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Jason Isbell's 'Georgia Blue': Twitter is good for once!
Plus: Five Qs, One Song with Patriots book author Seth Wickersham
Here in F&AB #43:
How a great new album redeemed the cesspool of Twitter, for a minute
Seth Wickersham on his fascinating new book dissecting the Patriots dynasty
Weird beer names
The state of Georgia voted Democratic in last year’s presidential election, the first time the Peach State has gone blue since 1992. Whether you think that’s a sign the state is joining the ranks of the angels or a harbinger of our nation’s impending damnation is between you and your Facebook page. What’s undeniable is this: the election led directly to the creation of a damn fine new album that just dropped yesterday.
Back during the 2020 election cycle — I know, asking you to go back and relive that time is like asking you to stick your face in a fire hydrant spewing raw sewage — Jason Isbell, a brilliant musician with deep ties to Georgia and the South, offered to make an album of covers of Georgia songs and artists if the state ended up voting Democratic. (I can feel some of my beloved readers’ blood pressure rising already. Music. Focus on the music.)
Isbell kept his promise, and yesterday released “Georgia Blue,” a magnificent collection of songs by R.E.M., the Indigo Girls, James Brown, Cat Power, the Black Crowes, Otis Redding, Drivin’ N’ Crying, the Allman Brothers and many more, with contributions from Brandi Carlile, Bela Fleck, Brittney Spencer and on and on. It’s gorgeous, soaring, reverential, rocking music by any measure. (No OutKast, alas.) Personal favorite: the cover of “Driver 8,” which adds a layer of ethereal longing — and dread — to the locomotive chug of the original:
Beyond the music itself, what I love about this album is that it literally sprang from a tweet — somebody asked a talented dude to create something new, and the dude went and did exactly that. Creation, not destruction. Building, rather than tearing down. From freaking Twitter. What are the odds of that, huh?
A cost-benefit analysis on social media these days tips deep into the red. So much of our polarization and division comes from living in social media echo chambers, subsisting on diets of rage and misinformation, topped off with a heaping helping of sanctimony. Humans have never been an agreeable people, true, but until now we’ve never had the ability to rip a new hole in someone on the other side of the planet for saying they like ketchup on their hot dogs. (Screw you. Ketchup rules.)
Twitter’s my social media drug of choice. Facebook is like a perpetual neighborhood cookout whose conversational stream goes like this: kid pic-vacation pic-someone screaming THIS ISN’T NORMAL-kid pic; Instagram is an intensely curated exercise in self-branding; I’m too old for TikTok and Snapchat. But Twitter … ah, Twitter gives me that mainline shot of Content that I crave. Sure, I rely on it for breaking news, but much more often, I’m in it for the cheap-laffs humor:
… Scottish domestic drama …
… sublime universal truths …
… or just, you know, intensely relatable moments:
I don’t hold out a whole lot of hope for the future of social media, in part because of the manipulatively addictive element — there’s a reason refreshing for new content feels exactly like pulling the lever on a slot machine, after all. But social media exists in perpetual purgatory mainly because of the No-Recess Decree. You remember, back in elementary school when some idiot would talk when the class was supposed to be quiet and cost everyone recess. (I still remember your name, you jackleg.)
On Twitter, needy d-bags parachute in to beg for attention; bad opinions proliferate like weeds after rain. A few dumbasses always screw it up for everyone else. (You can apply the No-Recess Decree to a whole lot of other situations in American life without thinking particularly hard.)
Is it worth destabilizing democracy, polluting the minds of the credulous and warping the mental health of pretty much everyone to get a few good laughs, links, and covers albums? Of course not. But that’s where we’re at now, wading through the ever-rising muck to find ever-more-rare gems.
The alternative, of course, is to just log off and read a book or listen to music without the stream of social media raining over you … but yeah, that ain’t happening with me either. Stupid addictive Twitter.
