copyright Bill Widener 2000

More competition please

With a city as large as Lexington, with the wealth of universities and colleges in the city limits, wouldn't you think we are big enough for another commercial newspaper? The Lexington Herald Leader has been the only game in town since the morning and evening papers merged, what, twenty-five years ago? Think of how much harder the reporters would have to work to provide insightful, thought-out articles for Lexingtonians and not simply churn out the same banter for the Conservative, Minivan-Driving Drone who can't be bothered by responsible citizenship. And heaven forbid if any real news or cultural event happens during UK Basketball season!

The recent OxyContin story in Ace is an example of what the best news writing is all about. Instead of shouting from the roof on Midland & Main that everybody in Eastern Ky is a drug addict just because Time Magazine did, Ace asked the hard questions and went to work digging for the answers. When was the last time the Herald Leader printed anything that begged readers to think and take a look at the evidence, ask the experts for proof and statistics? The editor has gotten lazy, and his staff reporters are following his lead.

Stephanie Hopewell

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Ring of Fire

My melancholy wants to rest in the hiding places and abysses of perfection: this is why I need music.


Unbelievably enough, I only recently saw the Coens' latest opus, O Brother.

I'd planned to see it as soon as I heard the music, some of which debuted on Oxford American's annual music sampler this time last summer.

For a lot of (lame) reasons, I just didn't get around to it and waited for the DVD - but in the meantime I got hooked on the soundtrack back when Larry Brown and Alejandro Escovedo were in town, and then a guy I know thoughtfully burned a copy of it for me. I quickly progressed from appreciation to addiction.

I'd been listening to, and writing about, this kind of music for many years, and I was thrilled to see the soundtrack hit number one without an ounce of commercial radio support. I could go on, but a lot of ink has been spilled on this subject, ranging from my buddy Bruce Dobie over at the Nashville Scene who wrote an elegiac editorial on it a few weeks ago to Hal Crowther's moving essay in the new (annual) music issue of the Oxford American.

Hal's eloquent piece quotes Walt Howerton in a story he did for Ace a few months ago on Ralph Stanley. Walt (who also contributes this week's cover story) wrote at the time, "Contemporary country is a gooey, soulless mix of of skinny women in slutty outfits, pinheaded guys in big hats, headset microphones, and videotape It's no-risk suburban music coming from no place in particular."

Crowther adds, "if you're optimistic that the cultural gulf between Mississippi and Manhattan will be bridged in the next hundred years, don't read Anthony Lane's dismissive review of O Brother in the New Yorker. Lane barely mentions the music, a gaffe as stupefying as reviewing Moby Dick without mentioning the whale."

New York City? Git a rope.

Maybe I am an optimist, but I'm heartened by the record sales for O Brother. It tells me that there's more than one way to skin this cat. That there are people out there who know what's good, and who'll find it, given half a chance.

Buttressing my optimism is the annual arrival of this year's Oxford American music issue, and most importantly: the accompanying CD sampler.

This time last year, I praised the 2000 edition, extolling the virtues of:

"Whatever Way the Wind Blows," by Kelly Willis;

"Silver Dagger," by Dolly Parton;

"Leaning," by Robert Mitchum and Lillian Gish (no kidding);

"He's Got You," by Dean Martin (yes, you know the Patsy Cline version);

"I Know," by Kim Richey;

"Castanets," by Alejandro Escovedo (a welcome preview of his Bloodshot album, which wouldn't arrive for several more months); and

"Down in the River to Pray," by Alison Krauss.

There were 23 songs in all, and I stand by my favorites, though the entire collection is exquisite. The CD has only left my truck once in the past year, and that was just so a guy I know could copy it. It hurt me to let go of it, even for a few days, and it's probably not something I'll do again. Buy your own.

I've only spent one day with this year's arrival - and I haven't had as much time to live with it as I'd like before committing any recommendations to print. But it'll probably sell out, and I don't want to risk you missing it.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let me just toss out a few to whet your appetite:

"Ring of Fire," by Earl Scruggs, with Billy Bob Thornton. No lie. At number 9, I flipped straight to it, mainly out of curiosity. Amazingly, it does NOT disappoint. Who knew somebody would come up with a version of this classic so throbbing and funky that we'll all be having sex to it for years to come? (Give it a listen, "I went down, down, down." You get the idea.) Who knew it would come from Earl Scruggs? And I mean that as a compliment.

"Long Way to Hollywood," by Steve Young. This song serves as a veritable sequel to his seminal anthem, "The White Trash Song" (available on Lonesome, On'ry and Mean). If you've seen the Yonders, you've heard George Glasscock's blistering rendition of the latter, so you already know what you're in for.

"What a Man" by Linda Lyndell. You only think you've heard the definitive version by Aretha. Listen to this one, and then tell me that.

I could go on, except I'm being told I'm out of room.

But there won't be anything else playing in my truck for the next few weeks, so if you see me in traffic, flag me down. Hop in. I'll take you for a spin and you can hear for yourself.