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I’m Mike Dang, editor-in-chief of Longreads.

Today we’re launching the 2018 Longreads Member Drive with the goal of raising $50,000 from readers by November 2. All of this money will go directly into a story fund that’s exclusively used to support work from writers, photographers, and illustrators from all around the world.

In addition, for every dollar you give, WordPress.com will generously match with $3. This means that if we raise $50,000, we have the potential to add $200,000 to our story fund for upcoming writing and investigative projects. This is why your support during our drive is so crucial.

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The Scientists formed in Perth, Australia in 1978 and only played their second US show on September 28, 2018. It was at Dante’s in downtown Portland. Mudhoney co-headlined. It was worth the wait. For this, their first US tour, the band reunited their blazing 1982 lineup of singer-guitarist Kim Salmon, bassist Boris Sujdovic, guitarist Tony Thewlis, and drummer Brett Rixon. I’d waited about twenty years to see The Scientists play, after reading their name mentioned in some article about Mudhoney in the 1990s. The Australian swamp rockers heavily influenced the Seattle band, and when I first listened, I was an instant fan. But they broke up in the ’80s, played only occassional shows after that, then reformed to play All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2006 at Nick Cave’s request, so I was psyched they were playing here in Portland. Unfortunately, I thought my friend bought the tickets. He thought I bought them. The show sold out, and we were crushed.

Never say die. The night of the show I stood outside Dante’s trying to buy an extra ticket from people on the street, but nobody had one, and few passersby looked me in the eyes when they said sorry. I felt like I was sixteen again fishing for beer outside a convenience store, except with that special shame that comes from being a desperate adult. Fortunately, when a certain unnamed band appeared outside the club, I asked their generous lead singer if he could work some magic to help correct my stupid error, and soon enough, I and an Australian tourist friend I made outside were both inside the club. Thanks to that very kind soul for getting us in and making my rock and roll dream come true.

Eat Skull openened and got the crowd frothy: “Up next,” they said, “is The Scientists’ historic first club performance in America!” When The Scientists took the stage, people went nuts. Kim Salmon wore a nice suit and carried a notebook with their setlist written in it, the song titles surrounded by doodles he made.

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Tony Thewlis broke a string during the beginning of the first song, “Revhead,” as he was just putting a layer of distortion under the band to get the show started and set the mood. While the band stretched out, he restrung his guitar and clipped the new string with plyers by the end.

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Thewlis had a huge Fender amp that made his guitar the loudest thing on the West Coast at that moment. It has such a distinctive texture, like static electricity tearing the fabric of the universe. It was so loud you felt dizzy, and it was exactly what I’d wanted to hear in person forever. As singer Kim Salmon said to Thewlis on stage: “Can you get any more distorted?” My hearing will never be the same.

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They played for about an hour. After “Revhead” they played “Solid Gold Hell,” “We Had Love,” “Backwards Man,” “Swampland,” “Murderess in a Purple Dress” (and those distorted guitar accents were LOUD), “Nitro,” “Set It On Fire” and others I can’t remember. Sadly they didn’t play “Hell Beach” or “When Fate Deals Its Mortal Blow,” one of my favorites.

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When Mudhoney took the stage, Mark Arm looked at the audience and said, “We never thought we’d see The Scientists. Well, beside me Guy! That was fucking amazing.”

According to PopMatters, this line up is going to record a full LP for In the Red, which will be their “first full-length since 1987’s The Human Jukebox.”

After the show, Tony Thewlis told me about why they’d never toured the States before. “Well, we played All Tomarrows Parties somewhere outside of New York,” he said, “opened for The Stooges, but that was a one-off.” I asked if things had gone so well that they decided, ‘We should do this again?’ “Yes exactly,” he said smirking. “And ten years later, here we are!” Touring from Australia is so expensive, he explained, and people live in different places, so it’s tough. “We wanted to, but things get away from you, mate.” The next night they played in Seattle with Mudhoney again, then they played San Francisco, LA, Austin, Chicago, and New York. I thanked him and said it was a huge treat to finally hear his unreal guitar tone live, though I wouldn’t be hearing anything else for weeks after! I asked him if he could hear anything anymore and he laughed and cupped his ears. “What? No no, I can’t. It’s bad.” Friendly dude, powerful band.

