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Instant nostalgia

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Less than a month after Charles Latham played this show at 305 South in Durham, I saw Gary Higgins play at The Mercury Lounge in New York City. In 1973, Higgins was a young New York and Connecticut folk favorite with a red beard and wavy red hair. He recorded one album—appropriately titled Red Hash—and pressed 5,000 copies. But Higgins was soon arrested on drug charges and spent several years in prison. His band didn't play for decades. Then, young American audiences (as in, people who weren't even alive when the album was recorded) caught on to Red Hash and launched a nationwide manhunt. Higgins was found. Higgins became hip. Drag City released Red Hash. Decades later, the pre-30 dreams of Higgins, who had been writing songs all along but keeping them close to his beard, were taking a strange new shape. The band got back together and played some shows.

But the set in New York was a colossal disappointment. Gone was the folk freedom and whim of Red Hash, a record gloriously comfortable in its own skin. Feelings are transient, and Higgins proved they can be impossible to revisit. But, still Higgins sang "Don't Ya Know," his trusty freak-in-America anthem: "You put me down 'cause I'm a picker/ I drink my whiskey and play guitar."

So, last weekend in New York, I thought of the feeling of that night in Durham—Latham onstage with The Wigg Report and Midtown Dickens, spilled beer on the floor, people smiling wide four days before Christmas. "Don't you know that it makes me feel better?"

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