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.
American Rambler talks some music, including an overview of his vinyl collection, hitting on bands and solo artists in the H-J range. Ginger Baker makes an appearance from beyond the grave. Colin gives a few thoughts on the new Wilco record. And everyone should know about Adam Faucett.
Trae Wisecarver is the "Outlaw Historian," and he's not messing around. A native of southern Arkansas, he's working on his Ph.D in history at Texas A & M University, where he is writing about the Civil War in his home state.
Trae became a Twitter sensation in 2019. He took a cue from Keri Leigh Merritt and posted a video about the need for a new Civil War documentary that improves upon Ken Burns's 1990 film. Not one to shy away from a fight, Trae has run afoul of the dubious character Dinesh D'Souza as well as online Nazis, neo-Confederates, and other unsavory characters. Trae keeps up a spirited Twitter account, and after his original feed was suspended, he is back (and more fired up than ever.)
In addition to his interview show The Outlaw Historian, you can also catch his wrestling podcast, The Oh My Godcast: An ECW Retrospective, which he co-hosts with his friend Ben Dangerously.
In part two of Colin's talk with Brent J. Steele, Brent discusses his newest book, Restraint in International Politics, which is available from Cambridge University Press. And with several decades of college life between them, Colin and Brent talk about striking a good balance between work and life. How do you get scholarship done while also being a responsible family person? What changes will you have to make in your creative process? Are your days of third-shift writing over? Probably, but there are other ways of being productive.
In the intro, Colin talks about the World Series and how the Nat's were the team of destiny for reasons involving baby sharks, dancing, and Donald Trump.
Brent J. Steele is the head of the political science department at the University of Utah. As he tells Colin, it was an intro to American politics his freshman year at college that made him want to become a college professor. A native of Iowa, he also got his Ph.D. there. As an academic, he has a long list of publications that weave together analysis of American politics with ideas based in Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and modern psychology.
Brent stays busy. He has a book coming out soon from Cambridge University Press, Restraint and International Politics. He is also the host of his own podcast The Hayseed Scholar, which may or may not contain beer drinking. Colin and Brent cover a lot of ground concerning foreign policy and the political shifts in the period from Vietnam to the Trump and Twitter age.
In this short episode, Colin provides a brief overview of the General Sam V. Wilson Papers project, which he is working on at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. Sam Wilson was a native of Rice, Virginia, and a veteran of the Burma campaign during World War II. The American offensive in Burma became the basis for the book and film Merrill's Marauders. Wilson survived that brutal campaign, and after the war, he learned Russian and went into intelligence. Years before people knew where Vietnam was, Wilson studied counter-insurgency, which became a doctrine for the U.S. military in Southeast Asia and beyond.
After serving in Vietnam, Wilson returned to intelligence work, living in the Soviet Union in the early 1970s. He retired from the military in 1977 and later became the president of Hampden-Sydney College. General Wilson died in 2017. The Wilson papers processing project began in July of 2019 and is funded for two years.
John Sacher is the head of the history department at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He is also the author of A Perfect War of Politics: Parties, Politicians, and Democracy in Louisiana, 1824-1861. John has been on a steady career path, but as he tells Colin, he had his doubts about staying in the history game while he was in grad school.
John attended Notre Dame as an undergraduate. As much as he loved it there, he went to LSU for grad school. In Baton Rouge, he studied with William J. Cooper (a previous podcast guest). John completed a master's thesis and dissertation on Louisiana politics, which became the basis of his first book. After spending some years in Kansas, he is back in his home state of Florida. Now, he is finishing a book on conscription in the Confederacy, the first full-length scholarly book on the subject in many decades.
As John and Colin discuss, even for the most committed students, graduate school can be daunting. Also challenging is the move from scholar to administrator later in one's career--a path that might be as inevitable for some as it is practical.
Matt Hulbert was "born in the shadow of Stone Mountain," but it wasn't until much later in life that he knew the place's controversial history. By then, he was well on his way to becoming a Civil War historian. First, though, he had to lay aside his dream of becoming a cowboy.
