Category Archives: People

One Night Only, 40 Years Later

Forty years ago, on October 26, 1981, the Rolling Stones brought their North American tour to the Fox Theater in Atlanta. Tickets went on sale—less than 5,000 of them—about two weeks earlier, at 2:30 in the morning, only at the Fox box office. Most were snatched up by sleepy Georgia Tech students. When Atlantans woke up the next day, they heard that the Stones were coming, the show was already sold out, and you had a better chance of seeing Bigfoot than scoring tickets to the show. While almost all the other shows on the tour were in stadiums or large arenas, the Stones chose the intimate Fox for the Atlanta show.

Thanks to my brother Jeff—who stayed up all weekend before winning tickets by being the 93rd caller to an Atlanta radio station on that Monday morning—I turned out to be one of the relatively few people who saw that legendary show. As long-suffering readers of this blog know, it was one of the foundational nights of my life. My first Stones concert, and coincidentally also the first for Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell, who has become a key component of their ongoing success.

40 years later, on Veterans Day, 2021, Jeff and I decided to re-live the magic by closing the circle and seeing the Stones together again, this time at a slightly larger arena—Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. This was my 11th Stones show, the 5th in Atlanta.

This was the first show I would hear without beloved Stones drummer Charlie Watts. He’d been with the band since January 1963, and until their first show on the current tour the Stones had never played a gig without him in 59 years. How do you replace the irreplaceable? Not to mention—but I’ll mention it anyway—Mick Jagger is now 78, Keith Richards is 77, Ronnie Wood is 74. Isn’t this supposed to be a young person’s game? The Wembley Whammer was fittingly remembered just before the show with a video tribute on the gigantic screens that tower over the stage.

Not to keep you in suspense, but the Stones—and I would call them “the surviving Stones,” but with these guys that’s been true since the death of Brian Jones 52+ years ago—were as good as it gets. Better than ever. Maybe even better than that. How is that possible? From the opening and unmistakable chords of “Street Fighting Man” through the buzz-bomb bass notes of “19th Nervous Breakdown,” through “Shattered,” (shadoobie) and “Satisfaction” the Stones did what they do and that no one else can.

After nearly 60 years, they still set the gold standard. Mick ran and pranced and “wiggled his bum,” as Charlie used to say. Keith wore a beanie throughout like the Grand Old Ghoul of Rock n’ Roll that he is, playing louder than ever, smiling and loving every minute. Ronnie was Ronnie. They even threw in 1967’s “She’s a Rainbow” (from Their Satanic Majesties Request), allowing Chuck Leavell to showcase his keyboard chops. Steve Jordan on the drums brought an energy and vibe that honored Charlie Watts while putting his own unique stamp on the music. They are still playing with an energy and a love for performing that defies reason. Like every other Stones concert I’ve witnessed across four decades, I didn’t want the music to end.

Seeing the Stones 40 years ago was already, at that time, seeing history. The Beatles had been broken up for a decade and John Lennon was dead. Led Zeppelin had dissolved two years earlier. Elvis had been gone for 4 years. Other founding acts of early rock had already long since vanished or gone into hibernation.

The Stones rolled on, aging but never growing older, continuing to play, dismissing the critics, and with every passing decade they passed milestones that seemed impossible. Touring at 50 in the 1990s? Ridiculous. Having another go at 60 in the early 2000s? They’ll embarrass themselves. Are they really going out on the road at 70, in the 2010s?? What will they call it, the Walker Tour? The Roller Derby?

Now they’re approaching 80, and are at a place no band has ever reached. No one now even remembers the British invasion, but watching the Stones is to remember the shock of their early appearance with long hair, their surly attitudes and rebellious sneers, and their anti-establishment pose. They still have something to prove, and they clearly enjoy trying to prove it.

It’s bound to end sometime, isn’t it? Surely Jeff and I won’t be seeing them again in 40 years—or even 5. But as we walked out of the arena, there on the big video screen was a message from the Stones that—true to form for them—teased and tantalized, but that I fervently hope was true:

“See you soon.”

S5E1: Happy Halloween

Once again this year, in celebration of the spooky season Stan reads a favorite ghost story, “Rats” by the master of the genre, M.R. James, first published in 1929. Also, this week in history and a dark day in Mayberry. Draw near the fire, dim the lights, and enjoy…..