Here’s one song I filmed, with Thewlis playing a borrowed Gretsch while his guitar got restrung. And here’s bassist Boris, playing with a beer bottle.

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Longreads

Tom Maxwell | Longreads | September 2018 | 18 minutes (3,669 words)

The Velvet Underground album VU is the binding agent in a career of releases that differ so dramatically one from another as to be almost artistic reversals. VU has the dark majesty of The Velvet Underground & Nico, the neurotic strut (if not the head-wrecking dissonance) of White Light/White Heat, the tenderness and emotional insight of The Velvet Underground, and the pure pop sensibility of Loaded. In its 10 tracks, it contains refined versions of what the band did well during the four years they lasted. The irony is that VU wasn’t released until more than a dozen years after the Velvet Underground disbanded.

Recorded primarily in 1969, after the ouster of multi-instrumentalist John Cale, and later cannibalized by principal songwriter Lou Reed for his solo career, the recordings that make up VU were…

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joe-gould

Below is a previously unpublished essay written in 1934 by one of the most legendary figures in American letters: Joe Gould. New Yorker writer Jill Lepore unearthed it while researching her 2016 book Joe Gould’s Teeth. It’s an incredible book. After I spotted the essay in Lepore’s bibliography, I got a copy from Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library, where it sat in the Millen Brand Papers for years. “Why I Write” starts as an essay but ends as a fragment. I’m excited to share it with other readers of Lepore and Joseph Mitchell’s work.

First, a little background:

Stanley Tucci made a movie about Joe Gould, but not everyone has seen it. Gould identified as a writer, but he’s best known as the subject of New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell. Mitchell published two stories about Gould: “Professor Seagull” in 1942 and “Joe Gould’s Secret” in 1964. An educated, heavy drinking bohemian who mixed talent with delusion, Gould lived much of his adulthood on the streets of Greenwich Village in the early 1900s, haunting bars, extracting alms, and telling anyone who would listen about the genre-defining, nine-million-word masterwork he was creating, called “The Oral History of Our Time.” The Oral History was a record of days as Gould heard it. He recorded what people said to him and said all around him. It was meant, in Gould’s words, “to preserve as much detail as I can about the normal life of every day people” because “as a rule, history does not deal with such small fry,” which meant it would qualify as the world’s longest book. Gould told everyone about it, but few had seen it. Whenever people pushed him for pages, Gould dodged or only had brief selections to offer.

Mitchell’s story “Joe Gould’s Secret” outs Gould as a liar whose magnum opus didn’t exist. In telling this secret, Mitchell created his own literary masterpiece, and one of the most well-known and admired pieces of longform journalism in America. In a strange twist, after Mitchell published this story, he never published again in his lifetime.

A modern biography of Mitchell caused a stir by showing that Mitchell invented many details and quotes in his famous reporting, creating magnificent fictive hybrids, not journalism, and that he failed to alert readers to this aspect of their creation. Sensing more to the story of Mitchell’s stories, Jill Lepore went on her own investigation into his reporting techniques and mistakes and asked an important question: Did Gould’s “The Oral History of Our Time” exist or not?  Gould certainly seemed to be working on something all those years. Did it get lost or only exist in Gould’s mind?  What she found was that Mitchell didn’t do all of his research, and he consciously neglected other areas of inquiry into Gould, failing to contact certain sources and include certain facts. While there was not one cohesive Oral History, Lepore found that Gould did leave notebooks scattered around friends’ houses and various libraries, and he wrote letters to people like E.E. Cummings and John Dos Passos that ended up in collected papers in library archives from Harvard to Yale. Even though he lied about the scale and nature of his masterpiece, Gould did record and even publish things, despite what Mitchell claimed. Because Gould was hypergraphic, Lepore said, “Gould was almost impossibly easy to trace.” This 1934 essay, “Why I Write,” is one of the fragments Gould left laying around. Listed as a chapter of the Oral History, the material has never been published in its entirety. Although it’s short and incomplete, and it’s about the author, not the wider world, it bears the signature Gouldian traits ─ the grand claims, the spiraling train of thought and self-aggrandizement ─ Granted, there’s clearly a reason no one published it. That said, it’s nice to hear him discuss his perception of his work in his own words.

