04 July, 2020

It's The End of the World As We Know It (Happy Fourth Day of July)

I see by the date on my last post that it has been six mortal years since I last posted here.  I have no idea if anyone even reads this thing anymore.  I don't even have a Facebook page or a Twitter feed!

I know that I'm supposed to open this by saying something about "these uncertain times", but the fact of the matter is that all times are uncertain.  The only certainty is uncertainty.

Today is what we in the good ol' blockheaded United States call "Independence Day".  On this day, we normally celebrate vague ideals like "liberty" and "equality" while conveniently ignoring the fact that even on 4 July, 1776, a good chunk of the population of the thirteen colonies hardly knew the meaning of those words, and that it would be nearly a century before we even began to fix that.

Generally speaking, we observe this day with explosions, the eating of various meats, and the drinking of yeasty beverages.  Not me.  I hate fireworks and I quit drinking a year and a half ago.  I will eat the meats, though.

Each year on this day, I celebrate by listening to The Anthology of American Folk Music.  You remember that thing!  That's the thing I talked about on this blog for over a year waaaaaaay back when Barack Obama was President and things made sense!  In fact, I'm listening to it right now, even as I write this.  "The Old Lady and The Devil" is playing.  I urge you to join me on this weirdest of Independence Days by enjoying what Greil Marcus famously called "The Old Weird America" (seriously, he won't shut up about it).


The Coo-coo is a pretty bird.
She warbles as she flies.
She never hollers coo-coo
Til the fourth day of July.

All lives can't matter until Black Lives Matter.



13 November, 2014

Jazz Article in the Albany Times Union

An article I wrote on jazz music in New York's Capital District was the cover story in the Preview section of today's Times Union.  The cover image is a recreation of Art Kane's legendary 1958 photo "A Great Day in Harlem".  We got more than sixty area jazz musicians, photographers, writers, DJs, etc. to come out and pose on the steps of one of the brownstones on Albany's Madison Avenue.  I is quietly proud... 

22 September, 2014

A Call for Responses

For many years I have contemplated writing a book on the Anthology, and now I think the time has finally come.

My proposed title is Changed Through Music:  Why Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music Still Matters.

Now, at this point I'm in the process of writing a few sample chapters and crafting a proposal to send to publishers. However, I do know that I want to have a chapter featuring various perspectives on the title.  So:  I ask YOU - Why does the Anthology still matter?  Tell me in 50 words or less, and the best responses may well make their way into the finished book.  Send your response to alexander1228@gmail.com with the subject line "Why the Anthology Matters".  I look forward to reading your responses!

21 September, 2014

FreshGrass Part II

Here's the review I did for the TU on Saturday's FreshGrass show:

If one word were to sum up the FreshGrass Festival at Mass MoCA, it would be eclectic. The music performed crossed and recrossed genre boundaries. Boston’s the Novel Ideas, for example, played raw, electrifying roots rock laced with country harmonies, while the trio Haas Kowan Tice mashed up traditional string band music with chamber strings to great effect.

Read the whole article by clicking the link below:

FreshGrass Part I

One of the reasons I haven't been posting here lately, apart from general laziness, is that I have recently made the move into the lucrative (ha) field of freelance writing (largely music, but also features, book and theater reviews, etc.). Anyway, here's a piece I did for Thursday's Times Union on the FreshGrass Music Festival in North Adams, MA, which features an interview with Grammy winning banjo player and all around swell gal, Alison Brown:

The spirit of Appalachia will settle in the Berkshires this weekend when the FreshGrass Music Festival hits Mass MoCA for three days of music, heritage and moonshine.

To read the whole article click below:

Be sure to leave a comment so they'll give me more work!

22 September, 2012

Where Dead Voices Gather Went To London!

