Mark Doyle is a professor of history at Middle Tennessee State University. A native of Oklahoma who now resides in Nashville, he has lived for extended periods in New Orleans, Boston, and Ireland. His latest book is The Kinks: Songs of the Semi-Detached.
Mark and Colin talk about the historical and sociological background of the Kinks' golden period in the late 1960s and early 1970s. More specifically, they discuss how the brilliant and multi-faceted Ray Davies, the Kinks' main songwriter and singer, commented on the profound changes going on around him. In the process, he and the Kinks made classic albums such as Something Else, Village Green Preservation Society, Arthur, Lola, and Muswell Hillbillies.
Mark and Colin also examine the challenges of doing a different kind of writing, namely, how historians trained in a doctoral program examine a pop culture subject. As Mark sees it, he didn't want to write a typical history of the band. And while interviewing someone in the Kinks would have been fun and exciting, talking to a famous musician won't necessarily add much to your story.
The Kinks were a distinctly British band, but the subjects Ray Davies analyzed--urban renewal, alienation and economic anxiety, the rise of the suburbs, the expansion of the welfare state--were relatable to Americans, too. Ray's songs did not emerge in a vacuum. His art was born amid the changes going on in the postwar world all around him.
Manisha Sinha was born in India, but she moved to the U.S. to finish her education. Since graduating with a Ph.D. from Columbia--where she studied under Eric Foner--she has made an impact on the history world.
Her first book, The Counterrevolution of Slavery (2000), based on her dissertation, was nominated for the Bancroft Prize. A few years ago, Politico named it as one of the ten books on slavery "you need to read." Her most recent book, The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition (2016) won the coveted Frederick Douglass Prize.
Dr. Sinha stays busy. She lives in Massachusetts, but commutes to the University of Connecticut, where she is the Draper Chair in American History. She is hard at work on her next book, which examines the Reconstruction era.
Manisha talks with Colin about the publishing field, what it's like to cut 1/4 million words form a manuscript, and her appearance on The Daily Show during the Obama years.
Joseph L. Galloway is the author of the 1992 bestselling book We Were Soldiers Once and Young, which was made into a hit 2002 movie starring Mel Gibson. The book was inspired, oddly, by a scene from the sequel to American Graffiti.
Joe wrote We Were Soldiers with the help of Hal Moore (played by Gibson in the film), who was then a colonel. The book and movie examined the battle of Ia Drang, fought in November of 1965. It was the bloodiest battle of the war, and Joe Galloway saw it unfold. Joe has a new book out, They Were Soldiers: The Sacrifices and Contributions of Our Vietnam Veterans, which he co-wrote with Marvin J. Wolf.
Joe spent many years as a reporter, who traveled the globe, including time covering the Iraq War. In 2008, We Were Soldiers was named one of the 10 best war books of all time by History.Net. Joe has also been played by not one, but two Hollywood actors. And though Joe has experience with Hollywood, as he makes clear, he'll not be working with Oliver Stone any time soon.
In the intro, Colin talks about the recent unrest, which happened in many cities this last weekend, including his home town of Richmond, Virginia.
Heath Carpenter, a professor of English at Harding University in Arkansas, is the author of The Philosopher King: T. Bone Burnett and the Ethic of a Southern Cultural Renaissance (2019). He is also a native Arkansan, who is friends with previous podcast guest Bonnie Montgomery (featured in his book). Heath has traveled widely, but his globe-hopping has only emphasized the importance of having strong roots in his home state.
Musician and producer T. Bone Burnett has worked on such landmark soundtracks as Crazy Heart, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, and Cold Mountain and produced acts such as the Secret Sisters and Gregg Allman. His studio wizardry has changed the way Americans think about roots music.
Colin talks with Heath about how his book combines elements of history, film, literature, and music in its exploration of southern identity. In doing so, they examine how much the South has and hasn't changed and how people's perceptions of it are often at odds with reality--sometimes, as in the case of Deliverance, horrifyingly so.
Whatever you think of it, the South remains distinct and likes it that way. Arkansas has produced everyone from Johnny Cash and Al Green to Charlie Rich and Levon Helm as well as more recent acts such as The Gossip. Music remains one of its greatest exports. The state's unique blending of Delta blues, gospel, country, and rock and roll keeps musicians and fans interested. Also, it still has cotton fields, if that's your thing.