Mitchell’s stories are some of my favorite ever written; they’re some of the few pieces I reread on a regular basis. I believe their construction raise them past the level of reporting to literature, more concerned with themes and capital T truth than the facts of the matter. This isn’t a critique of his work or reportage. But with Gould, Lepore did certain detective work that Mitchell did not. She searched deep in library collections. She found that parts of the Oral History were published early on: a chapter in Exile magazine in 1927, three pages in Pagany in 1931. She photographed all 400-plus pages of Gould’s ten surviving diaries. Gould wrote other essays, such as “My Life” in 1933 and “Why I Am Called Professor Sea Gull” in 1947. Maybe they’re fragments, too, because ultimately, the Oral History existed mostly in Gould’s mind. At a certain point, even Lepore quit digging. I do strongly suggest everyone buy Lepore’s incredible book and to read Mitchell’s collection Up in the Old Hotel.

My deep thanks to Lepore for discovering this material, to the staff at Columbia for sending me a copy, and thanks to Mitchell and Gould for following their instincts. From what I can gather from speaking with professionals, because enough time has passed, and Gould had no living heirs, this work now resides in the public domain.

You can read a PDF of Joe Gould’s “Why I Write” here.

Longreads

Aaron Gilbreath | This Is: Essays on Jazz | Outpost19 | August 2017 | 21 minutes (5,900 words)

In 1960, four years after the venerable Blue Note Records signed pianist Jutta Hipp to their label, she stopped performing music entirely. Back in her native Germany, Hipp’s swinging, percussive style had earned her the title of Europe’s First Lady of Jazz. When she’d moved to New York in 1955, she started working at a garment factory in Queens to supplement her recording and performing income. She played clubs around the City. She toured. Then, with six albums to her name and no official explanation, she quit. She never performed publicly again, and she told so few people about her life in music that most of her factory coworkers and friends only discovered it from her obituary. For the next forty-one years, Jutta patched garments for a living, painted, drew and took photos for…

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Longreads

Alice Driver | Longreads | June 2017 | 22 minutes (5,698 words)

LEER EN ESPAÑOL

“What good is a border without a people willing to break it wide open?”
— Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, quote from live storytelling at California Sunday Popup in Austin, Texas on March 4, 2017

* * *

On the edge of the promised land dust storms rise out of the desert, obscuring everything, even the migrants waiting at the gate in front of a complex surrounded by a chain-linked fence topped by barbed wire. But Father Javier Calvillo Salazar is from Juárez, Mexico and he is used to it all, and to those who arrive after what is sometimes thousands of miles and hundreds of days with a collection of scars, broken bones, and missing limbs to match the inhumanity encountered along the way. They arrive weeping, they arrive stony-faced, they arrive pregnant, they arrive with venereal diseases—sometimes…

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Longreads

Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son is one of those books people collect in multiples, saving extra copies to give to friends. I used to joke about handing it out in place of Halloween candy. Fortunately, Johnson wrote so much more: two collections of plays, three books of poetry, two short story collections, nine novels, a novella, and a book of reportage. He was dedicated to his vision of the writing life and embraced the mystery of the creative process with his students. After his death on May 24, there was an outpouring of appreciation for Johnson’s life and work from readers and writers, students and friends. We’ve asked for further thoughts from some of the people he reached through his books, his friendship, and the classes he led at various universities. We hope this collection adds further warmth and insight into the extraordinary work Denis Johnson gave to the world.  —

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