Sam Burnham, Curator
So I'm a little slow to the race on this one. Georgia writer James Calemine is a recent discovery for me but he has quickly won me over as a friend of ABG. That being said, I want to assure you that this isn't going to be a mere friendly love fest of a review for his books (a Volume Two post is coming soon). I want to give y'all a fair look into this volume and see if it fits your taste.
Insured Beyond the Grave: Volume One was released last year by Snake Nation Press. It is a "collection of published essays, interviews and dispatches" that needed to be broken into two pieces in order to not overwhelm readers with an overdose of topics, people, and stories. While I found the work to be fascinating, I can promise that a delayed release dosage was best for all involved - writer, publisher, and reader.
It's gritty. Calemine gives us a vivid picture of the underbelly of entertainment - singers, producers, managers, writers, publishers - and all of the darkness that lies in the shade of the beast. For all the glitz and glamour the general public believes represents the entertainment industry, there is also an element of darkness, the personal demons and struggles, dirty, or at least unsavory, deals, lawsuits, busted relationships, and broken people.
But it isn't all doom and gloom. As you get to know the people, you come to appreciate them. But you get to appreciate them for who and what they really are, not just the polished and spotlighted versions of them from promotional materials. That's the beauty of the book's candid nature. It's raw and it's real. It puts you in a chair in the room where the stories happened. You feel like a present observer, not some anonymous voyeur. You find yourself forming opinions about people based on the information you receive. But the work isn't skewed or biased for or against anyone. It seems fair and honest. The reader is at liberty to form conclusions for themselves.
Throughout these pages you see the people and places that have built the collective history of the industry. He includes many names and faces that I knew were important but lacked the understanding to connect all the dots. There are recordings at Sun Studios as well as in Muscle Shoals. Stanley Booth, Jim Dickinson, and Col Bruce Hampton make appearances. He discusses Townes Van Zandt and The Georgia Sea Island Singers. The bands include The Rolling Stones, The Dixie Flyers, Otis Redding. He gives first hand accounts of people who were there when the magic happened. Stanley Booth being in the room when Otis Redding recorded Sitting on the Dock of the Bay just two days before Redding lost his life in a plane crash - that is one part that really grabbed me. Calamine also gives some insight into the Hunter S. Thompson tapes. Thompson's suicide came just nine days before he was scheduled to give an interview with Calemine.
Calemine's interview style is enjoyable. Again, the grittiness. He gets into the subject, fully immersed as the writer. He's not just relaying you information that he has read about. This is that "epignosis" that the Greeks talked about: that experiential knowledge of a topic that comes from seeing something firsthand, coming to know the people involved, and truly understanding their story. He has gone to extra mile to make us second hand sources rather than just a cog in the rumor mill.
As a bit of lagniappe, he includes throughout the book pictures of the past - old barns, old cars, Sun Studios, signs from old restaurants and dive bars and roadside motels. If you enjoy our Instagram feed, you'll love these photos. Even when they don't match the subject completely they still blend in well and give you that feeling of a rusted nostalgia. Like the subjects of the book, the subjects of the photos have been aged and weathered by experience and the passage of time. Some have survived longer than others. All have a story to tell.
This volume has left me with a curiosity for Volume Two. Fortunately, my copy arrived this weekend and I'll be diving into it shortly.
Get your copy from James Calemine or Snake Nation Press
Let's talk about a book.
This one is a bit newer than our usual book reviews. I just finished The River of Kings by Taylor Brown (St. Martin's Press, 2017)
Let me start by saying this was my first Taylor Brown book. But I don't think it will be my last. In this book he weaves three stories together three stories. Two of the stories are from recent history, about 15-20 years apart while the third is from the 16th century. The stories have their heroes and villains. There are kings and peasants - both literal and metaphorical. But at the heart of all three stories you find the true stars of the stories - the Altamaha River and the prehistoric beat that legend say roams the depths, The Altamaha-ha.
The stories are excellent. Brown's narrative puts you on the river. You get the ripples from the bow of a kayak, the smell of an outboard engine, the din of violent conflict. At times you'll find yourself blowing the gnats from your face. The plots are interesting and believable. It was nice to see the way one plot would veer into the other story, giving you a detail, some background. The history is well researched even if Brown took license to tell the stories.
The characters are real. I'm not saying they are all true people, I'm saying you are getting an authentic cast. Even when the plots get grotesque it isn't gratuitous. You see the morbid reality of our world and how experiences made the characters who they are and in turn how their existence contributed to the morbid reality of our world. You see the good and evil in them, some get a bigger share of one than they do the other. If you've lived in rural Georgia longer than a week, you've met folks like these. You might even see yourself in a few places.
This is a man's kind of story. I'm not saying that ladies shouldn't read it or that they won't like it. I'm saying men will enjoy it. It's gritty. It's harsh. But it's real. And it's good. There's nothing Pollyanna about it but it's also uplifting and encouraging. It is a tale of people living in a harsh world.
That is about as far as I can take this without getting into plot spoilers. So take my word for it. It's good.
By Sam Burnham
Let's talk about a book.
First of all, anytime you get a book recommendation from a South Georgia hog and poultry farmer, follow up on it. That will be a good book. Trust me. That's how I got to this point. Second, we don't usually review new books here. It happens but we would rather review a good book than a new book.
So the good ol' Georgia PINES catalog indicated that the book was indeed at my local library so I swung in and picked up a copy. True to the recommendation, A Land Remebered by Patrick D. Smith was as advertised. The story itself was very much what we so often discuss here at ABG. Without ruining the plot, the book carries your through 3 generations of the MacIvey family, crackers from Georgia who make their way into the untamed Florida frontier and attempt to squeeze a living off a fertile yet unforgiving landscape.
This work of fiction is a great representation of the faceless multitude of crackers who settled the Sunshine State, as well as much of Georgia. Before there was a Miami or an Orlando, there were cypress cabins strewn over the hammocks and prairies of central and south Florida. Seminoles still hid in the sawgrass and the cypress as they too made their living off this land. It was a tough existence that required the people to be just as tough.
The books characters are realistic and endearing. Some of the dialogue gets dry in places and may not always be true to the time period but overall you find yourself pulling for the MacIveys. You want them to make it. There are plot twists that you cannot predict any more than they could have. You along for the ride with them. And it does get bumpy. The plot deals with issues of race and class. There are moral as well as physical crises and you see good and bad coming from decisions.
But the title puts the land itself under the spotlight. I think the plot does as well. The land is there before any of them arrive and it is there long after they are all dead. How the people interact with the land is the story. There is a lesson that native Floridians know all too well. It is the lesson of the Florida that was and the Florida that is. It is the lesson of greed and development. It is the lesson of "progress." As you see the land and the people change, you can see exactly how it all happened. You see how people sucked the life out of the land and, in turn, sucked the life out of themselves.
I highly recommend A Life Remembered. It's a great story with a great lesson.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire