Longtime Evansville (Indiana) Courier columnist Mathews here collects a wealth of his experiences and interviews while traversing the backroads of his Appalachian home in Bluefield, West Virginia. Compiled from 1972 to 1987, Mathews narrates his stories over 2.5 hours and 2 full compact discs.
As an account of old-time Appalachian culture, Mathews succeeds, bringing the sometimes larger-than-life characters he covers (back) to life. He accents the tales with hints of bluegrass music, making his coal miners, snake charmers, backyard storytellers, moonshiners, gravediggers, prisoners, horse traders, cock fighters, and other working class mountain people seem as real (and alive) as you or me. It's an impressive set of pure Americana, illustrating the rich and vibrant culture and hard-living lifestyles of the era.
Mathews himself sums it up better than I can, saying, "These men and women are from a bygone era and most are long dead. I wanted to record our time together as a way of keeping their stories alive". Amen. For anyone interested in a true American way of life, before the era of iPods and Facebook, "Folks Are Talking" is a timepiece and history lesson rolled all in one. Bravo!
Interview with Garret Mathews, Evansville Courier columnist from 1987-2011, and creator of the "Folks Are Talking" project.
1. Why did you opt to release these stories in audio form? Were they previously available in one of your books?
"In 1979 and 1983 -- when I wrote for the Bluefield, W. Va., Daily Telegraph -- I published FOLKS 1 and FOLKS 2 that were collections of feature stories on men and women I interviewed in southern West Virginia and southwest Virginia. I selected a few of those tales for the CD project, but most of the recording was not included in the books. I chose to do audio because I had never done a recording before and thought it would be both fun and interesting. I wanted to add music to increase the depth of the project. I wanted to leave a historical record -- copies have been furnished to libraries in the two-state area as well as to Appalachian scholars from across the country -- and thought audio was the best way to go. My mailing list is extensive with more than 350 outlets. These men and women are from a bygone era and most are long dead. I wanted to record our time together as a way of keeping their stories alive. What they shared with me, I want to share with future generations."
2. What is your perceived audience for these tales and remembrances?
"I felt young people would be more likely to listen to CDs than read a book. The project will be a success if a goodly number of schoolkids hear this material and are inspired to learn more about Appalachian history."
3. Do you think these stories illustrate a particular time period in American history, or are they more timeless?
""Folks Are Talking" definitely illustrates a particular time period (the 1970s). Most of the men and women I wrote about (early United Mine Workers, coal handloaders, former sawmill workers) aren't around to tell their stories. They need a conduit to the modern day and I welcome that role.
The double CD costs $17 plus $3 shipping and handling. Checks should be made out to Garret Mathews. The address is 7954 Elna Kay Drive, Evansville, Indiana 47715."
For samples and ordering info: Folks Are Talking website