Deep In Dreamland: The Slaughter in Juarez and The Deadly Silence of It All
An Interview with Author Charles Bowden
Drawings by Alice Leora Briggs
By David McGee

…it is not the midnight street, the dark alley, the clot of cholos leaning against a wall on the corner, the police with their cash-register eyes, the new pickups, huge and with darkened glass, no, it is not these signals of menace that one must be on guard for, it is this moment in the bar, this calm, this music, the bead of moisture slowly trickling down the glass, that is when they will come, you will disappear, yes, you will leave with them, be forced into a car and leave behind you only very vague memories which before the next drink is swallowed will have vanished, it is always when you relax and feel safe in this place that you are no longer safe, that the pain and terror come and to be honest, the thing you have been dodging but waiting for, the credit flashing on the screen that says The End. That is what everyone on every street here knows and waits for and never mentions, no, does not mention once…—Dreamland (Cover drawing by Alice Leora Briggs, copyright 2010; used by permission)

SUSAN COWSILL: Comes A Reckoning Interview
By David McGee

In 2005, as she was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, recording with her ex-boyfriend/long-time friend Dwight Twilley, SUSAN COWSILL received a call from her husband and musical collaborator, Russ Broussard, urging her to re-route her trip back to their New Orleans home and go instead to Nashville, where he was heading and would meet her. A hurricane had hit the Crescent City, and Broussard knew it was time to get out with his life. Cowsill and Broussard lost pretty much everything in terms of material possession in Hurricane Katrina, and something more: Cowsill’s brother, Barry, on the eve of entering a drug rehab facility in New Orleans, went missing, and turned up months later, a drowning victim, although the circumstances of his death remain clouded in mystery, as he had left his sister several voice mails indicating he was at a friend’s house and safe as Katrina blew through. The day before Barry’s funeral, she learned that her oldest brother, Bill, had succumbed to illness in Calgary, where he had made his home for many years and had been a key member of a legendary Canadian band, The Blue Shadows.

Against this backdrop, Cowsill went to work—not promoting the new album, Just Believe It, she was ready to release, but reclaiming her and her family’s life, and coming to grips with another family tragedy, the death of a brother whom she had be so close to, who had helped guide her through the tumult of the Cowsills family band’s heady days as pop stars in the ‘60s and who had remained a confidante, indeed, a beacon, for her thereafter. Slowly, in bits and pieces, songs began to emerge from her; songs that had ever reason to be bitter screeds at fate’s cruel blow, but instead took the measure of her entire life, peaks and valleys alike, and in her self-inventeory wondered at the persistence of love, the strength of love, the test of love, as she had experienced it since becoming a household name in the Cowsills as an eight-year-old sitting on Dean Martn’s lap in one TV special, holding hands and singing a gospel tune with Johnny Cash on the Man in Black’s show, doing the old soft shoe with Buddy Ebsen on a Cowsills TV show. She reflected on Barry’s and Bill’s strength and wisdom, extolled their special relationship, and grieved for them. She reserved a special prayer of grace, gratitude and revival for her beloved New Orleans. These traces of love developed into fully realized songs over time, and now comprise the finest body of work in Cowsills’ estimable career, a bonafide classic of an album titled Lighthouse, replete with ass-kicking rock ‘n’ roll; a country-tinged tune here and there; a soaring, triumphant, roaring mission statement that reunites her with her siblings in glorious harmony—even a stirring, cabaret-style treatment of Jimmy Webb’s “Galveston,” an admitted statement of solidarity addressed to the victims of Hurricane Rita.

Funny, articulate, self-aware and self-assured, Susan Cowsill sits down for Interview and talks about what she calls “the series of events to end all series of events.”

