It's the single most popular magazine issue every year in the Triangle. Hard to believe that this is only their fifth birthday. Once again, Oxford American, "the Southern magazine of good writing," with the eagerly anticipated release of their annual music issue (and bonus 22-cut CD), has given us a foot-tapping, thumb-flipping anthology celebrating the bounty of Southern lit and lilt.
A great, eclectic music mix is the heart of this OA. The heavy hitters are there, like Dylan and Elvis, with nods to Otis Redding and Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and even R.E.M. And our icons don't fail us. With the CD spinning, turning the pages of the magazine and grazing for obscure pop info is a summer joy. Where else are you going to find such cool sidebars as an interview with "a stadium organist," a sincere fan letter to Sing Out by an 18-year-old Emmylou Harris, and a copious list of our state's contributions to the country's one-hit wonders (Carolina's Sammy Johns is No. 5 with "Chevy Van")?
Local connections abound. Chapel Hill folk art gallery owner, Ginger Young, writes a passionate letter/essay about appreciating outsider art. Hal Crowther rails against the "jerks who own the jukebox." Hillsborough's Music Maker Relief Foundation, "dedicated to helping the true pioneers and forgotten heroes of Southern musical traditions," will receive 10 percent of the issue's sales.
Last year's CD lead track, "Down in the River to Pray," gained further glory in the film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? There are plenty of gems to be found on this year's release, too: Toots Hibbert's pounding "Hard to Handle," Victoria Williams' ethereal "You R Loved," and Jim White's story/dance cut, "The Wound That Never Heals." True, I could have done without the interviews with Bill Clinton and William F. Buckley ("I was simply wrong about the Beatles. Elvis was a very late vocation for me"). But Alan Light's sharp piece on Dylan and the Stanley Brothers and William Gay's sprawling essay on Harry Smith (and the New York Dolls) are worth the whole issue.
This is rough time for magazines. Advertising is first to go when the economy tanks. The periodical print distribution network, shifting like a giant oil tanker to change with the Web site times, is more slow-paying than ever. With this issue, Oxford American makes a dynamic pitch to potential subscribers. They need at least 8,000 more dues-paying friends to stay players in the "numbers game." While supplies last, there are even a few copies of previous music issues available, with CDs, of course.
Quick turns: Chapel Hill's Fawn Pattison has a new issue of her 'zine, Red Scare, at the printers. Look for more stories, comix, and graphics celebrating and challenging gender issues and taboos. The cover story of the August issue of Curve features The Butchies. Are they slated for Newsweek next? And here's a fun one: Asheville's New Rag Rising has published two issues of a 'zine without a title. They're soliciting names, and the winner gets a free subscription.