The Unchained Tour of Georgia
“Courtney and her friends all had names like characters from ‘The O.C.’ – all Jacks, Joshes, Tiffanys and Cary Anns. The girls were impossibly attractive, the boys tattooed of forearm and styled of hair.” Live Fast, Die Young: Misadventures in Rock & Roll America
The pluralisation of the names – the Jacks and the Joshes – seems so casual and dismissive now. What I hoped to do, albeit by means of a rather lazy stereotype, was paint a picture: a crowded bar packed with hip young Charlestonians in skinny jeans and Cuban heels, a whiff of PBR and cheese sticks, the clack of cue ball over shouted small talk. A scene so perfectly and unknowingly stylised, it seemed to me, that it could almost have been made for a TV teen drama. But from this remove – four years almost – I realise that one of the names on the list doesn’t bear up to pluralisation. Positively resists it in fact. One of the faces in the crowd that night was Cary Ann Hearst.
Fast forward to 13 October 2010. George Dawes Green’s The Unchained Tour of Georgia arrives in Thomasville, its 1975 Blue Bird school bus disgorging a troupe of musicians and ‘raconteurs’ at the door of the Bookshelf and Gallery on its pretty main street. Unchained is Green’s storytelling vehicle The Moth transported to the towns and cities of his native Georgia in support of independent booksellers and, as a welcome side effect, enticing readers away from their Kindles and iPads into a room full of – gasp – real people with real lives and real stories.
Regular Moth and McSweeney’s contributor, Rock On author and plaid-wearing nerd Dan Kennedy opened with a bless-his-cotton-socks account of missing out to Carson Daly as host of MTV’s Total Request Live. (Thank goodness, for our sakes if not for his, that he did or we might have been denied his contribution tonight). Next, performance artist, poet and playwright Edgar Oliver gushed a shadowy recounting of a claustrophobic Southern upbringing, all the more gothic for the sinusoidal baritone delivery. Novelist Tina McEloy Ansa related a deft and touching story of 1950s black emancipation by means of her childhood relationship with water (and its effects on her hair), and finally a heart-warming – if occasionally unintelligble to the ear of your untutored English correspondent – retelling of childhood in Booneville, Mississippi by Moth stalwart Wanda Bullard.
Interesting to note the choice of the title ‘raconteurs’ for tonight’s speaking contributors, perhaps pre-emptively side-stepping the narrow, rocky terrain that separates the multitude of offerings qualifying as ‘spoken word’. Even if Kennedy’s delivery occasionally felt like stand up, Oliver’s at times performance, all were story tellers of the highest calibre.
But by far the brightest star of the show, if ‘unchainedness’ is the measure of luminance, was Nashville-bred, Charleston-wed singer-songwriter Cary Ann Hearst. ‘Are You Ready To Die’ opened on a picked acoustic pizzicato, slowly gathering steam before unleashing a freight train vocal performance hitherto held in check on harmony contributions for singing partner Michael Trent. My own appropriation and pluralisation of Cary Ann’s name for the purposes of scene-setting in a travel book now seems almost criminal in the face of singing and song-writing talent so manifestly singular.
Hearst’s accomplice Trent may well have been among the cool crowd that balmy Charleston night back in 2006, I can’t remember now. More likely he was still in New York, leading moderate garage successes The Films. In any case his first name, being single-barrelled and devoid of a J, would have failed to gain him an audition for whatever film I imagined myself the star of that night. Which is a shame, because if he had been there I might have realised sooner just how perfect he and Cary Ann are for each other. To discover later that they are husband and wife was almost too perfect for words.
Chris Price, Missing Parsons
The Unchained Tour of Georgia continues until the end of October, taking in Zebulon, Gainesville, Athens, Washington, Savannah, Augusta, Canton and Atlanta. Go here for full listings and tickets.