Other Essays & Articles
Booker T. Jones, Soul’s Ultimate Sideman, Takes the Lead at Last
Surely one of the greatest assignments I’ll ever get: two days in Venice Beach with Booker T., asking him about his life, his career, and his memoir, Time is Tight. For the New York Times.
The Long, Familiar Obscurity of Charles Wright
A review of three newly reissued classics of Black literature by Wright, George Cain, and James A. McPherson. For Slate.
Sunday Review: Heart Like a Wheel
A weekend Pitchfork paean to Linda Ronstadt.
Why NRBQ Never Needed a Hit Record to Measure its Success
My Washington Post profile of the greatest cult band and their intrepid leader, Terry Adams, on the 50th anniversary of their debut record. Had the privilege of interviewing Bonnie Raitt for this one.
David Berman is Alive and Living in Chicago
He founded Silver Jews, tried to kill himself, overcame drugs, started touring, ended Silver Jews, took ten years off to deal with “shame and shanda,” and now he’s returned as Purple Mountains. I wrote about him for The Ringer. [Tragically, this turned out to be the final profile of Berman published in his lifetime.]
Fire and Glory
Gig night in small-town Kentucky with the greatest band in the modern South, Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires. For Popula.
Rihannon Giddens is Reclaiming the Black Heritage of American Folk Music
A short profile of the MacArthur-winning banjoist and her new all-black-female band, Our Native Daughters. For Time.
Letter of Recommendation: Jazz on European TV
Self-explanatory, for the New York Times Magazine’s recurring column.
Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy Has No Plans to Slow Down
My Washington Post interview with the Loose Fur guitarist.
Rhea Butcher’s Podcast is for Baseball’s Overlooked Fans
Profile of the non-binary comedian whose show, Three Swings, is the most refreshing sports commentary I’ve heard in many years. For Deadspin.
The Baltimore Orioles Have Been Even Worse Than They Look
There was nothing good about the 2018 O’s seasons except the fact that I got to write about it for Deadspin.
Sunday Review: Cosmo's Factory
My weekend paean to Creedence Clearwater Revival's masterpiece.
Working With a Photographer Taught Me to See Writing Differently
A little craft/personal essay for LitHub about the experience of developing Homeplace alongside my friend's pictures.
What Today’s America Could Learn From Patsy Cline
For Slate, I argued that all Americans could learn from Patsy, and more widespread recognition of her life and work could even heal the rural-urban divide.
This Fourth of July, What Unites Us All? Inequality
An Independence Day look at my nominee for biggest threat currently facing the United States.
Fifty States: Maryland
I was privileged to write the Maryland entry in Pacific Standard's ambitious 10th-anniversary feature, which contained some of the best company I've ever been in.
Country Music Needs More Politics, Not Less
An op-ed for the Washington Post about Mike Huckabee's 24-hour tenure on the CMA Foundation's board of directors, and why "neutrality" is a fool's game.
Maggie Roche 1951-2017
My contribution to The New York Times Magazine's 2017 "The Lives They Lived" issue, about the wonderful singer-songwriter and founder of The Roches.
Paint the Corners
I wrote a monthly-ish column for Hazlitt about the first MLB season of the Trump era.
Smokey Robinson is the Greatest American Songwriter
A self-explanatory jeremiad for Deadspin.
All Cameras are Good Cameras
For BuzzFeed, my profile of Baltimore photographer and activist Devin Allen, who shot the defining images of the Freddie Gray uprising.
America’s Long, Rich History of Trashing Poor Whites
An essay-review of Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash, focusing on current manifestations of political poor-hatred. In Pacific Standard.
Behind the Music
Feature profile for BuzzFeed of Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, widely acknowledged as the most prolifically recorded drummer of all time and, in his mid-70s, a burgeoning solo star.
Sick at Heart: The Lonely Radicalism of the Catonsville Nine
Written for Pacific Standard's "Unlikely Patriots" series, my tribute to the Catholic radicals who performed a signal act of Vietnam-era protest in my sleepy hometown.
That Old Black Magic
My contribution to Oxford American's Georgia Music Issue, an essay about Johnny Mercer, the first American pop musician with firsthand knowledge of black culture.