Q&A: Reading and Writing with Michael Van Wagenen

Dr. Michael Scott Van Wagenen is associate professor and public history coordinator at Georgia Southern University. He is the author of the award-winning, Library Journal best seller Remembering the Forgotten War: The Enduring Legacies of the U.S.-Mexican War (University of Massachusetts, 2012), The Texas Republic and the Mormon Kingdom of God (Texas A&M, 2002), as well as several articles and book chapters. He is also co-editor with W. Paul Reeve of Between Pulpit and Pew: The Supernatural World in Mormon History and Folklore (Utah State University, 2011). In the past 30 years, he has written, produced, directed, and/or edited over 20 documentary films. His work has twice won highest honors at the National Education Film and Video Festival and been screened at the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Margaret Mead Ethnographic Film Festival, Chicago Latino Film Festival, and several other venues. Dr. Van Wagenen received his BA from Brigham Young University, an MAIS from the University of Texas at Brownsville, and his PhD from the University of Utah.

What first got you interested in history?

When I was very young my grandfather would tell me stories about his experiences as a Navy officer in the Pacific during World War II. That definitely sparked an awareness in me that there was this adventurous place called “the past” that you could visit through stories, books, museums, and films.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

The first book I read was an “abridged for young readers” edition of Robinson Crusoe. I was in first grade and binged it all in a day. I was hooked on historical fiction and non-fiction after that.

What book did you read in grad school that you never want to see again—and what book was most influential?

I studied folklore to enhance my understanding of history and really struggled with Roland Barthes’ Mythologies (1957). I’m sure it was me, not him. On the other side of things was Michael Kammen’s Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture (1991). I couldn’t put that book down, and it really inspired my interest in the theories of collective memory.

What’s the last great book you read, fiction or non-fiction?

It’s a bit of a local cliché, but I finally got around to reading John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil this summer. I loved it—much better than the film.

You’re a documentary filmmaker: what movies and documentaries most inspired you when you were young? What filmmakers?

I don’t really remember watching documentaries as a kid. I watched a lot of old war movies and historical dramas on television: The Thin Red Line, Beau Geste, and Nicholas and Alexandra come immediately to mind. I also loved the satirical war television series F-Troop and Hogan’s Heroes. As far as filmmakers go, the first director I can remember being aware of was Akira Kurosawa. In high school in Los Angeles, I would go to the art house theaters to watch his films. Toshiro Mifune was my original action hero.

When you’re not reading for your particular field of history, what else do you like to read? What genres do you avoid? And what’s your guilty reading pleasure?

I am a complete sucker for a beautifully illustrated coffee table book. I have my own large collection of folk art books that I read and reread—my guilty pleasure, I suppose. As far as what I avoid: definitely self-help/motivational. Anyone who thinks they have the answer likely doesn’t.

What do you read—in print or online—to stay informed?

I consume it all, from left to right. I like to make my own decisions about things after I have read or listened to as many perspectives as I can. As you can guess, my politics are confusing to most people.

Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

As a kid I visited my grandparents who were staying on a secluded part of the California coast. We were hit by a big storm with lots of wind, rain, and pounding waves for a couple of days. There was no television or radio—just a blanket, a lamp, and a stack of pulp westerns to read. I know I’ve romanticized that moment, and I have tried to recreate that environment over and over with no success. Hurricane season is not through yet this year, so who knows?

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

The Giant Joshua by Maurine Whipple (1941) is a historical fiction novel about Mormon polygamy in the mid 1800s. While it made a modest literary splash when it came out in 1941, it is largely forgotten today.

What book or collection of books might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

I have a small collection of books about UFOs. I was raised during the new-age UFO revival of the 1970s, so that shaped my childhood. I have actually published on historical UFOs and will likely develop a class on them. My approach to UFOs is similar to that of Carl Jung, who viewed them as another way to interpret the values and beliefs of a people.

How have your reading tastes changed over time?

Sadly, less MAD Magazine.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

Grasshopper Jungle (by Andrew Smith, 2014). I like a good young adult fiction book, and this one was widely praised and loved. I guess my own childhood was too urban, too undersexed, too lacking in actual alien encounters for me to connect with it.

What book would you recommend for America’s current moment?

Don’t Bite Your Friends by Lisa Rao (2009).

What do you plan to read next?

My daughter is a professional writer, and she just sent me her latest manuscript. I’m thrilled to be diving into that one!

What is the next book or article you’re going to write?

I am putting the finishing touches on an article titled “Mormons, Memory, and the Mexican War: The Role of Mormon Battalion Commemoration in the Formation of Latter-day Saint Identity, 1921 – 2021.” I use as a case study the United States’ only religiously segregated military unit to explore how collective memory and identity are constantly evolving to serve a number of social, political, and religious agendas. What’s next after that? I am writing an article about a Mexican folk art particular to the Otomí people of central Mexico. Between the early nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries they created a particular style of crucifix, called a cruz de ánimas, that they venerated to end their ancestors’ suffering in purgatory. These artifacts serve as a preliterate genealogical pedigree, and very little has been written about them.

When and how do you write?

Mornings and nights are best for me. There are too many distractions during the day. I am one of those people who need large blocks of time to find my focus.

