It was All Saints’ Day. A perfect time to visit our local legend, Thomas Jefferson.

People talk about Jefferson in Charlottesville, anchored by the university he founded, as if he were alive. “Jefferson would want us to build the road around the park, not through it.” “Jefferson would not let high-rises obscure the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.” Instead of “What would Jesus do?” people ask, “What would Jefferson do?”

You just published a book called Playing with Dynamite: A Memoir. Why did you decide to write a book about yourself? Did you do jail time or recover from addiction or walk on the moon or something?

First of all, I never intended to write memoir. Like many writers, I started with autobiographical fiction. I wrote a novel about a teenage girl growing up in Detroit who embarks on a quest to find out who her father was and how he died. It’s remarkable how many memoirists say they started by writing their story as fiction, but it didn’t work, so they finally had to tell the whole truth. That’s what happened with me.

There was a time in the 1970s when getting The New Yorker magazine delivered to my house was something of an event. (I don’t feel that way now and it sometimes makes me sad.) In those days the magazine was posted with a brown paper covering. I tore off the brown paper, checked out the cover art, then turned to the Table of Contents looking for Ann Beattie’s name. When she was listed there (48 times now, and counting), I was happy. When she wasn’t, I made do.

 

This past spring, I found myself mixed up in a series of hiring and job application ordeals. My wife went through a rigorous string of interviews for a new position. I wrote half a dozen recommendation letters for friends. As a member of a departmental search committee, I read CVs from hundreds of potential professors, attended live teaching workshops, had drinks with candidates.

From galencurry.com:

Galen Curry honed his skills as a musician in the most intuitive way: by playing music whenever and wherever possible. He [has] played in jazz combs, chamber singing groups, wedding bands, and wind ensembles. He has toured the Eastern Seaboard with a rock [outfit] and Eastern Europe with a concert choir. For years, Galen front Upstate New York alt-rock band The Beds and Virginia funk-rock ensemble Ultraviolet Ballet, and it was with these bands that he began to find his voice as a songwriter.

Galen’s musical talents are now focused on a burgeoning solo career. Based out of a vibrant Charlottesville, Virginia, music scene, Galen honors his southern heritage with unmistakably American tunes that supplement his singular tenor with clever lyricism and upbeat rootsy instrumentation, but it is his penchant for heartfelt and rollicking live performances that definitely set him apart from the crowd.

Derk Richardson of the San Francisco Chronicle has described the band’s sound as “the heavy sadness of Townes Van Zandt, the light pop concision of Buddy Holly, the tuneful jangle of the Beatles, [and] the raw energy of the Ramones.” Hailing from Concord, North Carolina, the Avett Brothers have burst onto the music scene with the release of their acclaimed 2009 album, I and Love and You, and there’s no looking back.

I had the fortunate opportunity to speak with Seth Avett of the band to discuss—among other things—this very album, their recent rise in popularity, and whether or not beard envy was involved when working with the man himself: Rick Rubin. Enjoy.

In the summer of 2007, I was doing research while at the University of Virginia for a seminar under Syed Rizwan Zamir for his class, Islam in the Modern Age: Tradition, Fundamentalism, and Reform. Before I picked up reading fiction as an undergraduate, most all of what I read dealt with political science, the author I read the most by being the famed linguist and political dissident, Noam Chomsky. For my final project, I decided I would contact Chomsky for an interview to see what he’d have to say on the subject matter.

Screw it, it’s worth a shot I figured — even if deep down I knew there was no way he’d respond.




The next day I opened my e-mail, and saw it: Noam Chomsky to jwp5u.

After reading Chomsky’s response, the short answer being, “No, I don’t have the time,” I called home to my parents. Despite the rejection, I was so excited I could nearly urinate my pants and I think I even felt a little dribble at one point.

“Go up to my room,” I told my mom over the phone.

“Why?” she responded.

“Make like Nike and just do it. Look on my bookshelf. Do you see a guy named Noam Chomsky?”

She walked upstairs. I could hear her open my creaky bedroom door.

“Yes, he’s all over the place.”

“He just e-mailed me,” I said to her. “I asked him for an interview and he said he couldn’t do it. Isn’t that awesome?”

“That he said, ‘No.'”

“No, that he responded to my e-mail. Noam Chomsky wrote me an e-mail. Isn’t that awesome? NOAM AVRAM FREAKING CHOMSKY!”

“That’s wonderful,” my mom said to me in a sort of I-can’t-believe-you’re-this-excited-about-an-email voice.

And so ends one of the single greatest moments in my life.

Noam Avram Freaking Chomsky . . . man!

Hardened bread crumbs burst into fine white powder, sprinkling to the ground. Seeds crack under the weight of jaws clinching, and in an imperfect circle the birds gather round the old man and strut mechanically, their fat necks jerking. They welcome him as if he is one of their own, and he in turn accepts their embrace, and feeds them grain as everyday, assuredly white proso millet and milo for the dark-eyed junco.

The sky is layered pink then orange then blue with clouds of white cotton and gray mastheads splotched throughout. A slight chill fills the air like a cold hand on the back of one’s neck unexpectedly but is otherwise refreshing and silky as it passes from the nostrils to the lungs and presses against the gut.

Crouched, the old black man talks to the birds in low whispers as if they are his children. The birds of variegated species listen attentively, cocking their heads momentarily at his voice and scoop with their stout beaks into the ground seeds threaded underneath blades of grass still wet with dew and they mash the seeds near into dust, and the wet, green blades turn white with chalk.

Laggardly, the old black man rises from his crouched position in Washington Park and stands as erect as the arthritis buried deep in his joints will allow. Muscle, bone, and tendon like toothed pinions within a three wheel skeleton clock turn slowly but surely, never faltering though their movement so supine you are certain will one day just stop, the hand of the clock ceasing, time standing still. The body no more.

He stands upright and looks over his shoulder in my direction. Even from afar, I see the crow’s feet carved into his skin on the sides of each eye, brown and deep. His eyelid hangs droopily, weighted down by age and gravity, the skin loose. His eyebrows scrunch almost touching, three wrinkles to each side of the center of his brow, as he tries to make out the other figure in the park.

I had, for about a week now, been coming to the park each day around 4:00 PM to sit and watch the old man. I watched the way the birds greeted him each day, welcoming him as if he were one of their own, birds of one feather.

The old black man spots me. His arm shoots into the air, waving. I wave back. And he turns around and again reaches into his pocket scooping seed out for the birds and they flutter around his body, wings spread then tight against their bodies.