By David McGee

London-based Mojo magazine has been onto its fellow countrymen known as the Jim Jones Revue from the git-go. On these shores, Spin has sun the band’s praises more than once. Rolling Stone, predictably, has completely missed it. The first U.S. feature on the band appeared in these pages, in (issue date). This month, the JJR follows its acclaimed appearances at this year’s South by Southwest by making its official U.S. debut with three shows in three nights in the New York City area. To mark this momentous occasion, we are re-publishing our original feature of a fire-breathing rock ‘n’ roll juggernaut that obliterates the predictable fare purveyed on NPR and the deadening, artsy-fartsy drivel trumpeted by most of the mainstream, highbrow press. To paraphrase Jimi Hendrix, May you never have to hear Bon Iver again.

THE BEACH BOYS: Let’s Go Surfin’

By David Leaf

Continuing our celebration of retro-summers, we follow last month’s immersion in surf and beach music history with a look back at the year THE BEACH BOYS burst out of their local scene and placed a lien on summer music for good. From author/filmmaker DAVID LEAF’s groundbreaking Beach Boys biography, The Beach Boys And The California Dream, the chapter “Let’s Go Surfin’” documents the band’s rise to national hitmakers and the peaks and valleys along the way in those early days. Come on a safari with us!

By David McGee

Originally published in our June 2008 edition, this piece offers a personal take on re-experiencing the early Beach Boys years by way of a limited edition box set of the group’s U.S. singles.


July 17 marks the 51st anniversary of the death of BILLIE HOLIDAY, one of 20th Century America’s greatest singers. We mark this occasion with a trifecta of coverage, two of the pieces centering on Lady Day’s monumental recording of “Strange Fruit.” First, from PETER DANIELS at the World Socialist Web Site, comes ‘Strange Fruit: The Story Of a Song,’ in which the author traces how a New York City public school teacher, ABEL MEEROPOL, composed a poem after seeing a gruesome photo of a Southern lynching. Titled “Bitter Fruit,” the poem was first published in the January 1937 issue of The New York Teacher; then, writing as Lewis Allan, Meeropol set the poem to his own music, and two years later passed it along to Barney Josephson, the owner of Café Society in Manhattan, where Billie Holiday was performing regularly. What happened from there is not as simple as you might think. As a sidebar to Daniels’s piece, the Constitutional Rights Foundation provides a capsule history of the rise and decline of lynchings in the United States before, during and after Billie Holiday sang her brave tune about it.

In part two of our Billie Holiday coverage, we offer a Q&A interview with filmmaker JOEL KATZ, whose work expands upon micro-histories to examine broader themes of social history and race in America. In 2002 his documentary about “Strange Fruit” was released theatrically and shown nationally on PBS. As he explains here,’I made this film because I wanted to honor people like Billie Holiday and Abel Meeropol who were brave enough to speak out about injustice in their times, even when such protests were often met with opposition. Strange Fruit is a film about a song that protests a human atrocity. Unfortunately the song's relevance seems to deepen in our world today.’ Also included here is the other indisputably towering interpretation of the song, by NINA SIMONE.

And rather than recount the straight biography of Billie Holiday’s life and death, we wondered what kind of effect Lady Day had on people who came into her orbit. We found an evocative perspective on that subject in a section of ELIZABETH HARDWICK’s haunting novel, Sleepless Nights, described by Susan Sontag as ‘a novel of mental weather.’ Looking back on the New York of her youth, Ms. Hardwick recounts how the ‘bizarre deity’ of Billie Holiday entered her life ‘in the cold winter moonlight, around 1943,’ all ‘creamy lips, oily eyelids, violent perfume…Her presence, her singing created a large, swelling anxiety…Here was a woman who had never been a Christian.’ If you’re unfamiliar with Sleepless Nights, we promise this chapter will keep you awake long after you’ve finished reading it. (Billie Holiday painting by Michael Symonds,

HARPER LEE: ‘All I Want To Be Is The Jane Austen Of The South’
July 11 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of HARPER LEE’s classic novel of race and class prejudices, To Kill a Mockingbird—the writing of which took two and a half years and at one point so frustrated the author that she threw her manuscript out a window into the snow. Only her agent’s desperate pleas moved her to retrieve it and continue on. In the half-century following Mockingbird’s publication, Ms. Lee has routinely declined all requests for interviews (she hand writes her refusals, and says if she could send out a form response it would say, ‘Hell no!’), but in 1964 she sat with critic/radio host Roy Newquist for a lengthy conversation later published in Newquist’s book, Counterpoint. More recently—this month, in fact—she agreed to speak to a reporter from London’s Daily Mail, so long as the conversation did not include any questions about Mockingbird. To honor both a literary masterpiece and its author, we are reprinting the Newquist interview. Happy 50th, Mockingbird, and thank you, Harper Lee.

By Christopher Hill

Some see Exile as a triumph for the Stones, as a band reconstituting themselves in their tough-minded way for the long haul. To me it’s a brilliant valediction, as much a conscious capstone and a goodbye-to-all-that as The Plastic Ono Band or the Long Medley on Abbey Road. No, Exile on Main Street is not the Stones’ greatest album. But it is the last Rolling Stones album that mattered, the last record from the world’s greatest rock and roll band. 

By JC Costa

So Tom Petty recorded a new studio album, named it Mojo and had most everyone in the western hemisphere either miss the point completely or casually dismiss it into the classic oldies bin with barely an afterthought.


Driving cattle on the Goodnight-Loving Trail (photo undated)

It started out as a movie script in 1972, for a film to be directed by Peter Bogdanovich, fresh off his triumph in The Last Picture Show, and starring John Wayne, James Stewart and Henry Fonda. On John Ford’s advice, Wayne turned down the part, then Stewart backed out. So Larry McMurtry wrote a novel instead, basing the story on the epic 1866 trail drive from Texas to Wyoming by ranchers Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving. Published 25 years ago this year, in 1985, the novel, Lonesome Dove, won a Pulitzer Price, ranks with the finest literature of the old west, and four years later begat a TV mini-series that is arguably the pinnacle of western movies. As Gus McRare and Capt. Woodrow F. Call, former Texas Rangers turned trailblazing cattlemen, Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones brought McMurtry’s characters to vivid life, and were ably supported in their efforts by outstanding secondary performances by Robert Urich, Diane Lane, Anjelica Huston, Ricky Schroeder, Danny Glover, Chris Cooper, Barry Corbin, D.B. Sweeney, Timothy Scott (Pea Eye Parker) and Freddy Forest (playing the bloodthirsty Mexican-Comanche renegade Blue Duck)—really, everyone, even in the smallest roles, is outstanding. Here’s a quarter century of Lonesome Dove, in print and on the screen, and to a great American novelist. We can’t get enough of either.

‘Life in San Francisco is just life.’— Gus (Robert Duvall) gives Lorena (Diane) some practical advice on living a healthy life in Lonesome Dove

‘I wish I had come, Clare. I wish I had come a long time ago. I really do.’—Reunited, Gus and Clara picnic and muse over the lost years. 

‘When I read it, I knew it was the craziest thing I had ever read, surely.’ So said Peter Graves when he read the script for Airplane! Even though he had misgiving about some of his lines (such as “Ever seen a grown man naked?,” asked of a 12-year-old), Graves took the part and turned in one of his most memorable performances as Captain Clarence Oveur. What can we say about this? Thirty years after the movie’s release in 1980, we’re still laughing. Hats off to directors/writers Jim Abrahams, and David and Jerry Zucker. You have clearance, Clarence.

A Patient’s Progress
By Michael Sigman

This month, roving contributor MICHAEL SIGMAN, self-confessed “obsessive swimmer,” had been laboring for the past two years with a bum shoulder. He tried every remedy known to humankind (practically), and nothing worked completely to his satisfaction in terms of addressing the problem at hand. Then a friend suggested he visit a Feldenkrais practioner. What’s Feldenkrais? “By encouraging mindfulness of our body movements at a granular level, Feldenkrais claims we can weed out harmful physical patterns and replace them with healthful ones,” Sigman writes. Developed by MOSHE FELDENKRAIS, who said, “What I’m after isn’t flexible bodies, but flexibile brains,” this focus on the mind-body connection in treating injuries has resulted in our correspondent returning to the water, “able to swim for 20 or 30 minutes without too much pain.” In a two-part examination of the Feldenkrais method, Sigman explains its fundamental philosophy and practices, and debunks five common misconceptions about healing, as per the gospel according to Feldenkrais.

By Alex Tiller

‘Victory Gardens’: Everything Old Is New Again
As usual, our Blogging Farmer Alex Tiller is ahead of the curve in informing our readers of a burgeoning trend at loose in the land: Victory Gardens. When food shortages reached epidemic proportions in World War I, American farmers benefitted from an acute need in Europe for grain and produce such as root vegetables. Come WWII, Victory Gardens cropped up again, you might say, not only to help feed the troops, but to assist families in coping with rationing and the high cost of fresh produce. Once again, more and more Americans are starting to grow their own, you might say, as a way of regaining control of their food supply in light of the ongoing concerns over salmonella and e-coli, not to mention pesticides, making eating truly an adventure, and not a pleasant one at that. In a two-part column, Tiller looks at the history and rationale behind Victory Gardens, and enumerates the many reasons for both eating what’s grown locally and for raising your own crops in your back yard. Supplementing Tiller’s take on things is a video featuring John from explaining what worked and what didn’t work in his suburban Victory Garden.


7 Imp’s 7 Kicks
(Or, It’s Just Us Chickens Here)
By Jules

This month our kids’ lit book blogger, JULES, features one of the truly delightful children’s books of the year, DAVID EZRA STEIN’s Interrupting Chicken. ‘This book is very funny; it’ll charm your pants right off (go grab a belt, for crying out loud), and the art is stupendous,’ opines Jules, and we’re inclined to agree. Check out her usual insightful take on the matter, and enjoy samples of Stein’s warm, evocative artwork at the same time. As an added bonus this month, Jules apprises of us seven of her favorite “kicks” of the moment.


Where Ancient Voices Are Heard

Embracing medieval Belorussian music, STARY OLSA says its main objective is to reconstruct completely the musical traditions of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, where Belarus was the basic cultural and geopolitical part in the 13th-18th centuries, and where there was a unique synthesis of Belorussian folk and aulic music with the European musical achievements of that time.


A new feature makes it debut this month: Gospel News & Notes, covering the latest in contemporary gospel happenings and personalities. This month’s installment features:

*THE BOWLING FAMILY—Recuperating after a serious bus accident landed Mike and Kelly Bowling in the hospital with severe injuries. Both are on the mend, but will be out of action for some time. More details herein as well as contact information for those who want to contribute financially to help the Bowlings defray medical expenses.

*KAREN CLARK SHEARD: Solo, But Not Alone, on All In One—Karen Clark Sheard, of the iconic Clark Sisters gospel group, has released a new solo album, All In One, but says she’s not alone. She also says, ‘It’s gospel music’s time,’ and explains why in this AP profile by CHEVEL JOHNSON.

*MARVIN SAPP: Here He Is—Contemporary gospel giant Marvin Sapp has a powerful new album out, Here I Am. J. Matthew Cobb from Soul Tracks is here to assess its many pleasures.


*COREY ALLEN—James Dean’s doomed nemesis in Rebel Without a Cause dies of complications of Parkinson’s Disease, but leaves behind an enduring existential query.


*SEN. ROBERT C. BYRD—The West Virginia Democrat died at age 92 on June 28, leaving behind a mixed legacy that included his membership in the Ku Klux Klan in his pre-political days, opposition to Civil Rights legislation in the ‘60s, and his repudiation of those views after he joined the Baptist Church. In his last year, Sen. Byrd made a dramatic entrance into the Senate chamber to cast his vote in favor of healthcare reform for “my friend Ted Kennedy.” Shortly before that vote, he had made a brave speech in early December 2009 counseling the coal industry to begin embracing a future in which “our total energy picture lies in change and innovation,” which earned him an immediate reprisal from killer coal baron DON BLANKENSHIP, the best indication that Sen. Byrd had struck a nerve. Our multi-part retrospective of Sen. Byrd includes: an overview of the Senator’s life and career, with video of former President Bill Clinton explaining the motive behind Sen. Byrd’s affiliation with the KKK during his eulogy to Sen. Byrd; reflections on the Senator by CHRISTY HARDIN SMITH, a fellow West Virginian writing for The Seminal community site of; an appreciation in words and video of The Fiddlin’ Senator—Sen. Byrd was “a spirited fiddler,” says Senate Historian DONALD RITCHIE, and we have some recordings to prove it; and finally, the full text of Sen. Byrd’s December 2009 speech, ‘Coal Must Embrace The Future.’

*JIMMY DEAN—‘Big Bad John,’ pioneering country music TV host, builder of an empire of breakfast sausages, and all-around good guy. A fond farewell.




*PETE QUAIFE, The Kinks—Remembering the Kinks’ founder and original bass player, who died of kidney failure on June 23. Includes a 1998 interview with Quaife by Martin Kalin.



*CRISPIAN ST. PETERS, One Enduring Hit—In the U.S., Crispian St. Peters was a one-hit wonder, with 1966’s ‘Pied Piper,’ but he made the most of his moment.





DIERKS BENTLEY, Up On The Ridge—You read it here first, folks, back in February of 2009, an unflinching prediction that mainstream country superstar Dierks Bentley was headed exactly where he has landed on Up On the Ridge, his new bluegrass-influenced album.

THE EARL BROTHERS, The Earl Brothers—These Earl Brothers—not really brothers, you see—come from some place so dark and so mysterious and so ancient it cannot possibly exist in our day and age. They do what countless blues, bluegrass and country artists have done for so long in appropriating and building on lyrics and musical foundations that came before them, and Robert Earl can certainly affect a husky, nasally Ralph Stanley vocal style as if to the manor born. It’s probably to their credit that some reviewers have reviled the Earls as bluegrass frauds, or at least plagiarists. Truly, theirs is Twilight Zone bluegrass, a style with one foot in the music’s deepest traditions, the other in a forbidding world only the Earls know. If you’re looking for something that sounds familiar but isn’t quite like anything else either in roots music, The Earl Brothers await and welcome you.

MARK CHESNUTT, Outlaw— Unadulterated and unvarnished from first cut to last, Outlaw is a high-water mark in Mark Chesnutt’s career resurgence, and in Pete Anderson he’s found a producer who respects the music, respects the artist, and gets the best out of both. This is country as it ought to be, and one of the most pleasing records of the year to boot.

STONE RIVER BOYS, Love On The Dial—When the legendary Dan Penn was putting his producer’s touch on those great Hacienda Brothers albums awhile back, he came up with a succinct phrase to describe the band’s cross-genre musical blend: “Western soul.” Following the death of the Hacienda’s gifted Chris Gaffney, the Hacienda Brothers ceased to exist, but Gaffney’s compadre and bandmate Dave Gonzalez is carrying on the Hacienda ethos in grand style in a new collaboration with “The Tyrant of Texas Funk,” Mike Barfield. In short, western soul is alive and well in the form of the Stone River Boys, another fine Austin export to the world beyond the Lone Star State borders.

THE TWANGTOWN PARAMOURS, The Twangtown Paramours/SWEET SUNNY SOUTH, Carried Off By A Twister— Love and music are always in the air, not only in spring, and the past couple of months have provided more proof that roots music is increasingly becoming a destination of choice for couples bound by the heart and by the music they make together.


JULIUS PITTMAN & THE REVIVAL, Bucket List—Sweet soul music, and real, from a group positioned to fuel the bubbling under revival of classic soul styles.

TONY TURNER, Whole Lotta Blues—On Whole Lotta Blues, Troy Turner delivers, again and again; more to the point, on an album with some exceedingly accomplished guests sitting in, he’s always the news—and this artist in command is something to experience.


Tributes to THE COWSILLS, on the occasion of Susan Cowsill’s moving new solo album; and to STEPHEN FOSTER, on the occasion of his July 4 birthday.

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