Dr. Court Carney returns to the podcast to talk about Bob Dylan. Court is not only a fan, he has taught a class on Dylan at Stephen F. Austin State University, where he is a professor history.
Court's interest in Dylan began when he listened to his dad's copy of Nashville Skyline thirty years ago. In grad school, he took a deeper dive into the Zimmerman catalog by absorbing such classics as Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks, and John Wesley Harding.
Court has also been fascinated by the Dylan-Guthrie connection, which has taken him to archives in Tulsa to examine Guthrie's personal papers. Guthrie died in 1967, by which time Dylan had retreated to Woodstock, NY, to recover and reconceptualize his art and music. While in Woodstock, Dylan began recording with The Band. What emerged was a new kind of American roots music.
In a country founded on legends and self-made men, Court and Colin examine the myth vs. reality of Dylan. They also tackle such questions as: how political was he? Is his Christmas album worth listening to? Was he really seriously injured in a motorcycle crash? And is "Rainy Day Women 12 & 35" a drug song? Dr. Carney explains all!
Not many undergraduates publish a book, but Drew Prehmus did. Drew grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, where he now lives. In 2004, he enrolled at Hampden-Sydney College, where he majored in English. In his sophomore year, he started work on a book with Sam. The project took seven years to complete. The result was General Sam: A Biography of Lieutenant General Samuel Vaughan Wilson.
Colin chats with Drew about his background, work at Hampden-Sydney, and the seven years he spent on Sam’s biography. He also provides an inside look at being a student at Hampden-Sydney as well as reminiscences about certain professors, such as the late Victor Cabas.
Michael Foley lives in France, where he is a professor of history at University Grenoble Alpes. He might be far from home, but Mike is used to moving around. The son of a blue collar dad, his father's work took the family around New England and, briefly, into Pennsylvania. He grew up in the culture of Democratic politics and small town meetings, which has informed his later work. Yet, as an undergrad, he went to Florida to pursue a business degree.
After "five miserable years" working in Boston in the late 1980s as an auditor for mutual funds, Mike, inspired by historians of the civil rights movement, got his Ph.D. from the University of New Hampshire. There, he studied with Harvard Sitkoff. Since then, he has approached his work with an activist bent. His first monograph, Confronting the War Machine, was about resistance to the draft during the Vietnam War. His work on the 1960s won him the attention of Mad Men, which asked him to be a consultant to the show. He continues to write about politics.
He also is a big music fan. In 2015, he published a book on the Dead Kennedys album for the popular 33 1/3 series. Now, he is writing a book on Johnny Cash's politics.
Move fanatic Michael Scott is a regular on the film podcast The Dana Buckler Show and a huge fan of the related podcast F This Movie! When he's not lending his expertise to an episode of "The 20th Century Movie Club," he's working in Utah as a prosecuting attorney.
Mike talks with Colin about his career path in the justice system--beginning with his time at Emory University law school--and gives some recommendations about films he's been watching lately. He also lets us know which lawyer movies get the details right. Hint: his favorite legal flick may not be what first comes to mind.
Mike and Colin share an early memory of Star Wars and talk about how the movies have changed in their lifetime. Are the movies better than ever? Have crowds killed the movie-going experience? And most important of all, will the movies survive?
This is part two of Colin's talk with Dr. Brent J. Steele of the University of Utah about the academic job market. Colin and Brent start out by walking us through the interview process, including the infamous Dinner, in which a candidate talks with the committee and tries not to order too many drinks and say something stupid. From there, they get into interview nightmares, which range from problems with technology to rude dinner and lunch companions, to phone calls from long-forgotten committee people.
In the intro, Colin provides a Coronavirus update and debates whether anything we now know about the job market has been rendered moot by the pandemic. Happy April, y'all!
Dr. Brent J. Steele, head of the Political Science Department at the University of Utah (and loyal friend of the podcast) returns to American Rambler to talk about the (challenging? woeful?) state of the job market for Ph.D.s. Unfortunately the Coronavirus is only going to make harder an already daunting job search process. Is there hope for those wanting to land a tenure track position or just a good, stable job at some kind of research institution?