With which three historic figures, dead or alive, would you like to have dinner?

I have three immigrant ancestors: one Dutch from the 1600s, one Irish from the 1700s, and one Scottish from the 1800s, who I would love to meet. I would cook Tex-Mex food and ask them so many questions that they would be begging to crawl back into their graves!  

Q&A: Reading and Writing with Lisa Tendrich Frank

Lisa Tendrich Frank is a historian who specializes in gender and the American South and Civil War. She is the author of The Civilian War: Confederate Women and Union Soldiers during Sherman’s March (Louisiana State University Press, 2015), which examines how warfare was redefined when the homefront and warfront collided as well as how gender guided both soldiers and civilians in one of the war’s most famous campaigns. She has also published six edited collections and dozens of articles and book chapters. Her most recent collection is Household War: How Americans Lived and Fought the Civil War (University of Georgia Press, 2020), co-edited with LeeAnn Whites. Dr. Frank is currently working on a book that explores the “domestic warfare” campaigns of U.S. generals Ulysses S. Grant, Philip Sheridan, and William T. Sherman. The book reexamines the forced evacuation of civilians from Atlanta in 1864 as part of a larger campaign to win the war by bringing it directly to the homefront. Dr. Frank’s research has been supported by fellowships and grants from various institutions, including the Huntington Library and the American Historical Association. She received her BA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and her MA and PhD from the University of Florida. During her career, she has taught at several universities, including Occidental College; University of California, Los Angeles; University of North Florida; Florida Atlantic University; and California State University, Fullerton. She has also worked as a writer and consultant for various non-profits. Most recently, she served as the lead historian for the University System of Georgia’s Naming Advisory Group. For more information, visit www.lisatendrichfrank.com.

What first got you interested in history?

I remember being bored by some history classes, but never by history. Historical fiction initially sparked my interest. I was fascinated with books written in the 20th century about historical events as well as those written in the 19th century (like Louisa May Alcott’s books). I also visited a lot of museums and historic sites around the country with my family as a child. Among other things, we went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History, visited Civil War battlefields, ate gingerbread in Colonial Williamsburg, and walked Boston’s Freedom Trail.

I became interested in becoming a historian when I took a Civil War lecture class with Stephen Oates as a college sophomore at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He was an amazing lecturer who had us all on the edge of our seats in each class and sometimes elicited applause during lectures. The books he wrote are like that, too—as I read his biography of Abraham Lincoln (With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1977), I practically yelled at Lincoln not to go to Ford’s Theater. I also loved Oates’ classes because he taught history by focusing on the individuals who lived through the events instead of solely on troop movements. His lectures and the books he assigned to the class brought the Civil War and other topics to life for me. After that semester I took some small seminar classes with him—Civil War through Biography and Mari Sandoz’s American West. I knew I wanted to learn about and write about history the way Oates did. When I decided to pursue a graduate degree in history, he helped me narrow down the programs and potential advisors who would best suit my interests.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

I was an obsessive and voracious reader. I read every fiction book I could get my hands on as a child, and I read as often and as much as I could. I devoured books (but not literally!). My parents were constantly trying to get me out of the house to do something (anything) else. I used to get in trouble regularly for staying up too late reading with a flashlight (I had several extra books and flashlights stashed under my bed in case I was discovered), and one of my best friends and I would sit together during lunch at school and on weekends each reading a book. My favorite books as a child (I had a lot of them) included Alice in Wonderland, Jane Eyre, Little Women, The Count of Monte Cristo, The BFG, The Prince and the Pauper, Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books, Agatha Christie’s books, everything by Tolkien…. For the record, I still stay up too late reading novels and my best friend and I still talk about books together.

What book did you read in grad school that you never want to see again—and what book was most influential?

I would be happy to never see Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman’s Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery (1974) ever again. It’s offensive to me in its use of qualitative methods to evaluate the very human and very horrible experience of enslavement. I am still amazed at how widely read it was.

On the other hand, LeeAnn Whites’ The Civil War as a Crisis in Gender: Augusta, Georgia, 1860-1890 (University of Georgia Press, 1995) rocked my world. It gave me a model for the kind of history I wanted to do and write. It opened my eyes to how ideas about masculinity and femininity shaped the behavior of nineteenth-century Americans. That book, with Nina Silber’s The Romance of Reunion: Northerners and the South, 1865-1900 (University of North Carolina Press, 1993), shaped the kind of history that I do. I had read other books on gender, but never anything that demonstrated to me how I could apply it to the Civil War. I read both as I was preparing for my qualifying exams and they both shaped how I approached my dissertation and everything I’ve written since then.

What’s the last great book you read, fiction or non-fiction?

