace feels exponentially more revelatory than any nonfiction you're likely to have read since the dawn of Twitter... The details about rural American living that Lingan spotlights, even when they depict this society as substantially less than perfect, combine to make for a poignant but satisfying whole: a trip through Winchester, at least as seen, heard, smelled and felt through Lingan's pen, is just plain good for the soul.”
—Brett Marie, PopMatters
“Engrossing...Lingan introduces a colorful array of characters and situations that coalesce into a multifaceted portrait of a small town on the verge of changing into something that barely resembles its former self.”
—Suzanne Van Atten, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“His four years of researching and writing it is evident, as he reveals the town’s (and neighboring towns’) quirks while bringing into focus a broader, nostalgic story of a vanishing way of life, as factory farms, opioids, big-box stores, and even music streaming services swallow up what once was.”
—Lauren LaRocca, Baltimore Magazine
“Homeplace is a magnificent work, new school journalism with old school heart. The combination of intellectual integrity and human curiosity, human compassion, is as intoxicating as it is educational. This is a book in service of place and time, which is to say, literature.”
—Rick Bass, author of The Traveling Feast
“Some of the best histories of America are those told in miniature: a forgotten landmark, a local celebrity, a small town in transition. John Lingan's Homeplace is all of that and more: a perfectly rendered elegy for an iconic music venue that tells a much larger story: how our dreams, desperation and hope become transcribed in the landscape that surrounds us and embedded in the songs we pass down as our legacy.”
—Colin Dickey, author of Ghostland
“John Lingan writes movingly about places that are just up the road yet seem impossibly distant to many. Homeplace offers a vivid portrait of a disappearing America, and a hope that the barriers that divide us can be breached by listening to other people's stories.”
—Peter Manseau, author of The Apparitionists
“John Lingan is an old-school storyteller, wringing humor and heart out of every little interaction. But Homeplace is so much more than a good yarn. Lingan looks into every crack in the American myth, turning the story of one town over until the beauty, tragedy and contradictions of a huge chunk of national identity become clear. The reporting here is indefatigable, the prose full of music. Lingan achieves that highest, hardest goal of writing: he makes us see the world fresh.”
—Lucas Mann, author of Captive Audience
“Brimming with humanity, here is a lyrical elegy to a declining Shenandoah honky-tonk, to the country singer who drove us "Crazy" and broke our hearts, and to the slow, inexorable erosions of modernity in one little mountaintop town. John Lingan writes with feeling, a sharp eye, and an open heart.”
—Brantley Hargrove, author of The Man Who Caught the Storm
“Making his literary debut, journalist Lingan creates a tender, elegiac portrait of Winchester, Virginia, the Shenandoah town where Patsy Cline made her debut and where honky-tonk—a rueful brand of country music—rang out in working-class dance halls, bars, and clubs... An empathetic look at a community forging its future as it keeps a tenuous hold on its past.”
“Lingan is an astute observer of the social problems and cultural changes he encounters, and he writes about them without bias or preachiness. Fans of country music will enjoy Lingan’s portrait of a place and insights into a rapidly disappearing culture.”
“Engrossing and fast-paced... Tells a mesmerizing tale of the characters that put Winchester, Va., on the map.”
For a few glorious months, there was even a Homeplace billboard in Berkeley Springs, WV. Sadly, it went unvandalized by local teens, but I’m still proud of it.
READINGS & APPEARANCES
Tuesday July 17
Bird in Hand Coffee & Books, Baltimore, MD
Friday July 20
Politics & Prose, Washington, D.C.
In conversation with Maxwell George of the Oxford American
Saturday July 21
Winchester Book Gallery, Winchester, VA
Thursday July 26
Powerhouse Arena, Brooklyn, NY
Monday Aug. 6
Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA
Tuesday, Aug. 21
The Inner Loop reading series, Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, Aug. 28
Little Salon, Washington, D.C.
Thursday, Aug. 30
Penn Book Center, Philadelphia, PA
Tuesday and Wednesday Sept. 11 & 12
Books & Brews events, Harrisonburg and Charlottesville, VA
Friday Oct. 12
Fall for the Book Festival, Fairfax, VA
Saturday and Sunday Oct. 13 & 14
Southern Festival of the Book, Nashville, TN
Tuesday, Oct. 16
Point St. Reading Series, Providence, RI
Friday, Nov. 2
National Press Club Book Fair, Washington, D.C.
Wednesday & Thursday, Feb. 27 & 28
Shenandoah University, Winchester, VA
Wednesday to Sunday, Mar. 20-24
Virginia Festival of the Book, Charlottesville, VA