Matt completed his doctorate at the University of Georgia, where he studied with John Inscoe. His dissertation won the C. Vann Woodward Prize. A year later, it was published as The Ghosts of Guerrilla Memory and won the Wiley-Silver Prize for best first book. He is now working on a biography of Virginia editor turned Missourian John Newman Edwards.
Matt and Colin talk about the eastern vs. western theaters as well as the violence that characterized both. Also, a certain recent article on the Civil War and the merits of social media came up. This is by far the best podcast recorded this year in a basement office at Hampden-Sydney College. And they raise the question: who would you rather have dinner with, Nathan Bedford Forrest or Robert E. Lee? Give it a listen!
In this mini-series, American Rambler talks about one of the two classic movies he saw on the big screen this summer. Jaws is one of Colin's favorite movies, but he had never seen it at a theater before. What did he notice this time around? Does it matter, when you've seen a movie dozens of time on TV, VHS, DVD, and even have read the book?
Yes, of course! So if you're a Jaws fanatic, you might want to give this one a listen. If you've never seen it, warning: spoilers abound!
A self-described blasphemer and bewildered pilgrim, writer and novelist James Morrow was doing long-form fiction at age seven. But it was a high school literature class in his native Abington, Pennsylvania, that changed his life. There, he read greats such as Dostoevsky, Flaubert, and Camus. He went on to study at Penn and Harvard. After dabbling in film-making, he began publishing novels in the early 1980s.
In such books as Blameless in Abaddon. The Last Witchfinder, and Shambling towards Hiroshima, Jim's fiction has made religion and history central themes, while incorporating elements of sci-fi and fantasy. He has also taken a Vonnegut-style approach to lampooning the absurdities of capitalism, mass media, politics, and modern American life. His latest novel is Lazarus is Waiting, which he is hoping to get published soon.
A disciple of Jonathan Swift, and a man who had the good fortune to take a class with Joseph Heller, Jim's work has woven together philosophy and satire while taking on subjects dealing with evil, human nature, and the meaning of life. His talk with Colin covers everything from St. Augustine and Martin Heidegger to Mad Men and The Good Place. Aspiring writers: take good notes!
Originally from Michigan, Aaron Sheehan-Dean now makes his home in Baton Rouge, where he is a professor of Civil War history at Louisiana State University. An undergraduate at Northwestern, he went on to do his master's and doctoral degree at the University of Virginia. A proud member of the "UVA Mafia," he worked with Michael Holt and Gary Gallagher (both of whom are previous podcast guests) in Charlottesville. He taught in Florida and West Virginia before moving to LSU, where he has Charles Royster's old job.
Aaron is the author of Why Confederates Fought and The Calculus of Violence, the latter of which won the Jefferson Davis Award from the American Civil War Museum in 2018. But as Aaron tells Colin, he originally wanted to be in politics. Working in Congress for a few years, he saw the growth of partisan rancor. He also developed his speaking chops and realized he wanted to pursue history as a career. At UVA, he discovered that grad school isn't just for single people: he managed to finish school and raise a family.
In the course of this interview, you'll find out: what politician could "talk a dog off a meat truck?" And what exactly is a "Sweet'N Low Momma?" Listen and you'll be enlightened.
A native of Northern Ireland, Stephanie McCurry moved to Canada while in high school before settling in the United States. She studied under renowned slavery scholars Eugene and Elizabeth Fox Genovese as a grad student. She made a big splash with her first, prize-winning book, Masters of Small Worlds, which wove together politics, gender, and class relations in antebellum South Carolina. Her second book, Confederate Reckoning, published in 2010, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Now she has a new book, Women's War: Fighting and Surviving the American Civil War.
Despite her success, Dr. McCurry is honest about the challenges she has faced. She talks about her rough road to settling in America, the often thorny nature of grad school politics, and producing scholarship amid changing jobs, moving across the country, and raising children. Through it all, she has focused on the role of women in 19th century American history and how she has tried to raise (and answer) new questions about the past.