2020 may suck so far, but times have always been hard for scholars. And in Part I of this discussion, Brent and Colin talk about the many tricky turns in navigating the job market, from building your CV, to applying en masse, to getting that coveted first interview. What are grad students to expect when they are looking for work? More so, what might anyone expect who is trying to land a job at a college or university? Well, the good doctors are here to help!
A fascination with Game of Thrones inspired Megan Kate Nelson's new book, The Three-Cornered War, which examines the role of the Union, Confederacy and Native Americans in the southwestern theatre of the Civil War. It's Megan's third book. Now that she is writing full time, she shows no signs of slowing down.
Megan is a native of the West herself, and to write The Three-Cornered War, she traveled to the places she describes in her book. She lives in Massachusetts, but she is still fascinated by the West she grew up in. She is already working on her fourth book, on the history of Yellowstone, which is slated for publication in 2022.
Are you thinking about grad school? While they both have Ph.D.s, Colin and Megan talk about the difficulties of being on the tenure track and how one should maybe consider the option of "alt-ac" careers. What do you do with a Ph.D. if academia isn't for you? Megan has shown that there is life, and success, beyond the Ivory Tower. And you can start by deciding not to write for free anymore.
You can find out more about Dr. Nelson at: http://www.megankatenelson.com/
She lives near Austin now, but musician Bonnie Montgomery is a native of Arkansas. Raised in a musical family in Searcy that owned a music shop, she started playing classical piano at a young age. Later, she picked up a guitar. After graduating with a graduate degree in music, she taught in China, lived in Nashville, and traveled overseas with the popular (though now defunct) Arkansas group The Gossip.
She is known for her alt-country records, but it was an opera she co-wrote with a college friend that got her noticed. The subject: Bill Clinton, of course. With an opera to her credit, she soon turned to writing country songs.
Her self-titled, full album debut, Bonnie Montgomery, was released in 2014. Her work won her an Ameripolitan award in 2016 and got the attention of the Outlaw Country community. In 2018, she released Forever, her second album, which combines country and classical elements and features a duet with Dale Watson. These days, you can find her playing not only with Dale Watson but Ray Wiley Hubbard and Rosie Flores. Bonnie made her first appearance on the Outlaw Country Cruise this year and lived to tell the tale.
Music in this episode: "Joy" from Bonnie Montgomery; "Black County" from Bonnie Montgomery; "Goin' Out Tonight (with Dale Watson) from Forever; and "No More" from Forever. You can read more about Bonnie and buy her music at www.bonniemontgomerymusic.com.
Part two of Colin's talk with author and historian G. J. Meyer goes deeper into the writing life. It's an honest discussion of how the business works and how success is fleeting and difficult to predict amid the "sorry state of the American publishing industry."
Jerry is working on a novel, so he and Colin discuss the literary influences that have made Jerry want to write fiction. For him, those included The Paris Review, Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O'Connor, and Annie Poulx. They also find time to discuss Faulkner, Walker Percy, Robert Penn Warren, and how Otto Von Bismarck turned out to be a not-so-great subject to write about.
He lives in England now, but historian G. J. Meyer is a native of St. Louis, who developed his journalism chops at newspapers in the mid-west. Jerry rose in the ranks at the St. Louis Dispatch, and his writing won him a Neiman fellowship at Harvard. He published a book on a Memphis serial killer in 1974, but he eventually left journalism to work in corporate America, which became the basis for his second book, Executive Blues. He returned to writing full-time once he landed in New York and found a publisher for World Undone, a tour de force history of World War I.
In part one of his two part talk with Colin, Jerry discusses his winding path to becoming a full-time writer. He also talks about how World Undone was different from other books on the Great War, and how that tragic conflict changed the global landscape.
Colin welcomes back Dana Buckler, the Florida-based host of the popular movie podcast, The Dana Buckler Show (formerly How is This Movie?). Dana tells Colin about his path to success as a podcaster, including an honest discussion of some missteps he's made along the way. Dana, however, has seen his audience grow over the years as well as his guest list. What began as a one-man show has turned into an interview podcast featuring guests such as State of Grace director Phil Jouano, screenwriter Jim Hemphill, and Dana's biggest catch to date, John Travolta. Dana gives some good advice to aspiring podcasters and also talks about his future career plans, which were made possible by his podcast.
