I found out recently about a radio documentary (scroll down – it’s there…) done by the BBC about Knoxville: Summer of 1915. It’s by Alan Hall, who is british, which is surprising. Knoxville, in so far as it’s about the town, is pretty evocative of some America which we might have, but it would be tough to tell because reflection is tough BUT: Alan Hall, a brit, had a great ear for the piece and I guess for Knoxville the town. (here’s the reaction of one of his interviewees)

My beloved high school music theory teacher Peter Warsaw introduced Knoxville to me at a very impressionable time in my life – I was young and cynical and I was existentially fed up with all the young cynics around me. YES! Something real, beautiful, honest! (and when everyone else liked the piece too, they didn’t like it as much as I did. Phoneys.) It’s by Samuel Barber, set to a text by James Agee.

Fun fact: Barber’s text starts in the middle of a sentence!

Check out Dawn Upshaw’s incredible recording here.

Originally, Knoxville was the prologue to A Death in the Family by James Agee

Originally originally, it was just a fragment, until the editors of A Death in the Family (after Agee’s death, before the publication of the book) included it, and three other fragments, in Agee’s autobiographical novel that he couldn’t ever get quite right because he was a drunk, but it turns out he got it really right because it won a Pulitzer and everyone should read it even if they don’t care about prizes.

I’ve given A Death in the Family as a gift probably around 15 times. If you’ve received a copy, I probably was crushin’, or I thought you were the kind of human being I wanted be REAL friends with. or both.


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