Here’s a selection of my music articles: Steve Earle, “The Mountain,” and the Strange History of Bluegrass; Jim Lauderdale and What’s Wrong with Bluegrass Purism; The Bottle Rockets and Woody Guthrie; Why “Countrypolitan” Was Great; The Petrifying of American Roots; American Dreamers (this last not originally intended as music writing, but I’m pleased to say Greil Marcus put it in “Best Music Writing 2009”).
I link to them to show that before I was a self-appointed historian and critic of the American political creation, I was a self-appointed musicologist and critic of American vernacular music. I focus on that aspect of my work here because I’m using this space to publish “Coons, Freaks, Hillwilliams!: 200 Years of Roots-Rock Revival (A Memoir),” which started me in music writing — and in writing nonfiction, for that matter. An early version of that essay was published as a NY Press cover story in 1997 (around what I think of as the peak of that strange publication’s best days). Then, in essays and reviews for The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, The Oxford American, Salon, Slate, and elsewhere, I tried to develop my idiosyncratic point of view on what we call roots music.
That project began before the “O Brother” revival; persisted contentiously throughout it; and although it has been interrupted by forays into founding-era U.S. political history, persists today especially in problematic relation to the proliferation throughout my nearly-native Brooklyn, New York, of what I think of as banjo-hipsterism. I was born in Virginia in 1955, but I came to Brooklyn at the age of one and grew up there. I started playing banjo in Brooklyn at sixteen. That was in 1971, and if you ever want to feel alone, in the way banjo music can speak of, try that. Things have, shall we say, changed.
Musical and cultural background to my subjects: the traditional and early commercially recorded music ganged together as “old-time,” with special attention to both African-American and white five-string banjo techniques known as “clawhammer”; commercial country music, especially of the pre-War boom and of the countrypolitan 1970’s; minstrel theater and sentimental parlor pop of the nineteenth century; rolling “folk” revivals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; myths in the emergence of rock and roll; and relations among all of them.
I also have a special interest in — immersion in! — the recordings and the career of the Louvin Brothers. Stephen Plumlee and I spent many years exhaustively interviewing the late Charlie Louvin and developing a thorough and, I think, uniquely detailed interpretation of the Louvins’ relationship, story, creative process, and significance. Plumlee and I are co-authors of a draft feature screenplay on the Louvin Brothers’ remarkable musical and personal partnership, and our collaborative process in Louvins research and writing, as well as Charlie Louvin’s own take on the musical world he entered and took part in, have been key to informing my understanding of American roots music.
Finally: I began reconnecting with my own playing and vocalizing during the first years of the Ponkiesburg Pickin’ Party, as founded and hosted by Barbara Brousal, who is my stepdaughter, at the Brazen Head on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn in the very early 2000’s.
So that’s a version. Here’s my blog Hysteriography; my Twitter profile https://twitter.com/WilliamHogeland; and my Facebook author page http://www.facebook.com/pages/William-Hogeland/108281879206433