How death metal helped me get past the need for understandable lyrics (Noisey)

In 1993, I borrowed a copy of Cannibal Corpse’s “Tomb of the Mutilated” from Joe Markley and dubbed it onto a blank cassette.

At first the vocals seemed like a joke, all snarly growls with no discernable words. After a while, though, they started to make a kind of internal sense.

They also opened a door. Any time a new vocal style intimidates with seeming impenetrability, the Cannibal Corpse formula can be applied. And that’s what led me to Young Thug.

Read my story at Noisey.

The life, death and life lessons of Ralph Stanley (Noisey)

Like many others, I felt compelled to write about Dr. Ralph Stanley after his death on Thursday.

I’m especially struck by 2 things about Ralph Stanley:

1) That moment when in 1966 when his older brother Carter died, and Ralph, as the quiter half of the Stanley Brothers, had to figure out how to move forward in an uncertain environment. He went back to his roots for “Old Time Music” less than a year after his brother’s death, and it shaped his future for the next 50 years.

2) The sheer accumulation of moments over his career. He’s performed since the ’40s—think about how much music has changed over that time.

Reporters don’t often write headlines, but I wrote this one (“How Ralph Stanley overcame tragedy and the persistance of time to change country music”) for those two story points (& only partly for the Dali/Anthrax reference).

Read my story on Ralph Stanley at Noisey.

Rediscovering Spazz, 20 years later (Noisey)

During a short stint on the West Coast, I discovered the musical subgenre of power violence, defined by mostly short metallic hardcore songs that pushed the boundaries of crossover’s conventions.

I heard Spazz a few times during that period, but it wasn’t until recently that I dug more deeply into their catalogue. Fortunately, Slap a Ham Records (run by a band member) and, more recently, Tankcrimes, released collections of the band’s numerous EPs and comp tracks.

With the rerelease of 1997’s “Sweatin’ To The Oldies,” collecting 1993-1996, and 2001’s “Sweatin’ 3: Skatin’, Satan & Katon,” collecting 1995-1998, I interviewed two of the band’s three members to figure out why this music resonates so many years later.

Read the story and interview at Noisey.

Or read it at Vice Japan.

The shape of music to come, based on who wins the presidency (Noisey)

Presidents can shift the direction of art and culture by providing an inspiration, sometimes as a hostile response to whoever inhabits in the White House.

At the dawn of the Iowa Caucuses—and thus the start of the 2016 camapign in earnest—I charted the future of music under 15 different potential presidents.

Yes, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore is there.

Read my story at Noisey.

How Hip-Hop and Country Music Helped Aung San Suu Kyi Win Myanmar’s Historic Democratic Election (Noisey)

Feeding goats one night, I heard a reporter on a Foreign Policy podcast describe campaign trucks in Burma with boomboxes, dueling up and down roads.

Christian Caryl described the differing approaches between Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) when it came to campaign songs.”All of the parties here have these big trucks with boomboxes mounted on them in bright colors, and they ride back and forth up and down the street and they blast music,” Caryl said. “Sometimes you get these duels of the boomboxes. It’s very funny because the NLD —Aung San Suu Kyi’s party—has rap music. They have these very rollicking Nashville country tunes that celebrates Aung San Suu Kyi, too .”

That launched me down a wormhole of Youtube videos & stories about Burma/Myanmar’s historic elections.

I put what I brought back from that exploration into this story at Noisey.

Anna & Elizabeth’s new video for their cover of a centuries-old murder ballad will chill your blood (Noisey)

Lots of murder ballads lurk in the mountains of Appalachia, but the centuries-old “Greenwood Sidey” must rank near the top for creepiness.

Long story short: A woman kills her two newborns in a wood, only to have them return to haunt and condemn her to hell. This dark-as-night ditty was recorded in the Child Ballads collection, a 19th-century book of folk tunes from England and Scotland.

Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle, a pair of performers from the mountains of Vermont and Virginia, respectively, learned the song from Addie Graham, a ballad singer from eastern Kentucky. Their version is fragmented and sparse on details, leaving out many of the verses sung in European versions. Now, the duo have returned with an animated video for the tune that’ll make your blood run cold.

See the video & read the whole story at Noisey.

Gays in Roanoke used to hide who they were — until a deadly bar shooting changed everything (Washington Post)

The yellow mums appeared at Backstreet Cafe’s door well before people began arriving for the vigil. John Goodhart Sr. sent the flowers, as he did every year on this day, with a note: “Never forget. Never again. NEVER.”

It was his way of paying tribute to his Verizon co-worker Danny Overstreet, who was killed 15 years ago at a gathering spot for gay people in a closeted city.

Backstreet was a gay bar at a time when the sexual orientation of its customers remained hidden — a haven for an underground culture. Its role in Roanoke was exposed Sept. 22, 2000, when Ronald Edward Gay, a former Marine who had been taunted for his name and hated it, walked in, ordered a beer, spotted two men embracing — and opened fire. He killed Overstreet, 43, and wounded six others, including Joel Tucker, who had to deal with more than just the bullet wound in his back.

“When it happened, I was not out to my family,” said Tucker, who was then 40 and worked, as he still does, for United Parcel Service. “I was not out to my job. I wasn’t out to anybody except my very close friends.”

Back then, few could have predicted the seismic changes that were coming to the country, to Virginia and to Roanoke — on same-sex marriage, on gays serving in the military, on the emergence of openly gay athletes, chief executives and celebrities.

Backstreet’s identity has shifted, too. It is managed by Deanna Marcin, who was a married man named John Marcin before divorcing and becoming a transgender woman. The bar still caters to outsiders in this city of nearly 100,000 in southwest Virginia, but they are mostly punk rockers and metalheads, rather than gay men and lesbians.

Read more about the transformation of individuals, a bar, a street, a city and the country in my story for the Washington Post.

Inside the Burger Restaurant Where Hank Williams Uttered His Last Words (Munchies/Vice)

They placed Hank Williams in a wheelchair and hauled him from the Knoxville hotel to his powder-blue Cadillac convertible, where his driver, a college freshman named Charles Carr, waited.

Loaded on booze, morphine, chloral hydrate, and vitamin B12, Williams crawled into the back seat, wrapped a blanket around himself, and laid down. Tasked with ferrying Williams to a New Year’s Day gig in Dayton, Ohio, Carr drove out of Knoxville, Tennessee, and into legend.

Near midnight, Carr stopped in downtown Bristol, Virginia, to get gas and look for a relief driver. He went to a cab stand and noticed a diner, the Burger Bar, next door. Carr asked Williams if he wanted anything to eat. Williams declined, saying he just wanted to sleep.

Read more about the murky stories surrounding Williams’ last ride and the restaurant that claims to be the site of his last words in my story for Munchies, Vice’s food site.