The most recent great fiction book I read was Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague by Maggie O’Farrell (Knopf, 2020). I loved it. It’s beautifully written and evocative. I cried a lot. I got completely swept up in the story and didn’t want it to end even though I loved it so much that I read it too quickly.

When you’re not reading for your particular field of history, what else do you like to read? What genres do you avoid? And what’s your guilty reading pleasure?

When I’m not reading for “work,” I read fiction. I have a large and always growing pile of books “to be read” and choose the one I’m in the mood for when I finish whatever I’ve been reading. I like books with characters I can imagine being friends with, and I hate books with characters I dislike. I avoid non-fiction and horror. My guilty reading pleasure is reading too many books at once.

What do you read—in print or online—to stay informed?

I read The New York Times online as well as articles from other newspapers and news magazines to stay informed.

Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

I will seriously read anywhere at any time, but my favorite place to read is sitting in the shade on a breezy beach with my feet in the sand as I listen to the waves. My preferred reading is always fiction in book form, not electronic. I love the feel and smell of a new book.

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

When I want to relax, I often read or bake. I have a nice collection of cookbooks, and I absolutely love Sweet Serendipity. I think a lot of people know about the restaurant in New York City, Serendipity 3, but they probably don’t know of this amazing cookbook. In case you’re wondering, the Goddess Diane’s Chocolate Chip Cookies are my personal favorites but everything I’ve made from the cookbook has been delicious.

What book or collection of books might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

I think people would be surprised at the breadth of topics and type of books I have on my shelves. In addition to my collection of Civil War and other history books, I have a large and wide-ranging fiction collection. It defies easy categorization. It includes Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, Ha Jin’s Waiting, Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, all of Gregory Maguire’s books, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, James McBride’s Good Lord Bird, Madeline Miller’s Circe, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, all of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo, The Riverside Shakespeare, Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, Herman Wouk’s Marjorie Morningstar….

How have your reading tastes changed over time?

I don’t know that my reading tastes have necessarily changed that much but my willingness to put down a book I don’t like has definitely increased. I used to feel like I had to finish every book I started, and I forced myself to do so. I will still finish non-fiction that I’m reading for work or anything that I’m reading for my book club. However, sometime after college I decided that I’d read enough to know what I liked and what I didn’t like and that I no longer needed to read books just because other people thought I should. If I start a book and don’t like it, I put it down and walk away and start another book.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

I practically got booed out of my book club for panning Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom: A Novel (FSG, 2010). I hated everything about it, but especially that none of the characters seemed to have any redeeming qualities. Although I’ve really liked most of Fredrik Backman’s books, I stopped reading Beartown (Atria, 2017) once I realized what it was going to be about.

What book would you recommend for America’s current moment?

You’re probably looking for a non-fiction book here, but I think fiction is always the best answer. My comfort reading and escape from reality for the past decade has been Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Series (A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life) and Time’s Convert. They are my favorite books of all time. I love them and wish I could jump into the books and meet many of the characters (especially Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont). Harkness’s novels stress the importance of diversity, multiculturalism, and cooperation—lessons that I think everyone needs or can appreciate these days.

What do you plan to read next?

I’m currently reading The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers (Harper, 2021) and Libertie: A Novel by Kaitlyn Greenidge (Algonquin, 2021). They’re both amazing books with complicated and relatable characters. I keep switching between them because I’m wrapped up in both stories.

What is the next book you’re going to write?

I’m working on a book on what I call “domestic warfare” during the American Civil War. I’ve always been interested in exploring the ways that the homefront and warfront connected and how 19th-century Americans understood these connections in ways that modern historians often ignore. This book is exploring how U.S. generals Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Philip Sheridan pursued victory with strategies that intentionally brought war to the homefront. It explores how they engaged in military occupations of towns, evictions of civilians, and invasions of homes that upended white southern households and helped end the Civil War.

When and how do you write?

I write best under the pressure of an approaching deadline. I often create artificial deadlines to keep the process moving and use small rewards to push me toward these goals. For the past year and a half, things have been unusually chaotic and unpredictable, which has made it difficult for me to find sustained and regular periods to write. I look forward to life returning to something closer to normal so that I can reestablish a regular schedule for writing.

With which three historic figures, dead or alive, would you like to have dinner?

The Civil War historian in me definitely wants to meet William T. Sherman and Clara Barton. I’ve spent so many years studying them and trying to figure out their motivations and lives, so I’d love to hear from them personally. Modern-day me would also like to have dinner with Hillary Clinton. I’m not a senator or a former secretary of state, but I feel like we’d have a lot in common and have a lot to talk about.

Podcast S4 E10: We Salute You, and Farewell

This week Stan remembers the birth and death of two iconic musicians from the 20th century, and the recent deaths of five historians whose work over the past 60 years helped redefine several eras of American history.