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
(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
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 Two, click here.)
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
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire