DEVIL SENT THE RAIN: Music and Writing in Desperate America
Harper Perennial, August 2011
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“Tom Piazza’s writing is filled with energy, and with tender, insightful words for the brilliant and irascible, from Jimmy Martin to Norman Mailer. Time and time again, Piazza 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.” —Elvis Costello
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.
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. - Publishers Weekly