Nothing Weighs as Much as a Heartache

The Allman Brothers Band has three dates left at their annual Beacon Theater stand in New York City; this one, celebrating their fortieth anniversary, has attracted all-star guests such as Sheryl Crow and Eric Clapton. It seemed like an opportune moment to add my history of the Allman Brothers to the archives.

Settle in–it’s the longest article I’ve ever written. Rolling Stone assigned the story (a history of the band) at four thousand words. (If you don’t think in wordcount, a cover story at most magazines generally runs between three and five thousand words–these days, most publications tend towards the lower end of that spectrum.) After months of trailing the Allman Brothers, doing research, and interviewing them and their associates at length, I sat down to write the story. I’m a structure-oriented writer: my first step with any article is having a detailed outline, which not only helps me organize my thoughts, but makes sure I’m sticking to my assigned wordcount.

There are writers, including some excellent ones, who prefer to write an article at whatever length seems fruitful; then they (or their editors) can hack the piece into shape. That always seemed like needless work to me, but in this case, I could not figure out how to tell the whole sprawling multigenerational epic of the Allmans into four thousand words. I spent over a week trying to come up with an outline, and finally said, “Screw it, I’ll just write it as long as it needs to be.” That turned out to be eleven thousand words; after some trims, the magazine ran ten thousand words on a ten-page spread. Editors told me it was the longest music story they had printed in years.

This version adds a few details that RS cut, including Dickey Betts’ youthful experiences playing in a circus, Jaimoe’s memory of getting Otis Redding and Muhammad Ali to stand back-to-back, and the ill-fated experiment at the Watkins Glen Summer Jam of a skydiver who had a stick of dynamite. I’m also pleased that this version mentions Scott Freeman’s book Midnight Riders; I did extensive reading and research on the Allmans, but his history was an especially valuable resource, particularly with regards to the death of Duane and the legal troubles of Gregg. If my article just whets your appetite for the Allmans, you should pick up his book.

posted 25 March 2009 in Archives, Articles and tagged . 2 comments

2 Comments on Nothing Weighs as Much as a Heartache

  1. Scraps Says:

    I just finished it, and believe me, it’s hard right now. So it’s riveting. Cheers.

  2. Gavin Says:

    Thanks–I’m hugely flattered you spent the time on it.

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