Through a series of releases over the past few years, southwest Wisconsin-based Ramshackle Press has painted a picture of the Upper Midwest music scene and the strong writing tradition that stands behind the region’s best musicians. The latest book by Charlie Parr, “Last of the Better Days Ahead,” coming in October 2022, is no exception, surfacing after years of friendly banter between Ramshackle Press Editor Parker Forsell, of Winona, regarding working on a book together.
In his fiction debut, readers are treated to a deep dive into the architecture of a group of Charlie’s songs. Like old, well-hewn gospel songs, there is both darkness and light. There are tales of childhood, families, cantankerous uncles and aunts, and slightly lost individuals. Through keyholes opening into rays of light, the reader watches the lives of everyday humans unrolling in unheroic yet poetic and unvarnished ways that those that love Parr’s songs will cherish. As Abraham Smith writes in the book’s introduction, “It’s a great plenty and promises plenty more. I know I feel a delicious undertow on the final page; can't wait to start again at word one; and then to find a good walking stick for Charlie's next river road of prose.”
Many folks across the country, and in Europe and Australia, have had the chance to stomp their foot, share in some folk wisdom, and usually get a chuckle or two at a Charlie Parr show. There is a reverence for his music and certainly a reverence for the slight, bespectacled hobo-philosopher that tugs at the heartstrings through his stories and observations on life. With personal takes on gospel and blues standards, and a suitcase full of his own songs, what emerges for many people is a kind of full-blown mythic Charlie Parr. Yet, Charlie himself keeps breaking the ice with his honesty and self-deprecating humor. A show becomes a gaze into Charlie’s world, whether real or imagined, and a staring into oneself. An experience that more than one person has called “their version of going to church.”
Parr himself has discussed the productive time the forced separation of the past couple of years was for him, a respite from traveling and the challenges of living life on the road. What came about was a process where his usual sketches for songs, a kind of big picture story that becomes winnowed down in words and slowly unspooled through different sittings with the guitar, had the time to solidify and grow. The sketched stories became songs as usual, but this time Parr went back after the album was cut and began to hone the stories like he had the songs.
In the book's prologue, Parr notes that the stories are not autobiographical, something that many folks have thought about his songs. “I made all these stories up; they’re not factual. They are, however, very much real. What I mean is that the people are composites of people I’ve known, and the places are misremembered places of where I’m from and where I’ve been.”
Because Parr will be on tour outside the Midwest during the book’s official release, two regional shows have been planned for the book launch. Tickets for the events are $25 and include a copy of the new book. On Wednesday, September 21, at 6:30 p.m., Parr will play at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum (800 Riverview Drive, Winona). Tickets are available at bit.ly/3dPRjbk.
The release date for Parr’s book, “Last of the Better Days Ahead,” is October 11, 2022. The book is available at Charlie Parr shows, select bookstores, and at www.ramshacklepress.org.