Brendan Fitzgerald | Longreads | March 2020 | 47 minutes (12,973 words)
I had seen Paul Curreri a few times around Charlottesville — pushing a cart around the local Wegmans grocery, drinking seltzer at the brewery, holding his young daughter and wearing a brace on one hand — before I worked up the nerve to write to him.
“I’m not sure if you know I’ve been fairly sidelined for the past five years via hand and vocal problems,” he wrote back. “I shouldn’t necessarily assume you know that. Perhaps you just thought I’ve been lazy as shit.” I told him I didn’t want much of his time; I had kids of my own now, too. “Truly,” he wrote back, “there is always time.”
Over a decade, Curreri had released a body of music that should have made him one of America’s most esteemed songwriters. “Paul Curreri gives what few songwriters can,” Matt Dellinger wrote in The New Yorker in 2002. “It hits you soon and hard that you’re hearing something exquisite.” His first albums, built on country blues foundations, shook with dexterous picking and a voice that keened and yipped and roared. A few early songs functioned like artist statements, little revelations of ethos bound up in the tension between the limits of Curreri’s body and the demands of his music. “If your work is shouting, deep-breasted, from sun-up to sundown, take care,” he sang on 2003’s Songs for Devon Sproule, named for the musician he’d marry a few years later. “In time, a shouter you’ll become.”
For years, Curreri’s work had shouted, and so he became a shouter of singular beauty. Then, he went quiet — slowly, at first, then all of a sudden.