Colin saw the newest Quentin Tarantino movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film explores the lives of a struggling actor, a stunt double, Sharon Tate, and the Manson family in a reimagining of 1969 Los Angeles. But is it any good? How does it carry on the Tarantino film tradition? And is it a comment of sorts about the Trump era?
Frank Kirkpatrick is a theologian and former religion professor at Trinity College, where he taught for 47 years. He was also Colin's advisor, overseeing his thesis on Soren Kierkergaard. Frank's class on major religious writers made Colin want to be a double major in religion and history as an undergraduate. Now, more than 20 years later, they talk about some major figures in American and European philosophy and how the United States is becoming a more secular country. It's an episode that takes on everything from Paul Tillich to Reinhold Niebuhr.
Originally from Iowa, Jim Stramel is a longtime resident of Richmond. As a college student in Florida, he hopped in a van bound for Virginia and hasn't looked back. Jim started making films on 16mm, work that culminated in his first full-length movie Thrillbillys (2001). Since then, Jim has moved on to making horror films, such as Degenerates Ink. His latest work is the webseries Reviled, which explores the dark world of zombie pit fighting.
Over a couple of beers, Colin talks with Jim about how he got his start making films, his influences, "Old" Richmond, and why he likes working with musicians. Hopefully after this conversation, Sony will be calling soon!
Court Carney, a professor at Stephen F. Austin University, returns to the podcast to talk about a course he recently taught on the late, great AMC show Mad Men. As Court makes clear, the show is a rich text that tells us a lot about 1960s history.
Mad Men first garnered attention for its stark portrayal of gender roles, but the series became iconic for its modernist look, sharp writing, morally and psychologically complex characters, and intricate plot lines. And because you can't have a conversation with Court without talking about music, Dr. Carney examines how the Mad Men soundtrack--using everything from the Beatles to Sergio Mendes--heightened the drama. Also, Colin and Court talk about 1980s synth pop and the memoir by Wilco front man Jeff Tweedy.
A professor at the University of Georgia, Scott Reynolds Nelson is the author of several books and recently was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship. But as he tells Colin, he was not interested in history as a young man enamored with comic books and computers. Still, history proved a much safer path than the one he was pursuing, one which might have ended him up in jail. In his work, Scott has combined economic history, social studies, and folklore. He is perhaps best known for his book on John Henry, which became the basis for not only a children's book but a musical. As he tells Colin, Steel Drivin' Man started as a mid-life crisis and middle finger to the profession. By breaking all the "rules," he had great success.
Scott also talks about his books on the Civil War, how wheat led to the collapse of monarchs in Europe, and why his work on the panic of 1873 made him very popular during the depression of 2008-2009. On this episode, we cover everything from cyberpunk to the birth of rock and roll!
Retired historian Michael Holt is one of the most accomplished writers on antebellum politics. A professor at the University of Virginia for decades, he is perhaps best known for his grand 1999 book, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party. He is also the author of The Political Crisis of the 1850s, The Election of 1860, and other books. His most recent, and last (he tells us) is about president, soldier, hard drinker, and empath Franklin Pierce.
A native of Pittsburgh, Michael talks about his days as a self-professed "punching bag" for the imposing David Donald at Johns Hopkins. From there, he discusses his days on the road doing research, his take on the race issue in the 1850s, and comparing the antebellum era with today's politics. And why should we care about Franklin Pierce? Find out in this conversation from Charlottesville!
In part two of his conversation with Mark Thompson, Colin talks about Mark's move to the Netherlands, what he teaches there, and comparison between Dutch and American living. Is college in the Netherlands really free? Is it better? And what does Mark miss and not miss about the States? Things get political, but in a respectful kind of way. That said, Colin might be ready to board a plane for Groningen at any minute. Look out, Mark! Look out, Holland!