New York City writer Adam Bulger returns to American Rambler to discuss the recent death of legendary Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart. He also talks about the band's back catalogue.
Rush has always existed somewhere between contemptuous critics and adoring fans. Robert Christgau once called the Canadian trio "the most obnoxious band currently making a killing on the zonked teen circuit." Rolling Stone has written of Rush's "preconceptual roots as dull, perennially second-billed metal plotzers." Rush did not join the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame until 2013, 14 years after the band was first eligible.
Rush, nevertheless, is a staple of classic rock radio with such songs as "Tom Sawyer," "Limelight," "Spirit of the Radio," "Time Stand Still," and "Closer to the Heart." Love them or hate them, they are on the soundtrack of late 20th century American suburban life.
But should you like them? Mr. Bulger takes a deep dive into Rush, learning to appreciate the band as a listener and a guitar player. He recommends the Netflix doc Beyond the Lighted Stage to get a better sense of the band's history and music. Was the nerdy Neil Peart a rock god? Rush might live forever on your FM dial, but can they make Ayn Rand interesting?
Also, in the wake of the recent white supremacy/NRA rally in Richmond, Colin and Adam talk about gun control for 20 minutes. If you want to get to skip to Rush, it starts around the 30 minute mark.
Eric Foner is one of the most accomplished historians of the 19th century United States. His first book, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, about the rise of the Republican Party, is a classic. So too is his 1988 work Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, which won the Bancroft Prize. More recently, he has turned his attention to Abraham Lincoln. His 2011 book, The Fiery Trial, about Lincoln's views on slavery, won the Pulitzer and Lincoln Prize.
Eric discusses his early career at Columbia, including his experiences working with the renowned historian Richard Hofstadter, who won the Pulitzer Prize twice in his short life. Dr. Foner also discusses his politics, his views on the current state of the history profession, and the Trump administration.
He is retired from teaching, but Eric shows no signs of slowing down. He is still on a speaking tour for his most recent book, The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution, which came out in September of 2019.
Colin merrily rings in the new year and a possible impending war with Iran by recapping his Christmas break. Mostly, it comes down to two words: Star Wars. Colin saw The Rise of Skywalker and finished the first season of The Mandalorian. He now has a serious crush on Baby Yoda.
Also, Marriage Story, zipper vs. pull-over hoodies, Chernobyl, Watchmen, Righteous Gemstones, and the joys of Friday brunch.
Wilco put out a new album in 2019 called Ode to Joy. To talk about it, Colin brings back historian and music expert Court Carney, a professor at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas and a longtime Wilco fan. Together, Colin and Court discuss not just Wilco's new record, but the band's 25 year history.
Court was a fan of Uncle Tupelo, an early-90s southern Illinois alt-country band that featured songwriters Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar, who would go on to form, respectively, Wilco and Son Volt. Initially, Court was on "team Jay" before becoming enamored with Jeff Tweedy's music.
Since putting out his first Wilco record, Tweedy has been involved in various side projects, including Golden Smog and Loose Fur, as well as the memorable Mermaid Avenue sessions, where Wilco and Billy Bragg interpreted unfinished Woody Guthrie songs. Tweedy has also done solo work by himself and with his son Spencer.
But Wilco endures. And how has the sonic journey of Wilco compared to other great bands, such as the Beatles, Dylan, and Led Zeppelin? Does Wilco's recent work measure up to expectations? Whether or not you love the latest record, Wilco still loves you, baby.
Musician and actor Ben Dickey is the star of the 2018 biopic Blaze, where he played the doomed, legendary singer-songwriter Blaze Foley. Blaze was from Arkansas and so is Ben. As he tells Colin, he learned music from his grandfather, who sang and played guitar, turning him on to country stars Jimmie Rodgers and Lefty Frizzell. Ben drew on many influences growing up, and by the time he was in high school, he was playing and recording for the math rock group Shake Ray Turbine.
