Seattle author Kurt B. Reighley wants us to go back in time

illustration from the book by Aaron bagley

Americana online: Author Kurt B. Reighley continues the Americana conversation on his blog at

It’s astonishing how much sensory overload one can be subjected to in something as mundane as a simple bus ride, or a half-hour on the Internet for that matter. Seattle author/journalist/deejay Kurt B. Reighley wants you to slow down (right this very second!) and start to reconnect with an American way of life that’s been buried under all the noise. He’s even written a handy field guide to help you do so.

United States of Americana: Backyard Chickens, Burlesque Beauties & Handmade Bitters isn’t a manifesto denouncing this crazy, accelerated world we live in … well, actually it is, but it’s done in a polite, constructive way through the people (author included) who are living it. And when I say living it, I mean raising chickens, canning their own food, learning the lost art of butchering, and seeking out clothing that’s locally made and built to last (or making their own).

Illustration from the book by Aaron bagley

As Reighley turns back the clock, you may wonder how (or why) we ever got away from darning our own socks or wearing sleeve garters in the first place (the latter idea Reighley jokes: “Flat-out silly, unless your boss at the ice-cream parlor insists.”). Along the way you’ll learn how to play the washboard, make a few Prohibition-era cocktails, and get tips on beard maintenance (vitamin B-12 and lots of sex are said to accelerate facial-hair growth!).

Being a music geek, Reighley also devotes an entire chapter to notable practitioners of roots music, including a couple of my favorite bluesmen, Leadbelly and Blind Lemon Jefferson, plus a brief mention of modern independent-country label Bloodshot Records (and my beloved Old 97’s). There’s even a section that suggests a handful of gateway albums—from Dylan’s Nashville Skyline to Elvis Costello’s Almost Blue—sure to sway “country-phobic” listeners.

Illustration from the book by Aaron bagley

And it’s not just about getting back to roots music, but getting back to the medium’s roots—that being vinyl, which replaced shellac records after World War II. Of course, vinyl has (understandably) made quite a comeback in recent years. As Bloodshot Records founder Rob Miller explains in the book: “Quite frankly, anyone who can’t tell the difference between an LP and an MP3 should have their ears removed.”

United States of Americana is bolstered by loads of fun illustrations and tidbits. The best ones—sprinkled throughout the book—feature artifacts from the days of yore and their availability and practicality in the 21st century (turns out you’d have a tough time finding a mustache curler these days).

Illustration from the book by Aaron bagley

Speaking of ’staches, the book also includes a handy illustrated field guide to upper lip hair, including the Nick Cave-endorsed “Horseshoe” and the controversial “Toothbrush,” made famous by Charlie Chaplin, Sparks’ Ron Mael and Adolph Hitler.

Reighley does his research, and makes it work through his easygoing, often funny prose. Mustache musings aside, there’s a lot of useful information here on American companies that still make long-lasting clothing (Pendleton and Carhartt) as well as the ever-growing slow-food movement.

If this doesn’t make you want to go back to how this land used to be, I don’t know what will. I just washed down a few B-12s with an Old Fashioned, and am currently sporting an Imperial mustache while having frantic sex to Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” So, you see, it can be done.

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