Kind of Weird: How The Köln Concert Made Keith Jarrett an Unlikely Pop Star
A 40th-anniversary celebration of an astonishing record, for Deadspin.
For Oxford American, the story of Hank Deane, who at age 19 produced one of the great bluegrass albums of the 1970s, then disappeared, taking his monumental record with him.
The Storm That Won’t Quit
For Virginia Quarterly Review, a survey of the documentary art that emerged in the decade following Hurricane Katrina, and the ways in which that storm fundamentally affected political and narrative storytelling writ large.
So Normal it Hurts: The Triumph and Tragedy of Phil Hartman
Man, I still miss this guy. For Deadspin.
Clear Victory: A Deep Dive into the World’s Most Prestigious Water-Tasting Competition
My BuzzFeed feature on the “Oscars of Water,” improbably held every year in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., pop. 600. The basis for a chapter in Homeplace.
A Racist Commonwealth
Review of Kristen Green’s Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County for Bookforum, focusing on the subtle Virginia brand of racial animus.
A long one for The Baffler, about the tortured and ever-more-relevant life and work of political writer and provocateur Joe Bageant, reported in full for the first time. The basis for a chapter in Homeplace.
Film from the Ashes
Reported for The Verge on the Nitrate Picture Show, the world’s first film festival devoted to the oldest—and most dangerous—celluloid format ever made.
A celebration of The Oysters of Locmariaquer, an unjustly forgotten nonfiction masterpiece that prefigured many of today's essayists. For Hazlitt.
A Form of Literary Anarchy
For Slate, a review of Kevin Birmingham’s The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses, with attention to its place in the continually growing cottage industry of Joyce guides.
Journey Through the Past
For Virginia Quarterly Review, a review of the concluding volume in Patrick Leigh Fermor's epic, unfinished Walking Europe Trilogy.
Rewriting is Redemption
For Hazlitt, a look at one of my favorite books, William Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways, and his memoir about writing it.
Forgive Me, Father
A review of James Agee's Letters to Father Flye, a Top 3 Agee book for sure. For Hazlitt.
Big Star's Alex Chilton Wrote the Script for Every Indie Rock Recluse
Review of Holly George-Warren’s A Man Called Destruction: The Life of Alex Chilton, for The New Republic.
Agee, Before He Was Famous
For The American Prospect, a review of James Agee’s rediscovered manuscript, Cotton Tenants, and the mixed legacy of the book it presaged, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.
How James Brown and Nina Simone Mourned MLK, Jr. Onstage
For The Atlantic, a look at the in-concert and on-record responses to the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination by two of the leading figures of black musical liberation.
A Closer Walk With Thee
For The Morning News, a long reported feature on the battle over Patsy Cline’s legacy in her Virginia hometown, and the beginning of my interest in Winchester’s cultural and socioeconomic history. The basis for a chapter in Homeplace.
For Slate, a review of a book about Disney's racist masterpiece, Song of the South, and the movie's uneasy legacy.
Water and Wonder
A little tap-dance around It's a Wonderful Life for the Paris Review Daily, looking at the surprising amount of water onscreen, and how it contributes to the movie's moral statement.
Book-Shopping With the Best-Read Man in America
I went used-book shopping with Michael Dirda for the Paris Review Daily and somehow people found this quite exciting.
Primitives, Amateurs, Cavemen, and Clowns
A long essay for The Quarterly Conversation about the most underappreciated, quietly revolutionary film genre of them all: concert movies.
John Huston's recently unburied documentary Let There Be Light presents a fascinating portrait of early psychotherapy and a society that once treated its warriors with dignity and care. For The Morning News.
Goodbye, Cinema: On Jonathan Rosenbaum
A profile and 70th birthday celebration of one of my favorite film writers. For the Los Angeles Review of Books.
The King of Complacency
Pretty much every thought I've ever had about Stephen King, good and bad, to occasion the release of Under the Dome. For The Quarterly Conversation.
Don't Leave Me
For The Morning News, my look at the phenomenon of soldier-return YouTube videos, the 21st-century's digital approximation of homecoming parades.
An ex-con, a drug-hit small town, and a stressed early fatherhood that was aided by Paul McCartney's Ram. For the Los Angeles Review of Books.