Manson bloggers, the world of murder fandom, and the philosophy of being — can you ever escape who you are, or were?
For the Undefeated, music writer and essayist Bruce Britt offers a compelling history of soul band Maze, featuring Frankie Beverly, whose ebullient hits like “Before I Let Go,” “Joy and Pain,” and “Happy Feelin’s” have been mainstays of black American social gatherings for nearly half a century. Deeply entrenched racial divisions in the music industry have allowed Maze to become one of American music’s best kept secrets.
Betty Shaw experienced Maze’s engrossing stagecraft firsthand. She was 25 when she first saw the band in 1978. At the time, Shaw was a recently separated mother of three with dim employment prospects and a deeply troubled mind. One day, she took her sister up on an invitation to attend the Kool Jazz Festival in Milwaukee. There, during Maze’s performance of “Happy Feelin’s,” Shaw had an epiphany. “It was such an experience,” she recalled. “I had never even heard ‘Happy Feelin’s’ … but the way Frankie presented the song, it was giving you the feeling like everything is going to be all right. The song says, ‘I’ve got myself to remind me of love,’ and since I have this love in me, I’m not going to give up on life. It was like a turning point in my mind.”
With Maze winning converts on the road and Arnold converting the nation’s programming directors, the stage was set for Maze to become a crossover breakthrough. Yet, despite all the hard work, debut album sales stalled at around 600,000 copies. It was an impressive showing by ’70s industry standards but far from the million-plus units that Arnold had envisioned. He believes Capitol didn’t try hard enough to help the album realize its tremendous sales potential.
“I had a lot of fights with my pop promotion department because they would never expose the album to white FM,” Arnold said. “That first time I saw Maze at the Fillmore West, the whole audience was white. I know if white people were exposed to Maze, they’d like it, but the belief at the time was, ‘Well, white people really don’t want to listen to black music.’ And I’m saying, ‘Look — it’s not just ‘black’ music!’ ”
One of the rarest religious experiences you can have in America is to join the Plain.
Author’s Note: “Alex” and “Rebecca” are not the real names of two people interviewed. They felt strongly that they should not be identified by name out of respect for their faith’s general belief in the body above the individual.
The road that runs through the main village of Berlin, Ohio, only about 90 minutes south of Cleveland, is called “Amish Country Byway” for its unusual number of non-automotive travelers and it’s true that driving down it, you’ll have to slow down for the horse-drawn buggies that clog up the right lane. But those seeking the “real” Amish experience in downtown Berlin might be disappointed. It’s more Disney than devout: a playground for tourists full of ersatz Amish “schnuck” (Pennsylvania Dutch for “cute”) stores selling woven baskets and postcards of bucolic farm scenes.
You only see the true Holmes County, which is home to the largest population of Amish-Mennonites in the world, when you turn off Route 62 and venture into the rolling green hills interrupted periodically by tiny towns with names like Charm and Big Prairie. You’ll likely lose service on your cell phone just as the manure smell starts to permeate the air. On my visit this past summer, I saw Amish people–groups of children sporting round straw hats, the young women in their distinctive long dresses–spilling out of family barns, where church services are held, in the distance. The Amish don’t have any spiritual attachment to a geographical location, the way Jews have to Jerusalem or Mormons to Salt Lake City; this spot, along with Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is probably the closest they come to an idea of God’s Country. Read more…
How the producer of the Hangover movies became one of the most effective advocates for prison reform in California.
There can be something enjoyable, even revelatory about that feeling of self-protection, which is why we seek out circumstances in which we can feel more acutely the contrast between the outside world and our inner selves. Woolf was fascinated by city life—by the feeling of solitude-on-display that the sidewalk encourages, and by the way that “street haunting,” as she called it, allows you to lose and then find yourself in the rhythm of urban novelty and familiarity. She was drawn to the figure of the hostess: the woman-to-be-looked-at, standing at the top of the stairs, friendly to everyone, who grows only more mysterious with her visibility. (One of the pleasures of throwing a party, Woolf showed, is that it allows you to surprise yourself: surrounded by your friends, the center of attention, you feel your separateness from the social world you have convened.) She showed how parents, friends, lovers, and spouses can become more unknowable over time, not less—there is a core to their personhood that never gives itself up. Even as they put their lives on display, she thought, artists thrive when they maintain a final redoubt of privacy—a wellspring that remains unpolluted by the world outside. “A thing there was that mattered; a thing, wreathed about with chatter, defaced, obscured in her own life, let drop every day in corruption, lies, chatter,” Clarissa thinks, at the end of “Mrs. Dalloway.” Of course, it’s the chatter—the party—that helps her know that she has something to lose in the first place.
—Joshua Rothman, writing in the New Yorker about Virginia Woolf’s idea of privacy.
This was a big year for longform journalism. Byliner came out with blockbuster stories, like Jon Krakuer’s Three Cups of Deceit. The Atavist put out consistently strong features with solid multimedia. At Outside, our editors and writers contributed excellent investigative online exclusives (“Blood in the Water,” “Crashing Down”). Thanks to Longreads, Longform, Sportsfeat, The Browser, and other longform-loving sites, I found more great stories online then ever before. Every time I read something that made me think, I printed it out and taped it to the wall above my desk. Here are five of the articles published in 2011 that hang over my workspace.
A big look at the American West, told through the story of a small town pharmacist
How do you talk about the effects of concussions in sports in a new way? By profiling an individual’s life in exquisite detail, from start to after the finish. The multimedia is first rate as well. (This one took up the biggest chunk of wall space.)
An argument for going after the things you want.
Frank Shorter was the most famous marathoner of his day, yet few people knew about the disturbing behavior of his father—a supposedly perfect small town doctor.
There were stories about hydrofracking with more statistical analysis and stories that explained the overall process and its effects in more detail, but no story was told better. Here’s how fracking in rural Pennsylvania affected the Haney family.
Share your own Top 5 Longreads of 2011, all through December. Just tag it #longreads on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook.