HWS Writer in Residence Tom Piazza was interviewed on National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition” on Sunday, Aug. 21, in a piece titled, “Dealing with Hard Time the American Way: In Song.”
The interview with NPR host John Ydstie revolved around Piazza’s new collection of essays, “Devil Send the Rain: Music and Writing in Desperate America.” The book is a collection of essays Piazza has written over the past 15 years and which he says have been selected to form “a narrative arc” beginning with the blues.
“The blues mediates those kinds of hard times by a very special kind of transaction that happens, which is to say you have very often lyrics that are about the hard times, but underneath those lyrics you have a musical setting that is anything but down-hearted,” he says.
Throughout the interview, Piazza explains why he focuses on specific artists in the book, such as Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Dylan, and why they had such a large impact on American music and culture. In particular, the discussion revolves around how these men shaped what it means to be American.
Piazza explains, “Bob Dylan was a young Jewish man from Minnesota who came to New York City, and I don’t think he had a whole lot of respect for other people’s ideas of where the boundaries were supposed to come down. And that too is a very American thing. I mean, I think Dylan brings together so many strains of American expression – not just musical but literary and homiletic even.”
The entire interview is available, both in audio and text format online.
A well known music writer, Piazza won a 2004 Grammy Award for his album notes to “Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: A Musical Journey” and is a three-time winner of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for Music Writing. Bob Dylan has said, “Tom Piazza’s writing pulsates with nervous electrical tension – reveals the emotions that we can’t define.”
Piazza’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Bookforum, The Oxford American, Columbia Journalism Review, and many other periodicals. Piazza’s novel “City Of Refuge” won the 2008 Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction. His other books include the post-Katrina classic “Why New Orleans Matters,” the Faulkner Society Award-winning novel My Cold War, and the short-story collection “Blues and Trouble,” which won the James Michener Award for Fiction. He is currently a writer for the HBO series “Treme,” set in post-Katrina New Orleans, and is at work on a new novel. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and he lives in New Orleans.