Ben left Little Rock for Philadelphia. A day job as a chef helped him pay the bills, while he played live gigs and recorded several albums with Blood Feathers. In Philly, he met his lifelong sweetheart, who was friends with Ethan Hawke's wife. Ethan and Ben became friends, and Ethan would direct Ben in Blaze later. It was Ben's first major role, and his turn as Blaze won him an acting award at Sundance.
These days, Ben tries to balance a life as a busy actor and musician. Music remains his first love, but he is working with Ethan Hawke again on a cable series about abolitionist John Brown. The show will air in 2020 on Showtime.
Ben's been around the country and back, a journey that has involved everything from gigging in a Bob Wills cover band in Arizona to playing with John Prine and sharing the screen with Kris Kristofferson. Among his many talents, he also does a killer Bill Clinton impersonation.
Music in this episode: Ben Dickey and cast, "Let Me Ride in Your Big Cadillac" from Blaze soundtrack; Ben Dickey, "The Bizzy Waltz," from A Glimmer on the Outskirts; Ben Dickey and cast, "Clay Pigeons" from Blaze soundtrack; Ben Dickey; "Down the Shore," from Sexy Birds & Salt Water Classics.
Winston Hodges is a Richmond comic. He started doing comedy and experienced quick success back in 2015. A native of rural Virginia, he graduated from Virginia Tech before winning a contest at the Funny Bone, where he riffed on roller coasters. It was his first time doing comedy on stage. Ever.
Recorded at the Fuzzy Cactus in Richmond, Colin and Winston talk about the local comedy scene, doing blue material vs. working clean, fast food, commuting, and what it's like to get laughs around kids. They also tackle some heavy stuff, such as losing a family member to cancer.
Winston has a comedy album, Rad Bod as well as a podcast, the Winstmas Games. Here, you can hear him talk about his comedy influences and why he's exhausted with Louie CK. Also, this episode gives Colin a chance to pull out his impression of Bill Hicks's mom. You can check out Winston's upcoming dates at www.winstonhodges.com.
Wiseguy Adam Bulger stops by for an unprecedented third American Rambler appearance to talk about Martin Scorsese's new flick The Irishman. Adam thinks Scorsese is the best filmmaker of the 20th century, but how has he fared in the 21st? Does The Irishman measure up to expectations? How does it fit into the Scorsese canon?
This Siskel & Ebert-ish discussion soon evolves into a talk about other Italian-American directors, The Sopranos, and The Wire. Also, no conversation would be complete without a Dennis Miller impersonation courtesy of Mr. Bulger.
Virginia native Ben Cleary is the author of Searching for Stonewall Jackson, a non-traditional military history of one of the Civil War's most famous generals. As Ben tells Colin, his interest in "Old Jack" stems from how different the general seems to modern students of the war.
Ben's book builds on a career spent writing and teaching. He began his work on Jackson after writing articles for the New York Times "Disunion" feature during the Civil War sesquicentennial. He is also a veteran of the Richmond writing scene and has taught at public schools in the area and in the juvenile justice system.
Ben and Colin discuss Jackson's campaigns as well as the general's thoughts on slavery, religion, and family life. Ben talks, too, about his early writing career in the "Scarytown" era of Richmond and how he learned Russian literature from a chain-smoking countess at VCU.
Recorded earlier in the fall, Colin talks about his love of stand up comedy as well as his recent trips to the Funny Bone in Richmond, where he saw T. J. Miller and Doug Stanhope.
In the intro, the Rambler examines how there's no great way to travel from Virginia to Massachusetts by car. Hope you've digested all the turkey by now!
And hey, check out my blog post on Massachusetts comedy:
Dan Carter is one of the best historians of the South. A native of South Carolina, he won the Bancroft Prize for his first book, Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South, which was published in 1969. Since then, he has written about the Reconstruction period, before turning his attention to 20th century politics in The Politics of Rage: The Origins of the New Conservatism and the Transformation of Politics (1995) and From George Wallace to Newt Gingrich: Race in the Conservative Counterrevolution, 1963-1994 (1999). Retired from teaching, he lives in western North Carolina, where he is writing about the white supremacist, faux Native American, and Hollywood screenwriter, Forrest Carter.
Colin and Dan talk about southern politics; the realignment of parties in the late-20th century; the persistence of Lost Cause ideology; and worrisome nature of the Trump era.