by Candace Winegrad
– For The Capitol Hill Times –
Richard Hugo House was aburst with stories, songs, and dessert Monday night, as local artist-author duo David Lasky and Frank M. Young celebrated the release of their new graphic novel-meets-biography, “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song.”
The novel is the saga of country music’s “first family,” from their meager beginnings in rural Virginia, to their nationwide success, and the ups and downs that inevitably came with being in a family band.
While both are now Seattle residents, Young, the book’s writer, hails from the South, and artist Lasky grew up in Virginia.
“When I first started learning about [the Carter Family], I was surprised to learn that they came from my home state,” Lasky said. “But then, not surprised, because one thing I liked about their music was how honest the sound was.”
For Lasky, who was a self-proclaimed Led Zeppelin and Pixies fan while living in Virginia, his appreciation for country music was only realized after he ventured away from his home state.
“Country music became popular in America when people started leaving farms and [living] in the city,” Lasky explained. “The forlorn sound of country music, the ‘twang,’ expressed their homesickness. So, it makes perfect sense that I would start to like [it] only after leaving Virginia.”
The collaboration on the book was a natural partnership for Lasky and Young.
“Frank and I have known each other since the 90s through the Seattle comics scene,” Lasky said. “We would find ourselves at Thanksgiving gatherings and parties, talking in a corner about who inked Jack Kirby’s pencils the best…Frank also knew quite a lot about old-time music.”
The book’s celebration was well deserved. Lasky and Young went through a nine-year process, from conception in 2003 to publication.
Young, who emceed for the evening seemed noticeably elated on stage.
“It’s a project that’s been years in the making, and it’s such a joyous day to have it out in the world,” Young said to a cheering, standing room only crowd.
Stacey Levine, a friend of Lasky’s and the voice of Maybelle Carter during the multimedia reading, was enthusiastic about the book’s release after seeing the labor and time put into its creation.
“I think people will be naturally drawn to this book. It has really appealing visuals, [and] they’re very expressive,” Levine said. “The community knows David and Frank, so people are here to support them. A year ago, they were just dying, and they were under deadline.”
The event, while hopping with about 80 attendees, maintained an intimate, down-home, community feel. The crowd was treated to previews from the forthcoming Carter Family documentary by Beth Harrington, “The Winding Stream,” as well as a humorous reading of book excerpts by Lasky, Young and an array of friends and voice actors.
But the highlight of the evening for many was in fact the music of the Carter Family, beautifully performed by Laurel Bliss and Cliff Perry, on steel and acoustic guitars, respectively.
Bliss and Perry have been playing together for decades, and entertained the crowd in between songs with storytelling, like Perry’s run-in with Johnny Cash, and the group’s performance with a member of the Carter Family in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
“Janette Carter asked us to sing during intermission,” Bliss said. “About halfway through the chorus… Sara [Carter] was adding a third part. But that was impossible, Sara wasn’t with us anymore—it was Janette. She had stepped up to the microphone next to me and was singing with us.”
The crowd-pleasing Carter classics like “Keep on the Sunny Side,” “You’ve Been a Friend to Me,” and “The Winding Stream” had the audience singing along, while the bluer songs like “Cowboy Jack,” and “Anchored In Love,” brought many-a-sniffle to the room.
While the music of the Carter Family will continue to be loved for generations to come, their impact on country music and the story of their American Dream is just as timeless and significant.
“I think their story is important because it encompasses so much of what happened in America and American music in the 20th century,” Lasky said. “I guess you could call this Frank’s and my attempt at creating the ‘Great American Graphic Novel.’”