Devil Sent the Rain: Music and Writing in Desperate America

Overview

Tom Piazza’s sharp intelligence, insight, and passion fuel this new collection of writings on music, literature, New Orleans, and America itself in desperate times.

For his first book since his award-winning novel City of Refuge and his stunning and influential post-Katrina polemic Why New Orleans Matters, Piazza selects the best of his writings on American roots music and musicians, including his Grammy-winning album notes for Martin Scorsese Presents: The Blues; his classic ...

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Devil Sent the Rain: Music and Writing in Desperate America

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Overview

Tom Piazza’s sharp intelligence, insight, and passion fuel this new collection of writings on music, literature, New Orleans, and America itself in desperate times.

For his first book since his award-winning novel City of Refuge and his stunning and influential post-Katrina polemic Why New Orleans Matters, Piazza selects the best of his writings on American roots music and musicians, including his Grammy-winning album notes for Martin Scorsese Presents: The Blues; his classic profile of bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin; essays on Jimmie Rodgers, Charley Patton, and Bob Dylan; and much more.

In the book’s second section, Piazza turns his attention to literature, politics, and post-Katrina America in articles and essays on subjects ranging from Charlie Chan movies to the life and work of Norman Mailer, from the New Orleans housing crisis to the BP oil spill, from Jelly Roll Morton’s Library of Congress recordings to the future of books. The third and final section delivers a startlingly original meditation on fiction, sentimentality, and cynicism—a major new essay from this brilliant, unpredictable, and absolutely necessary writer.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Piazza (City of Refuge) uses a blues lyric in the title of this work, offering selected articles, profiles, and interviews previously published in the New York Times, the Oxford American, the Huffington Post, and elsewhere. The book, ranging from 1994, when Piazza moved to New Orleans, to the present, challenges readers with a powerful mix of humor, insight, and outrage about post-Katrina New Orleans, the blues, literature, and politics. In one piece he defends New Orleans' displaced poor against a charge that they are "lazy and parasitic" and then pronounces that readers' desire to transform New Orleans into a sanitized "museum town" is despicable. Assessing his mentor Norman Mailer, Piazza writes that one "can't approach the truth without first turning an eye on one's own subjectivity." And so, in article after article, he does. Throughout Piazza engages himself as he engages his readers. His energetic and rigorous prose keeps faith with optimism, pluralism, and compassion—democratic values he uncovers in American lives. The result is a book of quotable moments and glimpses of grace under pressures both manmade and natural. (Sept.)
Bob Dylan
“Tom Piazza’s writing pulsates with nervous electrical tension—reveals the emotions that we can’t define.”
Elvis Costello
“Tom Piazza’s writing is filled with energy and tender, insightful words for the brilliant and irascible, from Jimmy Martin to Norman Mailer. He identifies the unlikely, precious connections between recent events, art, letters, and music; through his words, these byways of popular culture provide an unexpected measure of the times.”
Kirkus Reviews

Diverse work about roots and catastrophe by the gifted essayist and novelist.

This collection of short pieces by Piazza (City of Refuge, 2008, etc.) doesn't entirely hang together, but still mirrors the versatile author's many great strengths. The first of the three sections contains his writing about music, much of it drawn from his tenure as Southern Music columnist for theOxford American. It is highlighted by his unforgettable, wildly colorful profile of the idiosyncratic bluegrass musician Jimmy Martin, published in book form asTrue Adventures with the King of Bluegrass (1999). Piazza also provides thoughtful considerations of prewar bluesman Charley Patton (one of whose songs supplies the tome's title), country pioneer Jimmie Rodgers and pathfinding New Orleans jazzman Jelly Roll Morton; some smart (mostly commissioned) pieces about Bob Dylan; the Grammy-winning notes for a boxed set overview of the blues; and sensitive profiles of rockabilly great Carl Perkins and gospel singer Rev. Willie Morganfield, cousin of bluesman Muddy Waters. The second section is less focused and hence less satisfying. Piazza is a longtime New Orleans resident, and several of the pieces focus on his reactions to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which he dealt with at full length in both the novelCity of Refugeand the nonfiction workWhy New Orleans Matters(2005). Coruscating with outrage, these entries—which include an edited online chat from theWashington Postand an exchange of private letters—read like adjuncts to those books; the best of them weighs the disaster through the unlikely prism of several old Charlie Chan films. Also included are homages to Norman Mailer, Piazza's friend and literary model, which sit uneasily next to the other chapters. A brief third section wraps the book with a meditation on the moral core (or lack thereof) of Gustave Flaubert's fiction and a lovely report about shopping for 78s at a New Orleans flea market after the deluge.

A grab bag, but a devil of a good one for the most part.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062008220
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/23/2011
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 454,816
  • Product dimensions: 7.72 (w) x 5.42 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Piazza is the author of ten books, including the novels City of Refuge, which won the Willie Morris Award, and My Cold War, as well as the book-length essay Why New Orleans Matters. He writes for HBO’s hit drama series Treme and is at work on a new novel. He lives in New Orleans.

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