Check out “Driver 8” and the rest of the F&AB song recommendations right here on our Spotify playlist:
Five Qs, One Song with author Seth Wickersham (‘It’s Better To Be Feared’)
We generally try to keep things Southern-focused around here, but I first met ESPN reporter extraordinaire Seth Wickersham in Daytona Beach, and it doesn’t get any more Southern than that, so that’s good enough for me. Seth just published “It’s Better To Be Feared,” the most thorough investigation/history about the New England Patriots ever written. Here, we talk about the bane of the rest of the NFL’s existence …
First off, congrats on a monumental achievement. With something this complex — multiple alpha personalities, multiple agendas, multiple perspectives on the same events — how did you keep the proper distance? In other words, how many times did your Bullshit Detector go off while you were reporting?
I think the Bullshit Detector is part of the public record. For instance, Tom Brady said a few months ago that he’d never stepped foot into a Subway restaurant — and that was a year after he said in an interview that he used to eat there all the time to gain weight. But I think that the reporting was fun. The stories that these great football minds tell themselves about what led to their greatness is as interesting in a lot of ways as the greatness itself. But I tried to get into that greatness in a new way, to show what made it possible and what the costs of it were.
The Patriots, every season of the dynasty, always seemed inevitable. But in those early days, how close was this dynasty to never happening at all? How much had to go right in a very specific sequence?
I mean, it all started with Drew Bledsoe in an emergency room. So it was always a strange confluence of events. But at the end of the day, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick arrived into each other’s lives at a critical moment: both were extremists within an extreme profession, and both knew all too well about the fragility of their chosen line of work, and so they were both united in a common goal, which was being not just great, but so great that we, as football fans and observers, might forget that anyone else came before them. Look at last year’s Super Bowl. Peyton Manning was watching Brady and Bucs in person, as part of the Hall of Fame class. Brady has assembled a Hall of Fame career since Manning retired in 2016.
Obviously you’ve followed this team as closely as any devoted fan. What was a revelation/conversation/detail that surprised even you as you were reporting it?
Even though the Patriots are a relentless machine, there are moments of levity. There are some great, in my opinion, practical jokes played along the way — the assistant coaches rigging Belichick’s computer with porn, or Brady and Belichick and Wes Welker messing with Larry Izzo during the 2007 season when Izzo thought he might cost the Patriots a game, or even when Brady once entered the facility carrying Gisele Bundchen’s dog in a Louis Vuitton bag and needed to find a place to stash the dog. There are some good laughs along with the emotionless pursuit of victory.
Was the Brady/Belichick split inevitable, based on what drives both men?
It was inevitable. Brady wanted to play until he was 45; Belichick and Robert Kraft refused to offer a contract that would guarantee that. But what drives them is fascinating. When I wrote the book, I didn’t organize it around the Super Bowls. I wrote it as a character study, and looked at how these two men evolved over time. Their ambition and drive is so relentless and unwavering and ruthless that the Super Bowls almost seem like a byproduct of it, not the literal end game. Both of these men have had many chances to exit while on top; they refuse to do so because something about their craft is so primal to their existence that it’s hard to imagine life without it.
The Pats have six Lombardis. You have to divide them up between Brady, Kraft and Belichick, based on who did the most over the course of the dynasty to earn them … but they can’t get two apiece, that’s too easy. How do you divide them?
I mean, they all won them. Belichick was the strategic mind, Brady the gifted passer, Kraft the man who kept the band together. There is no Patriot Way. There are a group of men who arrived into each other’s lives at the perfect moment and they maximized their potential and redefined what is possible.
Finally, time for a song. Your good pal Bruce Springsteen invites you onstage, hands you a guitar, and says, “What song we singing?” What do you go with, and why?
Buy “It’s Better To Be Feared” and all my book recommendations at the Flashlight & A Biscuit Bookstore. Just keep it away from your Falcons merch.
Previous Five Qs, One Song:
Menu of the week: Precarious Beer Project, Virginia
Look, if you’re going to start a brewery, you need three things: cool beer names, a chill place to hang, and beer, in that order. Precarious Beer Project, in Williamsburg, Va., nails all three. How can you resist a beer called “Kung Fu Kittens”? You can’t, it’s that simple.
That’ll do it for this week’s F&AB. Thanks for hanging! Enjoy the beautiful weekend and we’ll catch you right back here soon.
This has been issue #43 of Flashlight & A Biscuit. Check out all the past issues right here. Feel free to email me with your thoughts, tips and advice. And if you dug this, share it with your friends. Invite others to the party, everybody’s welcome.