Well, the UEA conference was a tremendous success.  I showed up a bit late because of London's street signs (they're inconsistent, at best, completely absent at worst), but was in time to hear all of the papers.  For those who care, here is the day's program:

9.00 - 9.30 - Coffee and Registration

9.30 - 9.45 - Welcome - Ross Hair & Thomas Ruys Smith, School of American Studies, University of East Anglia

9.45 - 11.00 - Keynote - Professor Geoff Ward, Royal Holloway, University of London:  '"Spun in a wheel of vertigo":  Harry Smith and the Magic of History'

11.00 - 11.15 - Coffee

11.15 - 13.00 - Volume 1:  Context -

Rani Singh, Director of the Harry Smith Archives, '"America Changed Through Music":  Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music Turns 60'

Rory Crutchfield - University of Glasgow, 'An Act of Cultural Subversion?  Conceits and Critical Responses to the Anthology'

Ross Hair, University of East Anglia, 'Harry Smith, the American Diogenes'

Kurt Gegenhuber, The Celestial Monochord, 'Smith's Amnesia Theater:  "Moonshiner's Dance" in the Context of The Anthology of American Folk Music

13.00 - 13.45 - Lunch

13.45 - 15.00 - Volume 2:  Influence -

James Boaden, University of York, 'Stan Brakhage and Films in the Folk Style'

Phil Langran, University of Lincoln, 'Writing the South:  Harry Smith and the Stories of William Gay'

Paola Ferraro, University of Rome, La Sapienza, 'The New "New Weird America" of U.S. Black Metal:  Returning to Appalachia with Panopticon's Kentucky

15.00 - 15.15 - Volume 3:  Legacy -

Alexander M. Stern, Where Dead Voices Gather, 'Technology and the Anthology:  From Shellac to the Cloud'

Jake Faulkner, California Institute of the Arts, 'Re-envisioning America:  A Multimedia Homage to Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music

16:30 - 18.00 - Music - 'Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music at 60:  A Transatlantic Legacy' featuring performances by Rapunzel & Sedayne and Ewan D. Rodgers

The day was amazing and full of highlights:  Kurt Gegenhuber's enthusiastic presentation, punctuated by repeated exclamations of "What are you gonna do with that cow?  Improvise, Frankie!"; learning about the novels of William Gay, with whom I was not previously familiar and who I plan on reading ASAP; Paola Ferraro's fascinating discussion of the influence of American Folk Music on the new wave of American Death Metal; meeting Rani Singh and listening to her stories about Harry Smith's last years; meeting Jake Faulkner and hearing/seeing the incredible works of art he commissioned for his multimedia project (including an amazing black and white film set to "The Wild Wagoner" that seemed equally influenced by A Hard Day's Night and the cover to The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan); not to mention meeting some incredible people, listening to the free exchange of ideas through the medium of a shared passion, and hearing some truly inspired musical performances.

I must say that of all of the papers, mine was probably the least academic and least scholarly.  It was somewhat daunting to make my relatively simple observations about the Anthology and my experience blogging about it.  Nonetheless, it was an honor to speak on the same stage with all of the others and I was made to feel most welcome.  Many thanks to Ross and Thomas for putting this together.  It was truly the experience of a lifetime.  I would also like to thank everyone who presented.  It was a privilege to hear your ideas and to have an opportunity to speak with you.  Finally, I would like to thank those who attended.  It was a pleasure to meet so many fascinating people.  It was an experience I'll not soon forget.

In addition, I recently discovered that the Financial Times did an article on the conference and the Anthology and this blog got a mention.  Pretty cool!  Check it out...

Below are some videos featuring Rapunzel and Sedayne (aka Rachel McCarron and Sean Breadin) and Ewan D. Rodgers.  

20 June, 2012

Where Dead Voices Gather Goes to London!

Exciting news!  On September 15th I will be presenting a paper at a special, one-day conference on the Anthology:  America Changed Through Music: Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music at 60, hosted by the University of East Anglia's School of American Studies at UEA London.  The title of my proposed paper is "Technology and the Anthology:  From Shellac to the Cloud".  Naturally, my experience writing this blog will be discussed.  Keep an eye on this space for further details!