Those of you who know me might be a bit surprised by what I’m about to do, which is to make the case for a musical genre. Not only that, it’s one that I made up!

I should say from the start that, to me, genre identifiers are antithetical to…

The strange story behind the beloved Christmas carol “In Dulci Jubilo”

It’s the darkest time of a very dark year. I write to you all from the safety of my house and the snugness of my little office, greeting each with the very best wishes of the season. I want to tell a discursive story about one of my favorite Christmas…

This is a piece I wrote on Patreon some weeks ago that I’m sharing now. I hope you’ll consider becoming a patron.

Patron Scott Thill wrote me the other day. “Found a song you should write about,” he said. “A bit too perfect for our times.” …

On America’s Necromarket

Audrey Hepburn was dead when she did this commercial

I see that Kanye West gave his wife Kim Kardashian a hologram of her late father as a 40th birthday present. Kardashian described it as “a gift from heaven” and “so lifelike!” My feelings on the matter differ significantly: since the time Kim Kardashian was born, we’ve…

Or, The First Time Most White Americans Heard African-American Music

The Fisk Jubilee Singers, 1875

In 1866, Fisk University was chartered in Nashville, Tennessee. It was the first American college to make a liberal arts education available to “young men and women irrespective of color.”

“It was the period after the American Civil War, and…

A Musical Case for the Genius of Community

“Jumping Jive” by Norman Lewis, 1942

Think of your favorite music scene. Was it the punk wonderland of Washington, D.C. in the 1980s? Or maybe Seattle’s grunge of the 90s? It could be the jazz, blues, and swing that came out of Harlem in the 1930s. …

Bloody moon rising with a plague and a flood / Join the mob

The inimitable Mr. Waits

Some art gets dated quickly, like sci-fi movies or disco hits. Other art exists closer to the unmoving hub of culture’s spinning wheel. It can seem prophetic to us, but only because what’s being communicated is never…

Tom Maxwell

Tom‘s work has appeared in Longreads, The Oxford American, Bitter Southerner, Slate, Salon, and Southern Cultures, among others. He usually writes about music.

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