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Athens redux

March 7, 2012

Welp. I’m back in DC. I have been for a week and a half, actually, but I’m just now getting to blogging about my trip to Georgia.

It went well. My friend Matt came down from New Hampshire to drive me both ways, which was a Sisyphean fucking journey: he made four separate nine-hour drives in a matter of a week, with little to show for it beyond a few records and some nice memories. I’m lucky to have a lot of people who have really gone above and beyond the basic obligations of friendship to help me out, and Matt’s contributions in helping me get to Athens and back (not to mention giving me some great company while I was down there) are as valuable as any. Thanks again, dude.

I spent most of my time in Athens, and most of that time just hanging out, with a lot of eating and music consumption in various forms. But I did get some work done, too: I got a couple people on the record for the first time in a double interview that was half illuminating and half disastrous, and by spending the week at Will Hart’s house, I was able to squeeze about a couple more hours of interview out him, too.

I also spent an evening in Atlanta, where I got the biggest get of the week: an in-person interview with Robert Schneider, who happened to be in town for a couple nights. I was planning to talk to him one way or another on this trip, but I’m grateful that it only took a 55-minute drive to Atlanta and not a seven-hour drive to Lexington. I do plan on getting to Kentucky at some point to dig through Robert’s archives (old recordings, show posters, record art, etc.), but that can wait.

I’ve interview Robert once or twice already and met him in person more than a few times, but this was the first time I got to do both at once. For Robert, that’s a big deal. He’s quite a storyteller, but once he gets going, he’s hard to stop. The first phone conversation I had with him was supposed to be a 20-minute chat and ended up lasting more than two hours. His prolixity is a good thing, of course, but as a major character in this narrative, he’s got a lot of ground to cover, and because he’s such a busy guy (in addition to his bands, he’s finishing up a degree in mathematics, he has a kid, and he’s involved in all sorts of other things [e.g. he’s working on a score for a math conference this summer]), I have to make sure I make every second with him count. And even though he’s completely self-aware about his tendency to ramble off onto tangents and non sequiturs and invites me to cut him off when I want him to get back on topic, that’s a hard thing to do over the phone. In person, it’s much, much easier. Body language is a hell of a thing.

That didn’t mean he didn’t ramble in our face-to-face conversation. He rambled. A lot. On the ride over, I said to Matt, “The last time Robert and I talked, we got as far as 1988. I don’t know how long he has tonight, but if we can make it from there to 1993, I’ll be thrilled.”

When I arrived at Robert’s friend’s house (where he was staying while in Atlanta), he told me he could give me about two hours. We spent the first half hour of that getting coffee. When we got back to his friend’s house, though, we set up shop on the floor of his friend’s daughter’s bedroom and got to talking. And talking. And talking. Sporadically, someone would poke his or her head into the room to say dinner was on its way, or that dinner had arrived, or that dinner was getting cold, or that dinner was almost gone. We talked for nearly four hours. And we made it all the way to 1994.

I still have a lot to talk about with Robert, but I figure I’ll leave him alone for a little while. I have my work cut out for me for the time being. I have a bunch more stuff to transcribe, plus a bunch of other stuff I’ve found that I want to work into my outline (old articles and interviews, mostly), and then I think I have enough meat to really start writing this thing. To this point, it’s been easy for me to blame the pace of this project on other people (most of the people I’m writing about are as flaky as a fresh biscuit), but now it’s on my shoulders. I have other obligations that slow this down (like a full-time job, for one), but I have to own it now. This will move as quickly as I want it to.

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