On this episode we have a conversation with Georgia author and writer James Calamine about his writing, his love of music and storytelling, and the people featured in his two volume book "Insured Beyond the Grave." We talk about his interviews with big names in the arts, many of which have ties to The South.
His new book, Insured Beyond the Grave: Volume Two, is now available from Snake Nation Press.
Catch the episode here
Sam Burnham, Curator
I was interviewing James Calamine this afternoon for the upcoming episode of the podcast. Without getting into a lot of the details and ruining that part of the interview, I want to share a basic comment that came up in the conversation.
In The South, everything sort of runs together. Those highest of Southern arts - music, food, and literature, seem very distinct, very different to the casual observer. But in reality, it is hard to ignore the fact that they are helplessly entwined.
You can see it in the Bourdain in Mississippi episode I reviewed. You can see it in the Calemine books as well. If you live in the South, you probably know what I'm talking about. It's all storytelling on some level. It's all an accumulation of the shared history of a diverse people who have struggled to live together for centuries - a history shaped by bondage and injustice but also by the truth few will admit. Southerners are all much more alike than we are different. It's the food, the music, and the literature that connect us. Or perhaps it's that connection that gives us the arts. I'm not sure anyone really knows which is which anymore. Oh some will pretend that they do but that's just hubris at best.
This land has seen poverty, ignorance, famine, war, pestilence. It's also seen riches, peace, safety, wisdom, and abundance. Through it all, good and bad, the people and their arts have been handed down generation to generation, like a song, like a story, like a recipe.
And it all runs together.
Sam Burnham, Curator
(This is a review of one volume of a two volume set. The two volumes were released separately. For the review of Volume One, click here.)
As promised, I've returned with a look at Volume Two of James Calemine's Insured Beyond the Grave.
This volume, published by Snake Nation Press, hits the streets June 28th.
It would be advisable, as James told me when I first asked about Volume Two, to go back and read Volume One, if you haven't already. That advice is not as much for the continuity of a story as it is about having the groundwork lain and seeing what he is trying to do. It is a continuation more than a sequel. Each book could technically stand alone but are intended as two halves of a whole. Volume Two holds even more of the essays about writing, music, entertainment, and some other topics, as well as some of the people who made the stories happen. While not all of the subjects are specifically Southern, Calemine is able to help you connect the dots to see how Southerners and the South played a role in many of the featured stories and people.
Calemine opens this volume with the fascinating story of Bob Dylan's unreleased film Renaldo and Clara. His finding a bootleg copy of the film in an Atlanta video store allowed him to view the produce of what might be the most Bob Dylan thing ever - a movie made with no script. That discovery comes across as a taste of forbidden fruit. Dylan didn't release the film but you are left wondering if perhaps he somehow glad to have bootlegs running around where his true fans have a chance to see the work that seemed doomed to economic and critical failure but also destined for adoration among true fans.
I was fascinated by the book's first interview, an on record account with Chuck Leavell, a Rolling Stone turned Macon, Georgia tree farmer. They discuss Leavell's music, his own writing, his tree farming, work with UGA's agriculture department, and inducting Widespread Panic into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. (Calemine wrote Panic's official induction.)
The book has many such interviews. His interview with David Barbe, who I became familiar with back when he was the bass player with drummer Malcolm Travis and guitarist-vocalist Bob Mould in the rock band Sugar. Barbe is a Georgia music icon whose predominate work has been behind the scenes, getting other musicians produced and heard. This interview revealed a lot more about a talented musician and producer who happens to be a long time Georgian. It's possible you may have not heard of David Barbe but unless you've ignored music for the last thirty years or so, you've definitely heard from him.
This volume also contains many shorter works, including a snippet on Zora Neale Hurston's Tell my Horse and Calemine's own thoughts from the road in Email Dispatches From Appalachia. There is also an introduction to Dexter Weaver's (of Weaver D's fame) book Automatic Y'all, a collection of stories and recipes from the Athens soul food legend.
We also hear about Georgia mainstays - REM, The Black Crowes, Kevn Kinney, Amy Ray, so many great artists, musicians, wirters and the people that helped us find them.
As in Volume One, there is no shortage of the beautiful photography by the author. Even more locations of Southern yesteryear continue to inspire the nostalgia and set a sense of mood and feeling. Turning the page becomes a searching through antiques and relics to find different treasures - some new and some quite old.
To tell much more would be to rob Calemine of his thunder and to rob you of the chance to read it first hand. Get your copy from James Calemine or Snake Nation Press
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire