Influential Albums – G.I. Blues

To celebrate the upcoming publication of my short story, “The Record Collector,” I’m finally doing the “post an influential album each day for 10 days” thing that several friends challenged me to do.

Honorable Mention – G.I. Blues, Elvis Presley giblues

G.I. Blues was the only rock and roll record my parents owned. They had Mantovani, The Limelighters, Sing Along with Mitch.  The same folk-and-easy-listening library most whitebread adults in the early 1960s owned (if my adventures in garage-sale record shopping are evidence) and quit listening to after they had kids.

Regardless, hearing Elvis sing “Blue Suede Shoes” is one of my earliest memories, and I played it over and over as a kindergartner. Years later, I purchased The Replacements’ Pleased to Meet Me completely unaware that its cover was an homage to the Presley record I’d grown up with a decade earlier. I’m sure there was some subconscious recognition.


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Little Richard and “The Record Collector”

I was saddened to hear that Little Richard passed away this weekend. He was an amazing man, a force of nature, a testament to wildness–all the superlatives about him are true.

That’s why, when I wrote an urban fantasy short story about a record collector who exorcises possessed houses, I worked Little Richard’s music into the story.

Now, I’m faced with a quandary. I agreed–months ago–to do the reading for the audio version for the web site myself. I put it off, and it’s now due in a week. But reading it will require me–at least for a few moments on the page–to imitate Little Richard’s singing voice. If Paul McCartney couldn’t pull it off, I sure can’t, but I can do a reasonable enough impression to make the reading work.

The thing is, now that he’s gone, I want to do better than a “reasonable enough” job.

Obviously, this is just me putting extra pressure on myself, partly because I’m sad that one of my heroes died. And there was no way to know the story’s release would coincide with this.

So, that’s what I’m doing now. Just trying to get the story to work aurally (even though the print version will probably be the main thing people access). It comes out in early June from Metaphorosis and I’ve planned a few little promotional posts between now and then.


Source: Associated Press/AP File

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Story Sale – “The Record Collector”

I sold my fantasy short story “The Record Collector” to Metaphorosis Magazine recently. I enjoyed working with editor B. Morris Allen, and I’m happy that the story will be out in the coming months.

The story involves a haunted house, a local radio station, a not-very-proficient magick practitioner, and a guy with an enormous record collection who has some unorthodox ideas about exorcism. It’s set in St. Louis shortly after the turn of the 21st century.

I will probably try to do something fun leading up to the release.

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More Gears and God Book Reviews

I’m pleased to share two great book reviews of Gears and God: Technocratic Fiction, Faith, and Empire in Mark Twain’s America that came out recently. Both do a fantastic job of covering the book’s focus on how dime-novel science fiction factored into the 19th century’s “science vs. religion” arguments

(As many of you know, academic publishing often rolls out reviews in terms of months and years instead of days, and the reviews in scholarly publications are often behind subscription paywalls. So, I’m linking to both of them; you should be able to read the first page preview, even if the whole thing doesn’t display.)

The first one comes from Martin Zehr in American Literary Realism’s Winter 2020 issue. I really appreciate the review’s understanding of how I’m trying to approach dime novels:

Williams’ book includes extensive notes, bibliography, and index, more than sufficient for the reader who desires a thorough grounding in what the reader will undoubtedly conclude is a vibrant form of American literature whose neglect is, putting it mildly, undeserved. Williams has certainly succeeded in blurring the distinction between serious and recreational literature in Gears and God.

Also, Jennifer Lieberman’s review in The Mark Twain Annual contains one of my favorite compliments in any reviews I’ve seen:

Williams is a master contextualizer whose deep knowledge of his subject matter renders his thematic close reading all the more convincing.

That’s always been part of the challenge: writing to an audience of literary scholars who may not have read these texts and may not be sold on their cultural importance. I’m glad it worked for one reviewer.


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MLA 2020: A Final Reminiscence

In hindsight, my favorite moment of the 2020 MLA Conference in Seattle wasn’t the excellent panels or my presentation or the fine coffee, beer, and seafood.

It was approaching the University of Minneapolis Press’s cubicle in the Academic Press Exhibition Hall and telling them: “I don’t see a copy on display, and this probably isn’t the crowd for it anyway, but THANK YOU for publishing Bill Sullivan’s Lemon Jail memoir. Pass that along to whoever made that call.”

The guy’s laughter made my trip. #mla2020

If you want to read a great roadie’s-eye-view of a great rock band, grab a copy.


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MLA and Book Reviews

MLA 2020 went well. I gave my presentation on Mark Twain’s “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses” and got to connnect/re-connect with a lot of great scholars.

University of Iowa Press was gracious enough to allow me to display Gears and God at their booth, since U of Alabama Press wasn’t attending. Hopefully a few people grabbed the “30% Off” flyers on display.

I’ve had a couple of reviews for the book come out in the past months, and I’ll link to all of them once the most recent one is made available online.

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The Replacements: “Live and Drunk” at 35

Thirty-five years ago, the Replacements performed one of rock music’s most brilliant acts of artistic sabotage.

In 1984, the Minneapolis-based band was receiving accolades in the press. Music fans discussed when (not if) they’d move to a major label and leave the indie/underground behind. They were on the verge of being the Next Big Thing. And they weren’t entirely happy about it.

On December 9 that year, they played a special show at New York’s CBGB, the famed birthplace of American punk. The show,  often bootlegged under the title “Live and Drunk,” features the band creatively deconstructing everything around the concept of the “Big Break” gig. They pop the balloon of pretentiousness surrounding them and make themselves look like damn fools just for the joy of dragging their audience of trendy NYC taste-makers down with them. After the first song (the then-unreleased “Lookin’ for Ya)”, Westerberg yells to the crowd “The first person to compliment us….” His threat goes unfinished, but the show makes good on it.

The results are painful, and often hilarious. The ‘Mats are sloppy and mostly play other band’s songs. At the start, fans are shouting to the band the names of covers they want to hear (one girl really wants “Heartbeat” by the DeFranco Family and the poor thing never gets it). By then end, people are shouting “Play the Replacements!”

Now understand–the show should be listened to in its entirety from start to finish, like you’d watch a stand-up comedian’s special, rather than picking songs from the set. All the songs sound bad, but in an intentional way that shifts as the show goes on. That said, I’m going to post links and some highlights to look for (times according to YouTube video marked **):

6 min, 30 sec – A crowd member demands the band “Do the Pussy Set!” The band responds by playing “Color Me Impressed,” one of their best-known songs, at half-tempo. The drag-ass result is presumably the polar opposite of what crowd members who went to see a punk-inspired band would expect.

12 min, 50 sec – A pretty great cover of Elvis Presley’s “Do the Clam” with their roadie Bill Sullivan on lead vocals segues into a version of “Walk on the Wild Side” with sarcastic revamped lyrics about themselves: “Replacements came from Minneapolis, Minnesota/Thought they could pull one over on ya.”

43 min – The band begins covering songs while Westerberg sings Replacements lyrics. They start by doing U2’s “I Will Follow” while Paul sings their single “Kids Don’t Follow.” By the end of this portion, he’s crooning Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Looking” while the band plays “Temptation Eyes” by The Grass Roots. Shambling, but often clever as hell.

1 hr. 6 min – Sullivan warbles through “If I Only Had a Brain,” the Scarecrow’s song for Wizard of Oz and a tune the band clearly identifies with. He then sings the Gilligan’s Island theme, with lyrics about touring inserted.

Bob Mehr’s excellent Replacements biography, Trouble Boys, covers the self-destructive side of the band very well. They had an intense fear of success, and their alcohol-dependence didn’t help.

While Mehr’s book captures that element, it underplays the performance art quality that the Replacements had, including Westerberg’s assertion that they had a lot in common with Andy Kaufman (another bewildering 80s artist who, like the ‘Mats, got banned from Saturday Night Live). Which is to say, yes, they were drunk at CBGB’s but they also knew exactly what they were doing. They liked pissing off/on their audience and its high expectations.

It’s one thing for a band to have jitters and blow their shot at the Big Time, and quite another for a band to outright mock the entire notion of Big Time by delivering a willfully (and extraordinarily funny) awful show.  That’s what the “Live and Drunk” show is at its heart.

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